Great messaging: man vs machine

Can a computer write more effective ad copy than a human? If you look at the results of a recent campaign by JP Morgan Chase, the answer would be a resounding yes. Does that mean that we should automate the creation of marketing messaging? Absolutely not.

Last year, Chase ran a campaign aimed at re-engaging current clients. In a pilot promotion, the bank used ad messages created through artificial intelligence (AI) alongside those written by real live people. AI won. The ads composed by computers generated almost twice the clicks as the people-produced ads.

For example, this AI created copy – “It’s true — You can unlock cash from the equity in your home” with a quick “Click To Apply” button attracted 47 applications a week. On the other hand, this man-made message, “Access cash from the equity in your home” with a “Take a look” button, accounted for only just 25 applications a week.

What accounts for the lopsided win? Data. AI messaging is built from a database of more than one million words and phrases. That database includes the results-generating data for each of those words and phrases. The potential is unlimited. It’s not just a matter of which copy works better overall. AI can identify the messages that will work best with different targets or market segments. Looking for slam-dunk copy directed at 18-39-year-olds who like to travel and already have more than two credit cards? No problem. Machine-made messaging can deliver.

I don’t know about you but there’s something about this that makes me a little uneasy. That’s exacerbated by the fact that Chase’s CMO said, “We think this is just the beginning.” And, in what might be the most oxymoron-ish statement ever, went on to say, “Machine learning is the path to more humanity in marketing.”

The reality is that in order for AI to work its magic, humans have to write something first. Then computers substitute with language that says something similar but is proven to generate greater results. That means people still have to think about the concepts and words that will motivate other people. At its core, messaging needs humans to make it work.

That being the case, it’s worth considering what makes messaging perform. Here are 6 rules for great messaging.

Sales is a transfer of emotion. If you want to motivate someone to do something, whether that’s to click, email, call or buy, you are going to have make them feel something. Messaging that appeals to the heart will always outperform messaging meant to engage the brain.

It’s about the benefits, not the features. You want to tell me about your brand new, state of the art STEAM facility. But what I really want to know is what difference does that make to my kid. How will that affect her development and how will she better be prepared for the rest of her life?

Think outside-in. Your school may have developed the most impressive educational processes with proprietary nomenclature to go along with them. Guess what? It’s meaningless to the parents you’re trying to attract unless they can understand what you have to say and relate it to the needs of their children. Great messaging is based on empathy and the willingness to see the world through the eyes of prospective parents.

Strategy trumps creative. The pithiest turn of phrase will only be effective if messaging is based on the attributes and attitudes of the intended audience. In fact, you would be wise to break target audiences into smaller segments and base messaging on the value proposition for each of those.

Make it brand-aligned AND media-appropriate. It almost goes without saying that all messaging should be consistently reflective of what makes your school unique. But it still has to be tailored to the medium in which it appears. The copy I write for an e-newsletter will not be effective for a text. People react differently when reading copy on their phones than on their computers.

Focus on the end game. What do you want someone to do when they read what you have to say? It might be that you want prospective parents to be thinking about how your school will be perfect for their children. Or, perhaps you’re trying to motivate current parents to be better word of mouth ambassadors. And, as was the case above at Chase, it might be for readers to click on a link. Whatever the desired, action, make sure your messaging leads readers to that end.

Chase’s CMO talked about the path to more humanity in marketing. I’d say that starts with real people creating outstanding messaging.

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