Ask the expert: Language optimization in the COVID-19 era

An interview with Facebook’s Leighton L. Chun

If you’re looking to get the most out of your brand’s digital marketing efforts, Leighton L. Chun is an excellent person to talk to. With more than ten years of CRM experience with massive global brands like eBay, Facebook, and RetailMeNot, Leighton has a LOT of insights to share about the modern digital marketing landscape.

That’s why when we here at Phrasee were presented with the opportunity to speak with Leighton about what language optimization can do for brands in 2020 and beyond, we jumped at it.

With a diverse professional background and extensive marketing experience under his belt, Leighton L. Chun – a self-described “data-driven marketer” – brings extensive know-how in email, affiliate, social, mobile, and search marketing to bear on modern digital marketing challenges. He firmly believes that “data and innovation are the keys to unlocking the true potential of digital marketing”. Frankly, we at Phrasee couldn’t agree more.

Every brand’s marketing and language is getting more closely scrutinized by the day. Marketing language has become a business-critical issue for brands, and this hasn’t escaped the notice of forward-thinking marketers like Leighton.



Here’s what Leighton had to say…

Phrasee: Does language optimization feature on companies’ leadership agenda in 2020? If so, where do you think it ranks in the list of leadership priorities?

Leighton: I’d say it’s never been higher. There’s certainly heightened sensitivity to a brand’s language and voice. And we’ve all seen these shifts occur across the board from brands focused on consumer goods to industrial services. We’re seeing language shifts and these will become more of a “norm” as we see consumers continue to shift behaviors.

Phrasee: How have brand language and messaging changed since the COVID-19 crisis began?

Leighton: At this point, we’ve all heard very mindful messaging but, I’ve heard from consumers that it often comes across as generic and, sometimes, less genuine than is intended. In these moments, it’s more critical than ever that an organization’s messaging is agile, timely, and relevant to current societal challenges and an organization’s mission. When these last two disconnect, the messages come across as forced and disingenuous.

In a recent campaign during an NBA game, which was run by Oculus [a virtual reality video game developer and subsidiary of Facebook], the team pivoted on our original message and removed all Oculus marketing language and leaned into a moment in solidarity to drive change through voting.

As a result of being agile, relevant and, most importantly, authentic, the message received greater coverage than anticipated because it was syndicated across other platforms by partner organizations and amplified through social media.

Phrasee: In the current climate, how feasible is it for companies’ customer communications to be authentic, accountable, and audacious?

Leighton: Authenticity is becoming increasingly difficult as time passes in this current climate. Companies need to play to their strengths, identify moments that organically resonate with their business model or product, and not overreach.

Accountability is easily overlooked when messages are well-received but will often come back to bite you when they’re not.

Some organizations will shy away from audacity because it leads to open interpretations, which are often as bifurcated as our current bipartisan atmosphere. From my perspective, this is a line that needs to be carefully and thoughtfully approached.


“Language optimization has never been higher on companies’ leadership agenda.”

Leighton L. Chun, Facebook

Phrasee: Given that different brands have different product/service offerings, should marketers be focused on connecting their products and services to solving crisis-related problems?

Leighton: For some organizations, it’s about solving these problems. It’s about finding the connection of an organization’s products to this moment in time and connecting the two.

For those organizations that don’t have an apparent connection, I’d reflect on the opportunity to create that connection. If there is no connection, opting out of the moment is a viable option and likely the right one.

Phrasee: Where will you be focusing your email marketing optimization efforts as 2020 draws to a close?

Leighton: We are in the process of updating an email journey. This journey serves a specific purpose with a specific goal, which is focused on the success of our consumers.

To date, this is one of the few mechanisms our marketing team has developed to meaningfully move the needle on long-term retention. Historically, this metric has been very challenging to move because the product naturally enjoys a very high retention rate. But through the use of timely, targeted, educational, and empathetic content, we have been able to move this needle.

Phrasee: How important is it for you to send customer-centric emails to build and strengthen your customer relationships?

Leighton: We began our email journey as a customer-centric program, aligning our communication to the consumer purchase and product life cycle.

Through research and insights, we strive to resolve concerns before they become concerns, be there step-by-step through our customer decision process, and provide the necessary information to address each of their needs through the path to purchase.

Presenting the right language has only improved our programs. In one instance, we actually saw a 91% uplift in open rates through the use of Phrasee.

So, thank you to the Phrasee team for being a strong partner for our organization and really bringing the best of language optimization to our program!

*The opinions expressed in this interview are those of Leighton L. Chun and do not necessarily reflect the views of Facebook.


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