We analyzed 18 million messages across 180 brands looking for the words and ideas that make a difference.
This is what we found.
Predictions can be made based on guesswork and gut-feel or they can emerge from millions of data points and actual observed behavior. We prefer the latter approach. How else could the Greek mathematician Eratosthenes have predicted that the circumference of the earth was 46,250 km in the 3rd century B.C. — a prediction that’s been proven to be over 85% accurate? He built a database of observations that showed the sun cast a 7 degree shadow in Alexandria on the summer solstice and, comparing that to observations in his hometown of Cyrene along with some fancy math, he made a startlingly accurate prediction.
You’d be amazed at what you can learn and predict about language by analyzing 18 million messages.
We’re a company founded by mathematicians with the aim to disrupt the choice of words across the enterprise — utilizing AI, machine learning, and data. Our team built an exhaustive database of micro-level observations and data points related to language and words. This analysis details the specific words that consistently deliver impact over time as a way to pinpoint the patterns and insights that will make your communications more effective in 2020 and beyond.
We’re all bombarded on a daily basis by marketing messages–on the bus ride home, in the elevator or car, on the radio, phone, or TV–there’s always a message competing for your attention and engagement. It’s a world of words where people are talking to you constantly.
Words have power.
From Facebook and free speech to Twitter and Trump, words set the tone, engage the audience, and draw the boundaries.
Yet while most marketing and business leaders obsess over the right channel, the right audience, and the right offer, few focus on the power of the right message and the role that the right words play in those messages. The words you choose and use across the organization make a huge difference in the performance of messages. You can’t realistically expect to deliver effective personalization without personalizing the words used in your messaging.
Persado applies machine learning and mathematical certainty to how brands choose and use the right language so that messages resonate and engage wherever words are used across a company.
Everyday at Persado, we “talk” in over 25 languages to millions of people all over the world by conducting language experiments, running campaigns, and evolving a language database of over 1 million words. As we enter a new year and decade, we have run an exhaustive analysis of 5,600 brand campaigns to pinpoint and share the words that make people listen, engage, and act. We honed in on the words that inspire people and motivate them to select one message over another, one product over another and, at the end of the day, one brand over another.
Business leaders can leverage these insights to unlock the power of words for driving audience engagement and loyalty throughout the year.
We ranked and analyzed the top 20 performing words of 2019 and found fascinating insights that will inform and guide better messaging in 2020. Here’s a cherry-picked countdown of the top performing words:
asap came in at #17, which is not surprising when you consider how people use language to be relevant in the age of social media. asap is no longer just A.S.A.P. or as soon as possible, just like OMG is not literally Oh My God anymore. Think of the phrase, “Add this to your closet asap,” which generates a sense of “it’s so good you want it immediately.”
There’s something very powerful about the word thanks. Thanks creates a positive, thoughtful interaction with a person just like it does face-to-face. The very literal expression of appreciation to another human embodied in the word thanks is compelling. Saying thanks is an easy way for brands to include the customer as part of their brand story. Consider phrases such as “our way of saying thanks” or “this offer is our way of saying thanks.“
Manners matter even in the digital age, and please, in particular, softens an entire message. Just putting please in front of an imperative makes it much more accessible and friendlier. Nobody likes to be told to get something or sign up, but write please get something and please sign up, and now you’ve got our attention. Please — along with #14, “invite”, and #12, “access” — are drivers of Exclusivity, which we know to be a very powerful emotion. A couple to try are “please sign up” or “please click here.”
Everybody likes a deal, and that’s a big deal because the word deals is not the same as “savings”, which is the least effective offer word. Deals feels special, something just for you, whereas savings is…just…blah. Not specific and not for you. Note that only four offer-related words made the top 20 in 2019: “sale” at #6, “code”, ranked #9, and “redeem” is #15. Sure, deal-driven language moves merchandise, but in a world where everything from the side of a bus to your Instagram feed is selling you things all day, you need human-centered language that speaks to people as human beings. Explore options such as “you’re getting amazing deals,” “welcome to more deals,“ and “because you’re a big deal.”
New is about renewal and reinvention–the version of you that has cast off bad habits, bad friends, a bad job, or bad-fitting shoes. Use new in messages to generate a sense of excitement, fascination, and anticipation–all high-performing, positive emotions. It’s a positive, optimistic word that gestures to new experiences, fresh opportunities, and even proactive potential to brighten up a gray day. Try variations such as “we have something new to show you,” “new day, new opportunities,” and “something new is waiting.”
The Year of YOU
Every time we test a concept that starts with “you” against a concept that starts with a verb or something else, the phrase that includes “you” is very often much more effective.
There is also a widespread fatigue effect at play in 2020. Most marketers will say they are customer-centric yet still use brand-centric, imperative-heavy language: don’t wait, don’t miss out, etc. Consumers are bombarded by this type of messaging and this type of empty urgency across every hour of every day. People are tired of being marketed to.
The word you includes the person “you” in the story and makes that person the central character in the message. You makes you the protagonist of the message and the story.
A phrase doesn’t need to start with the word “you” to have an impact. “You” can come toward the end of a headline or text message and still have power. Anchoring a message in “you” makes the communication less about what we want to tell you and more about why this is relevant to you. You’re getting 50% off is much more concrete and centered on the consumer than Get 50% off.
Rupert Wesson, academy director at etiquette authority Debrett’s, recently noted in a New York Times article that the most important thing when conversing online “is to stay human and to keep in mind the guiding principles of all etiquette: care and consideration for other people.”
Make 2020 less about you and more about the word you as a way to deliver customer-centric, personalized marketing that is more… human.
Key Learnings for Executives
Full List of Top Performing Words in 2019
Get ready for a few imperatives. With you at center stage, use the best words long list to fill in the dialogue. Extend an invitation to see or to redeem. Confirm that an anticipated something or someone has arrived. Offer a compliment. Ask permission. Express gratitude. Your audience wants to be invited, excited, and empowered. Leave the negativity to the nightly news. Your job is to make people feel special–about themselves and the world.
Examples of How You Can Use “You”
The Worst Word of 2019
Insights to Make Words Matter More in 2020
You’re invited to discover a world of possibilities… by ditching imperatives
Marketers love the imperative form. So do parents. And some bosses. The function of imperatives is to tell you what to do. Open the door, save 10% or more, be home by 10, don’t touch that! The problem is that marketers overuse the imperative to say things that are not very specific and straightforward. Imperatives as a language form perform poorly compared to more inviting language.
When you reframe phrases as more customer- and benefit-centric with more of an active, “you”-focused phrase like you can save 10%, you are getting our best deals of the day, or you will be getting the experience of a lifetime, that immediately has an impact on how people respond to the language, and engagement improves.
Please avoid questions
Are you ready? It sounds like an interesting challenge phrase, but questions really don’t work the way you think they do. If you’re thinking of using a question, just cut to the chase. Use something more like we’re getting you ready for an adventure or you’re officially ready for spring.
You’ll love the present progressive
The form of the verb that we often use with “you” is the present progressive (i.e., you’re getting, this is happening, you are saving, etc.). You’re getting emphasizes the actual benefit you will enjoy after you do that something. Instead of focusing on what you need to do, using the present progressive focuses on what will happen after you do it and implies the action is already happening. The magic of this tense is that it signals a feeling of lower effort for the customer in order to realize the benefit.
We’re a company of “word nerds.” For us, a message is not just a message, and an ad is not just an ad. We explore words, language, and communication across the entire enterprise at the micro-level, always seeking to understand the right ingredients for great messaging and shine a bright light on the words and language elements that bring a message and meaning to life.
At Persado, we trust the data and let the data guide our use of language. Our starting point is not nostalgia. Our intention is not to merely capture what happened last year, but rather to understand what our data from last year teaches us about the new year.
Persado’s language database contains a memory bank of all the message experiments run through the AI platform. The beauty of using experimental design and machine learning is that the platform learns what works and what doesn’t, as opposed to A/B testing, where there is no learning and insight from one test to the next.
In order to identify the words with power, our analysts examined data from a select group of 5600 language experiments that Persado ran on behalf of our customers between September 2018 and September 2019. We’re talking about the language used in email subject lines, web page headlines, Facebook and Instagram ad captions, text notifications, direct mail communication, etc. In all, we looked at messages from 10 separate channels on behalf of 180 brands. The 18 million messages we examined were viewed 25 billion times.
From that pool of language, we removed functional words like prepositions and articles to leave only the content that had meaning. From there, we identified the corps of words that consistently generated a customer response. We were looking not just for the words that motivate an immediate click or email open, but also for words that were associated with continued action and even a purchase. We then validated the words with power by generating messages using the short list, predicting the engagement performance of each message based on our data, and running an experiment to prove (or disprove) the impact.