Parry Malm author ‘The Language Effect: Why AI-Powered Copywriting is a marketer’s best friend’ (episode 282)

Parry Malm is the CEO at Phrasee and author of The Language Effect: Why AI-Powered Copywriting is a marketer’s (new) best friend . I’ve been a consumer of Parry’s email marketing, subject line and copy writing wisdom for many years – approaching a decade now I think so it’s a pleasure to get him here on the show to share some of that wisdom with all of you.

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About Parry

A lifetime career marketer, Parry has worked with both brands and vendors. At University, he studied computer science, linguistics, marketing and game theory.

Over the course of his career, Parry was constantly trying to figure out the right message for his audience and constantly building models to try and predict what kind of language would work best in any given campaign. About 6 years ago, while he was working for an email marketing company he noticed how saturated the field was.

When he looked critically at all that competition he was surprised that they were all focusing their messaging about how their platform was more efficient. Not one company was focusing on messaging.

Having watched marketing grow into something of a scientific, data driven field, he wondered what would happen if marketing professionals applied the same rigor and scientific processes to the language used in campaigns. From that imaginative wandering, Parry built out Phrasee.

All the Efficiency in the World Won’t Matter if the Message Sucks

The amount of time people spend building up their platforms, automated emails, templates etc. etc. etc. is enormous.

It has become so innocuous in fact, that Parry argues it has become easy to lose sight of the fact that the message needs to be good before anything else can be useful. 

Marketing has become so focused on efficiency and optimization that the industry has in many ways lost the essence of what marketing even is, which is getting your message in front of as many people as possible.

He also points out that marketing should be a fun, creative endeavor and has lost much of that vigor since the fun stuff has been sucked out of the process. The opportunity cost of this implication is pretty massive, as many creative employees at any given company are now stuck doing drudgery work. 

Cognitive Bias and Copy

In the old way of generating copy, hierarchy and persuasive personality were the elements that would determine what kind of messaging were ultimately sent out.

Unfortunately, gut feeling is layered with a huge amount of cognitive bias. At a certain (ie:big) scale, Parry says “You should never trust a human when it comes to predicting what copy is good and what copy is bad” Being able to codify your brand voice into a tangible set of gates and rules and then using data to determine outcomes is the key for good copy performance.

With endless ways of saying any one thing, it is impossible for a single human, or even a team of humans to sort through the possibilities for the best words. According to Parry, this is what makes artificial intelligence so powerful. 

The Book

Phrasee launched in 2015 and now operates in the US, the UK and Canada. The business itself is doing really well and Parry wanted to write a book that isn’t about the technology piece of Phrasee, but rather the philosophical and economic underpinning of why  AI powered copywriting is so powerful.

Ultimately, companies now need so much more copy than there are copywritery and Parry argues that embracing technology will allow businesses to get good copy everywhere in their business.

By getting AI to deal with the mundane,  businesses can actually free up space for copywriters to use their creative energy to write those really important pieces of copy.

He contends that copywriters really should be focusing on the overall messaging of the company much more than on the tedious and mundane—but still necessary—writing. In a way, Phrasee democratizes copywriting in the same way that Photoshop did for design 20 years ago. 

Scale and Data Sets

Phrasee’s main constraint is that it only really works for large enterprises who have access to a huge, primary data set. Modelling in general works better at a larger scale and Phrasee is no different.

In the future, Parry says there will likely be iterations of the technology that will apply to small businesses. The problem with this is the necessary use of pooled data for smaller businesses.

Without first hand, primary resource data, it would be very difficult to build in the unique voice of a small business. While it might take off initially, Parry says that customers would quickly become anesthetized to the sameness of the messaging.

To Emoticon or not to Emoticon?

Emoji’s in subject lines have a 50/50 success rate. That is what the actual data shows. Parry says there are simply too many factors in language, cognitive bias etc. to come up with any binary rules about language.

Emojis tend to amplify language. If for instance, you have a great subject line, then an emoji will make it even better and more successful. If you have a bad subject line, an emoji will make it even more unlikeable. 

eCommerce Book Top Tip

  • Candide by Voltaire for understanding the underlying framework for scarcity

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • Rather than his favorite traffic tip, Parry shares something he thinks is completely overhyped—personalization. Creating extreme personalization is not all it cracks up to be and trying to be ‘uber-relevant’ can backfire.

Tool Top Tip

  • Email gives people time to think about a problem, synthesize said problem and write a focused response. Using interruption based tools takes away what people need—to slow down and think about things.

Growth Top Tip

  • Nail email marketing. Simple, low cost method not beholden to any third party.

Interview Links

Related episodes

  • Kate Barrett author of “E-telligence: Email marketing isn’t dead, the way you’re using it is”
  • How to move from Batch and Blast to Customer Focused Comms with exMissguided’s Nicola Fox
  • Using Product Launches to create 200% annual growth with Chris Vallely of Dixxon Flannel Co

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