There is a Bill Hicks joke about Evangelical Christians. You can watch it here, but it goes as follows:

“They believe the Bible is the exact word of God. Then they change the bible! Pretty presumptuous, hu huh?”

[In character] “I think what God meant to say…

I’m not suggesting that marketers are God-like (Hicks derided them), but just like Him they are going to have to get used to having their words reinterpreted.

And this time, it’s machines that are doing the interpretation.

Language optimisation

Natural language processing may be a long way off perfect, but there are a number of companies that have created AI-powered software which can optimise the written word.

Persado is one of them and I recently spoke to SVP Product & Engineering Assaf Baciu about the company’s platform. Persado describes what it does as ‘cognitive content generation’, but for the layman, it’s best understood as language optimisation and it is most commonly or best known as a way of increasing email engagement.

The marketer writes a subject line, the software comes up with many variants of the subject line and determines which will perform best.

It does this by using a large database of words, phrases and images, which have been scored against response data from billions of impressions. A new message from a marketer can be tailored for various emotional and rational triggers, and the platform will create many permutations drawing on the historical database.

It’s the analysis of the subject line sentiment as a whole, rather than simply the effectiveness of individual words, that matters. Parry Malm of competitor Phrasee has previously written about these emotional triggers on the Econsultancy blog, defining six common styles of subject line (from very direct and very urgent, to benefit-led and human).

Targeting these particular emotions allows AI-powered subject lines to break out from the conventional subject lines created by marketers due to inertia, fear of what the boss might say or fear of deviation from the competition.

These original control messages are tested, along with a handful of the millions of AI-generated permutations rated most likely to succeed.

For example, working with clothing retailer Lucky Brand, Persado increased conversion rates using the triggers of achievement and exclusivity in subject lines such as “EARNED IT! You’ve scored an invitation: Uncover your mystery tonight.”

Improving all communication, not just email

Any software like Persado’s or Phrasee’s needs a certain degree of scale to prove its effectiveness. Obviously, the brands that send the most emails to the biggest databases have the most to gain from a percentage uptick in conversion.

And the sobering part for copywriters is that the machine outperforms the human very reliably, subject line versus subject line.

But, of course, we’re not just talking about emails, here. This technology can be used whever brands communicate with customers.

Persado SVP Baciu suggests relatively novel use cases such as optimising messages that improve adherence to treatment in pharma – in the not distant future, your phone may alert you it is time to take a pill and the text of that message can be optimised.

Elsewhere, the company has even mooted its technology as a way to create the most impactful public announcements, for example when advising subway travellers to move away from the closing doors. Measurement of success may be tricky, but you get the idea.

At the moment though, most brands use the tech for email, landing pages and push notifications.

The future is machine interpretation of marketing messages

Baciu made it clear he sees a future where marketers communicate with machines, which then communicate with consumers. 

You may have reservations about what this means, particularly if you’re a writer. Will all copywriting converge, will the subtlety be sucked out of the job?

Reservations about a lack of art, an increase in clickbait – to a CMO perhaps this doesn’t really matter when faced with a lovely increase in short-term conversions.

However, we all know how brands struggle with multichannel attribution, and understanding the longer term impact of AI-generated communication on brand image and lifetime customer value is really important.

This tech does represent a leap forward in email CRO, but it needs to be used responsibly if marketers are serious about their commitment to a branded and multichannel customer experience.

For more on AI, subscribers can check out our report, Marketing in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, or discover the world of AI-powered marketing at Econsultancy’s Supercharged event in London on July 4th.