How AI is Used for Marketing


After years of speculation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) for practical application has arrived. And whether you’re scared, excited, or unmoved by this fact, the one thing you can’t be is oblivious. AI is the real deal, and unlike previous “seismic” trends in technology that never really moved the needle (think voice search, virtual reality, or the Internet of Things), AI will structurally alter how we operate on the Web.

In the nonprofit world, fundraising software providers have already started integrating AI into their products, tapping huge amounts of data to improve recurring donations, increase incremental giving, and allow organizations to create on-demand content for giving pages.

Today’s post though, isn’t about AI in fundraising, but rather AI in marketing. Specifically, how can we embrace AI tools to help improve how we convey our mission and attract followers?

A graphic representing neural connections similar to those in artificial intelligence (AI) software

AI marketing is a vast, rapidly evolving topic, so my goal here is not to be exhaustive, but to provide a baseline understanding of how AI is shaping marketing and how you can take advantage. I’ll focus on the three areas of digital marketing where AI is making an immediate impact and that are critical to nonprofit success: website design, email marketing, and social media. Here we go:

1. How to Use AI for Website Design

Yes, AI can now build a complete – and even passable – website from scratch. But there’s a caveat, perhaps best explained through a quick story.

About 10 years ago, I was watching the Super Bowl when I saw a commercial from Squarespace, the do-it-yourself website builder. As the founder of an agency whose livelihood depended upon building custom websites, my immediate reaction was, we are so dead. And yet, that never happened – because although Squarespace allowed a user to build a site from scratch, it simply wasn’t (and still isn’t) capable of taking on the complex elements of storytelling, content organization, website strategy, custom technology development and roadmapping, user-focused design and so forth. All of these areas speak to, and are reliant upon emotional, strategic, and human-centered considerations, something that a DIY tool can’t deliver.

I feel the same about AI website builders. Try for yourself. Wix makes a decent and intuitive AI web builder, and you can basically produce a site in a minute. Now ask:

  • Does this site tell our story?
  • Is it a fully-formed version of our entire organization, addressing all of the needs of all of our constituents?
  • Does it capture the essence, spirit, and humanity of our mission? In short, is this us?

Personally, I feel that despite enormous capabilities and with more advances to come, AI will always fall short on this front. That is to say, AI will never be “human,” and in the nonprofit world, telling a human story and providing a relatable, human experience is everything and something only humans can provide.

Rant aside, AI-enabled web design tools can help you build a better website, and I recommend integrating such tools into your marketing process as follows:

Website Planning

An AI web builder is a great tool for prototyping a potential website. This shouldn’t replace the necessary and intensive work of planning for user experience, information architecture, and user journeys, but it can provide your team with quick visualizations of say, how a main navigation will appear to a user, or what areas of the home page should be dedicated to certain topics, what content might be emphasized in a certain spot and so forth.

If you’re planning a comprehensive website redesign, take an AI web-builder for a spin; consider coming up with several different versions of your prototype based on different inputs. You can then use that model as a launch pad for an initial discussion with your designer or agency. Don’t use this as a design direction for them (i.e., “make it look like this”) – that defeats the purpose of hiring an expert to begin with. Rather use it as a way to fill the gaps in visualizing how your site might look and the experience you’re hoping your users will have.

Content Prompting

Digital storytelling – i.e., the content you put on your site – is critical to engaging your users and drawing them closer to your organization. It’s also one of the hardest, most time-consuming elements of building a new site. Here’s where AI-enabled content production tools such as Chat GPT can inspire content creation. Note how I say “inspire” here; please don’t make the mistake of thinking that AI-originated content can take the place of your own voice and sense of empathy. When it comes to courting potential followers and donors, authenticity is key. AI can produce passable, even good content – but it can’t speak to your mission better than you. Use these tools to provide ideas and a foundation for writing; build on it, but don’t simply cut and paste.

2. How to Use AI in Social Media Marketing

In general, AI is a process by which a machine draws inferences from larger and larger amounts of data to produce outcomes similar to, or better than human output. Following this definition, you can probably see how social media marketing will be improved by AI, and more importantly how your marketing can benefit from AI-enabled social media tools. Here are two areas to focus on:

Content and Ad Production

Just as AI tools can help inspire content production for a website, they can also assist in producing the micro-content used for social media community posts across channels like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Tools like Buffer and HooteSuite for example, have already integrated AI-content production directly into their platforms, allowing users to produce content based on requested prompts and user data.

Once again, although these technologies are helpful in prompting ideas and foundational content, they should not replace the genuine, authentic posting to which your human audiences relate. As with all AI products, use them cautiously and with common sense.

Thus far, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how AI can produce written content, but of course, AI can also be used to produce graphics and designs for social media outreach. If you’d like to experiment here, try Canva’s Magic Design product, again paying close attention to quality, accuracy and always being empathetic toward your end user. Respect for your audience should be the golden rule.

Improving Ad Buys and Targeting

If you use paid social media advertising to increase awareness of your organization and its mission – and you should be – you are already benefiting from AI, as platforms like Meta (Facebook) are using artificial intelligence to improve the targeting, placement, and optimization of social media ads. Here’s how:

Audience creation and targeting – social platforms are now using AI to develop “look-alike” audiences based on submitted email lists, web visitation statistics, and user-provided criteria.

Ad placement – social channels and third-party ad placement networks are now relying on AI to help streamline and improve the selection of ad placements, in effect using algorithms to determine the best location at an optimal price.

Ad optimization – once an ad is running, AI tools are being used to determine which ads are performing best at which budget and automatically adjust to provide maximum spend efficiency. Facebook, for example, uses AI to determine which ads, among a series of proposed ads will resonate the most with a given audience.

As with all AI tools, I recommend exploring all of these products and processes to get a feel for how they can support your marketing efforts. The benefits are clear: better ad budget ROI with less time spent manually coordinating and optimizing campaigns.

AI will never be “human,” and in the nonprofit world, telling a human story and providing a relatable, human experience is everything, and something only humans can provide.

3. Email Marketing

Subject Heading Creation

I’m going to be redundant here and repeat that AI can assist in the prompting and initial development of content. But just as in website copy development and social media posting, email content should be used to communicate with real humans, and as such your content needs to be genuine and empathetic, serving the needs and interests of your recipients. So, once again, please don’t simply use tools like ChatGPT to spit out content to send to your lists.

That being said, AI can help you determine a good subject heading for your email. Remember that in order for a user to appreciate and take action on your email, they first have to open it, so a good subject heading is key. Most of the major email marketing products provide AI-enabled subject heading tools that rely on mounds of data to help you create the phrase or keywords that will most likely result in an open. Again, please temper this with your own intuition and respect for your audience – if an AI-generated subject heading will result in a higher open rate, but come across as click-baity or below your audience, don’t use it.

List Hygiene

AI shines when it comes to sifting through tons of data to arrive at an accurate solution. What better product to use when cleaning up old email lists? Use AI-enabled tools to relieve your team or marketing person of the mind-numbing, but essential task of ensuring your email address and related contact information are up-to-date, thereby improving your overall email stats and lessening potential spam complaints.

List Segmentation

The most effective email marketing outreach is relevant, timely, and segmented. That is to say, the emails are sent to the right audience based on the content and purpose of the email.

By reviewing a list member’s email interactions, web viewing history, and other activities such as purchase behavior and form completions, AI-enabled segmentation tools can organize members into relevant lists, and do so in a way that is quicker and more accurate than having done so through a traditional/manual process.

Although I’m excited by the promise of AI in list segmentation and hygiene, I have not yet experimented with any of these tools, and thus am reluctant to recommend any right now. Look for reviews in future posts, or follow us on our LinkedIn page for mentions as we put these into practice.

We’ve really just scratched the surface here with what AI can do for your marketing; each one of these marketing channels deserves its own post, but this should get you started in terms of thinking about the possibilities of how AI can assist your marketing workflow. There’s a lot more to cover – we haven’t even broached topics like ethical AI implementation, predictive vs. generative AI, or AI with respect to coding – all great stuff for future discussion. In the meantime though, I encourage you to dive in. Rather than fear AI, embrace it and use it to your advantage. It’s here to stay, and so we might as well all benefit.




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