The Language Effect book extract: Why tech gets a bad rap – and exploring the future of copywriting

The Language Effect book extract: Why tech gets a bad rap – and exploring the future of copywriting
Parry Malm is the CEO of Phrasee.

In this exclusive extract from The Language Effect: Why AI-Powered Copywriting Is A Marketer’s (New) Best Friend, Parry Malm, CEO of marketing automation startup Phrasee, assesses why copywriting has been the last old-school marketing tactic to be touched by technology – and what can be done about it.

Why tech got a bad rap

The quest to connect with consumers has taken brands down some pretty dark paths of late.

Big Tech’s relaxed attitude toward user data opened the door for some extremely concerning marketing behaviour. The Cambridge Analytica scandal was just the tip of the iceberg. Legitimate questions about how exactly consumer data is being collected, and what exactly it’s being used for, make headlines every day. The battle between the relevance, targeting, and engagement needs of brands and the privacy concerns of consumers has only just begun.

The opening shots – in the form of shady industry tactics and bold new legislation like the much-lauded General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – have already been fired. Few, however, can tell where all of this is headed.

Within this context, consumer expectations are shifting, and the digital user experience is evolving. This presents both brands and marketers with new customer experience challenges to overcome by the day. Today’s consumer expects you to deliver a personalised, relevant marketing experience. But, it seems, they are reluctant to provide you with the data and insights required to deliver that experience.

The martech explosion

This dichotomy has created the perfect conditions for innovative new technologies to enter the marketing arena.

And enter it they have.

Amid the hubbub around relevance, targeting and data analytics, marketing copywriting has been forgotten, abandoned in the never-ending pursuit of more and more data

Every year, Chiefmartec puts out a marketing technology landscape – the marketing technology world’s definitive list of brands operating in the martech space – and every year, it gets bigger. You know the chart I’m talking about. But what began as a fascinating mosaic of technological progress has become a flummoxing Jackson Pollock-esque tornado of chaos – and has outlived its usefulness.

Automation platforms keep drip campaigns cycling into subscribers’ inboxes through every stage of the buyer journey. Machine learning algorithms, written by researchers with PhDs in astrophysics, make useful recommendations on precisely where and when digital banner ads should appear on a given marketing channel. In some cases, these AI marketing applications even purchase ad placements on their own. Targeting and retargeting tools deliver relevant digital content to the right user in the right place at the right time with increasing precision.

But what about your language?

Amid all the relevance, targeting, and data analytics hubbub, it seems that marketing copywriting has been forgotten, abandoned in the never-ending pursuit of more and more data.

But why is this? Why has the crux of all your marketing – the language you use – been ignored?

Times have changed

‘Right person, right ad, right time’ has long been digital marketing’s Holy Grail. That perfect combination of ad design and delivery that leaves the consumer all but powerless to resist your brand’s considerable charms. It makes sense that almost every aspect of marketing and advertising has been touched by advanced technology in some form or another.

But something is missing.

Once you’ve built up your martech stack and perfected the art of getting your brand’s message exactly where it needs to be, exactly when it needs to be there, quite an obvious question emerges:

What should that message be?

Finding an effective data-driven approach to answering this question, as it turns out, is a hard problem. A very hard problem. And that’s why so few have dared to tackle it.

Personally, I love a hard problem, which is probably why I decided to make this one my own.

Copywriting is the last marketing discipline to be touched by advanced technology. This is quite an odd truth, considering copywriting possesses the potential to generate the highest ROI of the bunch.

The reason behind this is simple: using AI to complete a task that’s so uniquely human is a very complex problem, both in terms of the technical approach and the philosophy underpinning it.

See, determining the best day and time to post a Facebook ad, or which of your customers recently abandoned their digital shopping cart and are due for a retargeting ad to close the sale, are far simpler problems to solve. As such, these problems require relatively simple tools to solve them at scale. And that’s why there are a million and one vendors who will gleefully take your money.

Copywriting – both the writing of it and the predicting of how specific language will perform on a brand’s unique audience – is a different matter altogether. With few proven technological solutions available, copywriting has been left to the intuitive whims and ‘gut feel’ of legions of copywriters.

In many cases, these copywriters are extremely talented people. They’ve built successful careers out of knowing just what to say to a brand’s audience and just how to say it. That’s why a good copywriter has always been, and always will be, such a valuable resource for any brand.

Using AI to complete a task that’s so uniquely human is a very complex problem, both in terms of the technical approach and the philosophy underpinning it

Copywriters have delivered the most iconic and effective slogans, taglines, and campaigns in the history of marketing. They’ve brought brands from relative obscurity to the forefront of their industries with little more than a single line of catchy, engaging text. They are a crucial part of any effective marketing strategy.

But times have changed.

The emergence of digital marketing channels has turned the world of copywriting on its head. The battle for consumer attention has veered onto strange new paths.

This isn’t the first time in technological history that ‘strange new paths’ have come into play, however.

At some point in our history, humanity’s increasingly complex mathematical understanding and need for scalable calculations gave birth to the abacus (and eventually the calculator). Growing demand for printed copy brought forth the printing press. Increased consumer demand for motor vehicles led to the perfecting of the assembly line.

Counting by hand, copying by hand, and building a car by hand all proved to be terribly inefficient. Relying upon humans to do is was cumbersome and prone to error.

A similar monumental shift is taking place in copywriting right now – a shift in its infancy. And, whether you’re ready to accept it or not, this shift is irreversible.

Relying upon the gut feeling of copywriters is inefficient.

Copywriting needs a new approach, because the old one is broken. It demands an approach grounded in data-based reasoning and coherent strategic goals.

The Language Effect: Why AI-Powered Copywriting Is A Marketer’s (New) Best Friend, by Parry Malm, is published by Known Publishing and is available on Amazon at £7.99 ($9.99). You can find out more at thelanguageeffect.com.

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Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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