Persado wants to help you write great short-form copy - but can AI really automate creative?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher May 28, 2019
There is an ongoing debate on whether machines can replace humans when it comes to copy generation. But there isn't enough talk on how AI/ML can help copywriters do their jobs better. Persado aims to change that.


Van Diamandakis is the CMO of Persado, marketing technology that uses AI and data science to help you create better short-form content. It analyzes the language used across millions of marketing messages to identify the best digital marketing creative.

I spoke with Diamandakis about the technology and why marketers need a better way to figure out the right words than traditional testing tools and what for some is an educated guess.

“Words are the DNA of marketing.”

This phrase is on Persado’s website, and if you don’t think it’s true, then you don’t know marketing. The thing is, every marketer creates copy of some kind: advertising, email, social, website pages and so on, and too often consumers are inundated with messages that are very similar or that don’t have an impact.

It’s not enough to cut through the noise, a marketer’s words have to help drive conversions - what that conversion is depends on the company and the marketing campaign. Persado, Diamandakis said, wants to help marketers harness the full power of words. He said their software goes deeper than A/B or multivariate testing by using experiential design.

To do this, Persado uses the large marketing language knowledgebase. It contains over one million words tagged and scored by six language characteristics:

  1. Narrative - tone and manner of marketing copy and advertising
  2. Emotional appeal (with 15 different emotions) and how you communicate your story
  3. Descriptive - how you describe and talk about your products and services
  4. CTA - how would you say something to engage with customers
  5. Formatting - because believe it or not - it does make a difference if something is bold or not
  6.  Positioning - how does it all fit together in an ad unit, or a web page, or an email.


Persado runs thousands of experiments to get down to the atomic level of language and how it’s generated. It analyzes how language works, what language speaks to different personas, different verticals. Diamandakis pointed out that the right language will change as well - by the time of the year, because your product changes, or for other reasons. That makes sense.

Coke changes its marketing regularly. A single ad doesn’t work forever; you have to be prepared to adapt. I asked Diamandakis where this language knowledge base came from. He told me that before Persado’s founding in 2012, it’s founders had started a company called UpStream Media that supported mobile messaging. It was similar to Persado, but with push and SMS. It was here they built the knowledgebase, and then took with them to Persado, expanding it across all digital channels and beyond (some clients leverage it for offline messaging as well).

“You can’t automate creative content.”

Well, it turns out you may be able to do just that. But that doesn’t mean creative directors and copywriters are out of a job. Diamandakis explained it this way: Copywriters are Tony Stark, Persado is the Iron Man suit. It takes what they do, and it makes them better.

“You can’t store computational learning in your brain.” Even Tony Stark wasn’t that good. Persado can start with a creative, break it down into subcategories, and develop experiments. You can control - what the marketer wrote - and you have sixteen variants the machine generated. You test, and the machine pulls it together to create the winning creative.

There is a human component to the work Persado does. It’s a software plus services company with Campaign Managers, linguistic experts, and project managers working to clients to help them find the best copy. In some cases, they supply insights to a client’s agency, and they create the final copy, in others, they work directly with the client.

There is no heavy integration to use Persado, and it’s integrated with many large enterprise marketing technologies, including Oracle Marketing Cloud, Adobe, and Salesforce.

“Massive confidence crisis with CMO’s around creative.”

Marketing drives revenue, and pretty much every CMO is now held to the fire to prove their strategies do just that. But research indicates that many CMO’s aren’t sure their creative is working. Diamandakis noted research from both Neilson and Forrester that show a lack of confidence in creative and the marketer’s ability to hit business targets.

He said marketing invests a lot of money into creative and production, but it’s mostly guesswork. Yes, there are testing tools and focus groups that give some indications, but how do you know that a winning test B is simply the best of two bad creatives? Marketing leverages AI and data science to determine other strategies - like targeting, segmentation, marketing mix, optimization, media buy and more, said Diamandakis, but it rarely looks to technology to improve creative. Diamandakis believes that this is the last big green-field opportunity for CMO’s looking for that next big step change in performance.

“Does it work for…”

Does Persado work for long-form content I asked - because we could use some of this capability to improve whitepapers and ebooks. Not yet. Does help maintain brand voice? The narrative intelligence mentioned above was added this past year, and it helps support the consistency of the message around the world and across channels. Persado will ingest all company content, brand messaging, guidelines, and strategy and ensures that it’s presented in the messages they deliver.

Does it support localization? Because what you say in one country, is not how you say it in another country. Diamandakis said they are working with a large Netherlands-based ecommerce-first company that is launching a campaign across 25 languages and multiple channels. So we’ll assume that’s a yes.

Persado also creates custom language models for every customer. It understands language across industries like financial services, travel, tech, and telcos. Within each vertical, a customer has a custom language model that learns and adapts the more the customer works with it, so it understands consumers better.Diamandakis said it can personalize messages down to a micro-segment.

“Everyone thinks they are a copywriter.”

Oh boy, this one you don’t have to tell me about. Everyone wants to read your copy and tell you what’s working and what’s not, or how they think something should be written, or they slightly change your message because “they know.” With a tool like Persado, a CMO can say with mathematical certainty that a message delivers. And it can show what subtle changes in language or wording can do.

I’d love to have this tool for the opening paragraph of my long form copy. Will there be a time when the machine will write everything for us? It’s hard to say, but I can name a few brands that could use a little machine learning love to improve their creative.

I bet you can too. But I’m also not ready to declare the machine king of content completely. I like the Iron Man suite comparison, or maybe it’s Thor’s hammer, or Captain Marvel’s shield. Whatever it is, it has the potential to break through the swarm of messages we receive everyday and make us pay attention. You can listen to the full interview with Diamandakis on my podcast.

Image credit - Feature image - Creativity and innovative are keys to success, by @areebarbar

Disclosure - Diginomica has no financial ties to Persado.

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