The Year of You

We analyzed 18 million messages across 180 brands…

…looking for the words and ideas that make a difference.

Here’s 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.”

  • add this to your closet asap

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.“

  • our way of saying thanks
  • 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.”

  • please sign up
  • 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.”

  • you’re getting amazing deals
  • welcome to more deals

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.”

  • we have something new to show you
  • new day, new opportunities

The Year of YOU

2020 is the year of you. The word you. The pronoun you. And the concepts embodied by you. Persado’s AI platform found that messages built around you outperform those conveying the same idea without it. You was the top performing word in 2019, and we fully expect it to hold the top spot in 2020. You makes people feel seen in a world of faux-personalized experiences. You is a relationship, not just a transaction. In a world awash in ads, messages, and media, people want to be heard.

You delivers on the promise of personalization.

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

You’ll see much better engagement by shifting your perspective–and language–to be more customer-centric. Your customers will love you for using you more.

You can’t rely on guesswork anymore. It’s time to think hard about how to use words strategically across the entire company.

You’ll be amazed how your brand comes to life when you use more pleases and thank yous.

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”

Billboard Ad
Direct Mail
Web – Landing Page
Subway Ad
SMS
Bus Ad
Email Subject Line
IVR/Customer Service
Mortgage/Home Loan Application

The Worst Word of 2019

Don’t worry, we won’t tell you what to do. Except just now, when we just told you not to worry. It may be obvious, but warning or commanding a customer is never as strong as telling them a benefit. There’s something presumptuous about don’t that people notice, and yet, phrases such as “Don’t miss it” are still go-to words for many a copywriter. The word don’t was the poorest performing word across all 18 million messages we analyzed. Not only is don’t an imperative — a language form called “grammatical mood” that expresses a speaker’s general intentions and is a generally poor performing construct — the word don’t is also a negative imperative. About the only thing people like less than being told what to do is being told what not to do. And in this case, two negatives definitely don’t equal a positive.

Don’t is such a powerfully poor-performing word that even adding you won’t overcome the negative effect of the command. Please avoid using even “you don’t want to miss this.” Did you notice the difference between that and the above examples? You don’t want to miss this is not the same as you will be getting the experience of a lifetime. The latter is much more customer-centric and higher-performing as a result.

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.

Methodology

18

million
messages

10

communication
channels

180

brands
analyzed

5600

language
experiments

About Persado

Persado is the AI platform of reference for the choice of words for the enterprise. By unlocking the power of words, companies win every customer moment, experiencing dramatic new levels of brand engagement and revenue performance. Leading global brands rely on Persado to generate content in a dramatically new way in order to unlock the power of words and emotionally engage consumers–one by one, moment by moment, at scale.

The Persado platform uses sophisticated AI, data science, computational linguistics, and machine learning to generate the perfect message by leveraging the world’s most advanced language knowledge base of more than one million tagged and scored words and phrases. Companies can gain full visibility with quantifiable results and data-driven insights to identify the trends and language that win every moment in the customer journey while ensuring the message always reinforces brand voice. 

For more information about Persado or to schedule a demo, visit persado.com, and follow Persado on LinkedIn.

Persado can empower your company to unlock the power of words,
the foundational DNA of marketing.

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