Here’s some great news from the banking industry that offers fresh hope for ailing arts organizations.
According to this article, the folks at a marketing firm called Persado have developed artificial intelligence capable of generating marketing content that’s more effective than human-generated content. One of Persado’s clients, JP Morgan Chase, recently experienced astonishing increases in response rates with sales copy generated by machine.
As readers of this blog know well, the weak link in most marketing is the creative – the concept, copy and design that emerges out of personal, subjective, human impulses. The rest of the marketing process can be governed by precise metrics, but content development, because it is reliant on human creativity, has always been extremely difficult to pin down. There’s no better example of this than the cloying, self-congratulatory nonsense that passes for strategic communication in the arts.
Fortunately, Persado has found a way to remove human subjectivity from the marketing equation and replace it with rational, data-based communication that’s more persuasive. Even in the world of finance where content is created by professionals at the top of their game, machines have been able to far outperform their human counterparts.
This could be great news In the cultural sector where content development is a DIY process carried out by nonprofit staffers who lack professional marketing expertise. Now, with the aid of AI, arts organizations can leave creativity on the stages and in the galleries where it belongs, and focus on putting more serious scientific rigor behind the process of generating paid participation.
If this all sounds a little intimidating, you might want to brace yourself. The traditional marketing that the arts have come to know and love – the pretty, artsy, self-indulgent stuff that tells the world how wonderful and important we are – is about to be replaced by a new form of communication that’s not about us anymore. When the machines take over, the content of arts marketing is going to be about the customers, and that’ll be a hard pill to swallow for leaders who have spent their careers making sure their marketing is all about them.
Consider this example:
“In tests, JPMorgan Chase found that Persado’s machine-learning tool crafted better ad copy than its own writers could muster, as measured by the higher click rates—more than double in some case—on digital ads for Chase cards and mortgages. In one such matchup, an ad written by a human read, “Access cash from the equity in your home.” The more successful version, from Persado, read, “It’s true—You can unlock cash from the equity in your home.””
AI-driven copy works because it “knows” what motivates people to act and it chooses language that’s calculated to stimulate those motivators. In this example, the emphasis shifted from sharing information (a.k.a. getting the word out) to capitalizing on customers’ desires.
Bank customers want to have their problems solved. They want to know that their unmet desires have been recognized. They want straightforward information from authoritative sources. They want good news. They want easy money. They want relief from financial worries. They want to feel empowered. The folks at Persado “trained” their AI to zero in on these motivators and asked it to choose words that were calculated to appeal to such yearnings. While the human copy merely describes the product from the bank’s perspective, the machine copy sells by appealing to customers’ desires and expectations.
Crafting language that recognizes and promises to satisfy peoples’ yearnings is what persuasion is all about.
In most arts organizations marketing staffers sit in conference rooms dreaming up creative ways to tell the world how wonderful and important their events are. Then they ask their writers and designers to shape their output into language and images that will be used to “get the word out” to people who are already interested enough to act. The process begins, as it always has, with what the marketers want to say, and often has little to do with what they’ve learned – if they’ve even bothered to ask – about what motivates their customers to act.
The great news here is that arts marketers are soon going to be yanked out of their artsy bubbles and forced to learn about their future customers’ yearnings. They’ll have no choice. Artificial intelligence can’t develop language that appeals to what motivates new audiences until marketers learn what those motivators are and then feed the data into the machine.
[Editorial note: I think the bank example is idiotic. Any human writer who understood those customer motivations could have come up with the better copy. And any arts marketer who takes the time to learn what motivates customers to act can create persuasive content without paying Persado to do it for them. The tragedy is that it just doesn’t happen and that some really smart people – folks who actually understand how it works – have taught machines to do what the rest of us should have been doing all along.]
Whether AI or human, I look forward to the day when arts organizations start to produce the audience-centered marketing that’s likely to be nessary for their survival.