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Social Enterprise

Persado uses artificial intelligence to help digital marketers write better copy

Using data to dissect language and emotion, ad-tech company Persado is offering insight into the wording that drives conversions. And it does it 75% better than humans.

Persuasion can be a funny thing — a mixture of the right words delivered in the right way. Not everyone has Harold Hill's powers to move people toward an outcome.

In digital marketing, persuasion is both the same as it's always been, and yet, not quite, as data becomes an increasingly convincing factor in how marketers chose to approach customers.

For advertising technology company Persado, persuasion is something that can be engineered.

Persado originally started December 12, 2012 — 12/12/12 — by "very self-conscious math geeks," said chief marketing officer David Atlas. It was originally a part of digital marketing firm Upstream, but was spun off from the company. The Persado technology had already been in development for seven years before Persado formed.

After receiving funding from Bain Capital Ventures, they opened headquarters in New York City, where they're currently based.

The basic idea is using data to write better marketing copy.

Persado starts by looking at marketing language and breaking it down — anything that might appear in banner ads, emails, tweets, SMS, display ads — and focuses on factual descriptors, like sizes colors, or even the location of a zipper.

Then, they looked at emotional language, phrases like "You don't want to miss out" or "just for you." Those were broken into 19 types of feelings from joy to guilt, to anxiety or achievement. There's also functional language like "click here to subscribe" or "renew today."

"You're able to build really a template that lets you figure out other ways of expressing that, rotating in and out product features, different types of emotions, different ways of expressing those emotions," Atlas said, "and in so doing, build a map of not only the 'draft a' and the 'draft b,' that the average copywriter guesses at, but the 14 million other versions that you didn't have time to write yourself."

Atlas said the idea behind Persado builds on past use of data in advertising to determine not only when, but where to reach people. The idea here is to determine what to say to them.

Clients have seen 75% better response in terms of opens, click-throughs, and conversions than human-written content.

And beyond understanding which words drive conversions, what shakes out is an understanding of the emotions and which ones drive the sales of a brand's products, Atlas said.

Persado's latest offering apart from its enterprise version, which is in use by brands like American Express and Neiman Marcus, is basically a self-service version of their technology. The first available channel, as they call it, generate email subject lines.

So, a user chooses a target audience, general purpose, and offer details. Persado does an analysis of data points with similar attributes. It then kicks out 16 options, with insights into different linguistic elements and emotions being tapped into.

This might sound like a nightmare for copywriters, another instance where the machines are snatching up jobs, but Atlas said they view Persado as a tool, not replacement for marketers.

"I think [this] represents a new type of functionality that is neither the end of writing, nor is it the cure-all for everything. What it is, like really any instance of artificial intelligence, is a system that does a very specific thing that's vastly better than you as a person would do, but otherwise is really just a tool," he said.

He likened it to GPS navigation.

"The notion that he would ever use a handheld device whether to take the bridge or the tunnel when driving into New York from Jersey continues to boggle my parents' imagination," he said, but in the end, it's a tool that reveals a route to take.

In other words, Persado can't write an ad on its own.

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Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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