Prompt engineering on big data for email marketers


Email marketers are relying on AI more and more – but are your AI endeavors as successful as they could be? Some simple guidance on prompt engineering can help – here are some tips along with a few case studies from the email marketing industry.

Prompt engineering is the art of asking large language models (LLMs) the right questions.  When it comes to big data, prompt engineering helps us cut through the overwhelming volume and get to the answers that matter the most.

AI algorithms are great at finding patterns and making predictions based on enormous troves of information. It’s important to remember that without carefully crafted prompts, even the most advanced LLM models can struggle to extract meaningful insights from our data.

In this blog post, we'll talk about best practices of prompt engineering with big data. We'll discuss challenges of prompting big data, explore how to ask effective questions, refine prompts, and maximize the value we can extract from our big data.

Current Challenges

While prompt engineering offers great potential, it's important to acknowledge the challenges that come with working with big data:

Data Quality: The old adage "garbage in, garbage out" definitely applies.  If your datasets are riddled with inconsistencies, errors, or missing information, even the best engineered prompts will struggle to provide valuable results.

Understanding Model Limitations: Large language models are powerful, but they're not perfect. Hallucinations are more common in older models (GPT 3.5 and below) so it’s important to understand their biases and limitations to avoid misinterpreting results or drawing false conclusions. In Addition, Many LLMs have a fixed limit on the amount of text they can process at once (their "context window"). When the data we want to analyze exceeds this window size, we need strategies to break it down. One way to address it is to use a summarization technique to condense larger text segments into shorter summaries. These summaries then get fed into the LLM sequentially.  The key here is to make sure our summarization technique preserves the most important information of every segment.

Complexity:  As the complexity of data and analysis goals increases, crafting effective prompts can become more challenging. We might need to consider experimenting with advanced techniques like chain-of-thought prompting. Chain of thought is a prompting technique that improves the quality of responses by repeatedly feeding the model's own output back into itself as input.

Finding the Right Balance:  Remember it’s a balance between specificity and flexibility. Overly specific prompts might miss out on related insights, while excessively broad ones can lead to irrelevant results.

Ethical Considerations:  Use prompt engineering responsibly, especially when dealing with sensitive data. Ensure your prompts don't perpetuate biases or lead to outcomes that could be harmful or discriminatory.

Best Practices for Prompt Engineering with Big Data

Ok, let's get practical. Here are some key strategies to make your interactions with big data impactful:

Be Specific: The more precise we are in our prompts, the more relevant and targeted the results will be. It’s better to avoid vague questions like, "What are some trends in our data?" Instead, frame inquiries like, "Analyze sales figures over the past year to identify products with the highest growth in the Northeast region.". There's a strong linked correlation between being specific and the quality of LLM’s output.

Provide Context:  LLMs perform better when they have a grasp of the dataset and your goals. Include a brief description of your data and the kind of insight you're after. For example, "Dataset: Customer purchase history, past 5 years. Goal: Identify product bundles that are frequently purchased together."

Use Examples:  Illustrating the type of output you desire can significantly improve results. If you're looking for data summarized, include a short example: "Summarize customer reviews of Product X, focusing on sentiment (positive, negative, neutral)."

Iterate and Experiment:  Prompt engineering is rarely a one-shot deal. Start with an initial prompt, analyze the results, and then refine. Don't be afraid to try different phrasing and structures to arrive at the most insightful answers.

Chain-of-Thought Prompting: As we discussed earlier, the benefits of the chain-of-thought technique lie in the way the LLM model maintains the entire context of the reasoning leading to the solution. You can think of it as the series of thoughts that contribute to the final result, which is very similar to the way we internally process information. An example of the CoT technique would be:

Prompt 1: What is the main benefit someone gets from this product?

Model Response: This product saves time by automating routine tasks.

Prompt 2: How can I turn the benefit of saving time into a catchy phrase?

Model Response: Get back hours of your day...

Prompt 3: Can I add urgency to the phrase "Get back hours of your day..."?

Model Response: Get back hours of your day this week...

Prompt 4: Can I personalize the subject line "Get back hours of your day this week..."?

Model response: [First Name], get back hours of your day this week


Notice how, by going through a series of prompts, the model better understands "the whole picture." This improves the reasoning and accuracy of the final result.

Leveraging Domain Expertise: Incorporating domain-specific knowledge into our prompt design will also increase accuracy outcomes. For example, if analyzing email campaign data, The results can be more effective if we designed the prompt with experienced marketers that can help us focus on key performance indicators (KPIs) and email marketing best practices. Case studies can illustrate the power of domain expertise, perhaps how a marketing team collaborated with email deliverability experts to optimize subject lines and identify factors that increase open rates.

Advanced Tools and Technologies: Since the rise of ChatGPT and specifically LLMs there are quite a few tools designed to simplify and enhance prompt engineering with big data. These tools can assist with prompt generation, optimization, and the evaluation of results.  For instance, some tools might help visualize data relationships, suggesting potential prompts to explore.

Implementing Best Practices: Case Studies

Case Study: Unlocking Subscriber Preferences

Challenge: An online retailer with a large email list wanted to improve engagement and reduce churn.

Goal: To better understand subscriber interests and tailor email campaigns accordingly.

Bad Practices

Vague Prompt: "What do my subscribers like?"

This is far too broad and will likely yield overly general, unactionable results.

Prompting for insights without specifying the datasets to be analyzed (purchase history, open/click data, etc.).

This misses the opportunity to leverage rich sources of information.

In addition, Asking a straightforward question like "Which products are most popular?"

misses potential insights about how interests correlate or how they might differ between subscriber segments.

Good Practices

Specific Prompt: "Analyze past year's click-through data to identify the top 3 product categories with the highest engagement for each geographic region."

This focuses the analysis and allows for regional personalization.

Data-Centric: "Compare purchase history with email click data to identify product categories that are frequently clicked-on but less frequently purchased. "

This uncovers potential areas to address with targeted promotions or content.

Multi-Step/Chained Prompting:

"Segment subscribers based on total purchases in the past year (high, medium, low engagement)."

"For each segment, identify the top 5 product categories based on open rates."

"Analyze reviews for those products within each segment, focusing on sentiment and frequently mentioned features."

This layered approach reveals how preferences might differ based on engagement levels and provides richer context.

Key Takeaways

Specificity is key. The more precise your prompts, the more relevant the insights.

Context matters. Provide dataset information and your analysis goals.

Illustrate with examples. Guide the LLM towards the output you desire.

Experiment and refine. Prompt engineering is an iterative process.

Try out Chain-of-Thought technique. Break down complex problems into smaller steps and prompt the LLM to provide intermediate reasoning for improved accuracy and understanding.

Tap into expert knowledge. Collaborate with domain experts for richer prompts.

Use specialized tools. Explore tools designed for prompt engineering with big data.

In Conclusion, prompt engineering is an exciting new world. It's important to approach prompting with care and dedicate the necessary time to it.  Well-crafted prompts, informed by domain expertise, can yield valuable insights for you and your organization. You don't need to be an engineer to excel at prompt engineering, but clear written expression and sticking to best practices will significantly enhance your results.

Happy Prompting!

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Photo by Gary Chan on Unsplash