Kate Bradley Chernis of Lately: Marketers Hate Writing, but AI and Automation Eases the Pain

One thing a lot of people struggle with is writing.  Whether it’s finding enough time to do it, or enough interesting topics to consistently publish compelling content that gets the right people’s attention, many marketers would rather do something else … anything else … than sit down and write.  But the combination of AI and automation is beginning to change that whole dynamic.

Social Media Marketing AI

Kate Bradley Chernis, Founder & CEO of Lately — a platform using artificial intelligence to instantly transform blogs, videos and podcasts into dozens of social posts – joined me yesterday in a LinkedIn Live conversation to talk about how AI and automation is allowing marketers not only get more out of their efforts, it’s tapping into and using insights that is leading to self-generated content with human empathy included.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.  To see the full conversation — including Kate sharing her thoughts and experiences on building a tech startup – watch the video, or click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.

Small Business Trends: What exactly is Lately?

Kate Bradley Chernis: It’s like having a pistol that’s really a rocket launcher type of idea. So you can take any blog. Any video, any podcast, a news article, that was written about your company. Like maybe some PR, and paste the URL into Lately’s artificial intelligence. Push a button. You could add a few hashtags if you wanted to, and what the AI does is it instantly goes out and it examines the last year of every social post you’ve ever published on any of your channels that you have connected to us. And it’s looking for the most compelling, engaging posts, the highest engaging posts, and it’s looking for the keywords that have appeared there in those posts, and it’s building a writing model based on your writing that resonates the best with your customers.

And then it pulls the quotes of what it’s ingested from your blog, for example, out into social posts, with the short link on the end, and the hashtags, and anything else you like. So think of it like a little movie trailer to the larger components, but often you’re getting three dozen social posts, because there’s going to be some incredible sentences that either somebody said or somebody wrote, each just a little taste of what’s to come if you were to click it. Does that make sense?

Small Business Trends: [Coworker] Cadi said I should ask you about Netflix.

Kate Bradley Chernis: Oh yeah. She loves this. So what Lately’s AI does, and this is really important for folks to understand, it’s not just automation, it’s artificial intelligence that really learns what works. So the same way Netflix learned what we all wanted to watch, and then use that data to recommend relevant content to you, and then use that data to create original content like The Crown. That’s now the most watched on its platform, because the AI learns what works. And that’s what Lately does as well with words.

Small Business Trends: How has AI not only changed what you do, but changed your approach to doing what you do?

Kate Bradley Chernis: So one thing that’s changed is certainly the way that we understand what resonates with our customers. That was the biggest one. Lately is actually a very robust platform that does way more automatically in the background, so that once you have this beautiful content generated by the AI, you want to do stuff with it. And so it’s our job to give you that ability, but we used to sell that part first and not the AI.

Small Business Trends: Wow.

Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah, so it’s a strange kind of way that we had to flip it. And that was just really by watching what did our customers get into the most. And then also just connecting the story. So we learned how to demo the product in a certain series of ways where then you’d go: “Oh, Oh, Oh.” So multiple aha’s, which is super valuable.

And then to really also understand what the biggest pain point was. We thought time saving would be the biggest pain point, because that seems obvious. Who doesn’t want more time? And then money saving seems like a big point as well, but it turns out these days we’re all so saturated with many things that make our lives better that time saving and money saving becomes expected, but the writing, that’s a pain point that no one’s solving.

Small Business Trends: One of my buddies, Kenny Lauer, he says, “AI can absolutely replace the human. Maybe not Lately, but it’s absolutely possible.” Interesting. We don’t want to replace humans, or do we? I mean, you know.

Kate Bradley Chernis: Not in marketing though, Brent. Do you mind if I jump in on that one?

Small Business Trends: Go ahead.

Kate Bradley Chernis: The reason is because of emotion. So this is so powerful and people dismiss it. The whole reason sales people like to go and make the sale in person is because they know there’s such a higher value of conversion if you’re actually talking to a human. There’s that empathy sympathy. It all happens in that moment.

And so if you remove the human from the situation, you won’t get that. A robot just doesn’t do that at all. So that’s why you want them collaborating together. And the thing is, it’s so much more powerful. It’s not one plus one equals two. One plus one equals three with these two components.

Small Business Trends: Kenny Lauer replied, “AI will be able to deliver emotion and empathy, not a robot, a human AI personality.”

I know there are a couple of companies that are working on some of that stuff. I know Pega systems, they actually put into their customer engagement platform something called an empathy advisor.

Kate Bradley Chernis: Oh, wow.

Small Business Trends: Early days for that, but let me ask you, so do you think you will be able to include empathy into your AI layer to not only create the post, but to put the feeling, the human emotion, into the post as well? Is that something that you can see coming?

Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah. Softball city Brent. So of course. Right? So this is the exciting part. We’re focused on AI creative writing, which is a blue ocean kind of field. And just to lay it out for you a little bit, right now Lately extracts short form content, ie, social posts, from long form content, ie, blogs, videos, podcasts.

Now down the road, that short form content will take other forms. Text messaging, sales chats, emails, even blogs themselves, but once we extract the short form from the long form, we’re then able to enhance that content. Whoops, where’s my mirror, enhance.

Small Business Trends: There you go.

Kate Bradley Chernis: And so one of the ways we enhance now is with the keyword weighting, which is what we’ve been touching on. We’re also able to enhance with tone of voice. So we worked with Anheuser-Busch and Bev over the summer, and we ingested 10,000 pieces of content from one of their brands, so one brand voice, into our AI brain, and at the end of the experiment we were able to push a button and Lately was able to create content from scratch in the brand voice and it was damn good and emotional.

Small Business Trends: Wow. So it’s not just about ingesting content, finding the snippets and pushing them out. Now you’re talking about generating the content in addition to that.

Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah, it just needs that baseline of information. So those 10,000 posts is what it was learning from. And what it inspired us to do, by the way, and I’d love to know what Kenny thinks about this, our customers constantly were asking us, “Well, so Kate, how do you do it?” This is why I give those free courses.

How does Lately do it? We want to write Lately. And so we thought, well, let’s take what we’ve learned with our ABM embed project, and let’s turn that model on ourselves. So right now we’re taking all 40,000 social posts that Lately Kately has published and we’re running that through the AI brain so that we can then use that as the gold standard to recommend to our customers, and create different learning sets. So now one of them, as we move on, will be mood, so if you wanted funny posts you just hit a button. That’s awesome.

Small Business Trends: How do you measure success? Is this little piece I’m pulling out getting in front of the right audience, and the right audience is actually doing what we’d like them to do?

 Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah. So that’s the smartest question, of course, is what are the results? So we do measure, for us, we’re looking behind the scenes at how often our customers are auto generating content, and then how often they’re actually publishing that content, and then how well that’s performing and taking note of that database.

We use ourselves often as, I mean we dog food our own product. If you guys have heard of that term. I mean we, we drink our own champagne. So I’ll talk about us, because I can do that publicly with license. So for us, for example, we believe in 100% organic content, and the power of organic. We don’t do any paid ads. As many of you know, a lot of social media outlets have been pressing down the reach of paid ads. So we were like, let’s just do what we know how to do best.

I get a lot of inbound. I get a great, great bunch of interviews like this, because of my charming personality, and we auto-generate all that press. So, for example, we might take a recording of this podcast, we’ll put it through the auto generator and in just a few seconds we’ll get, let’s just say 60 social posts, it’s probably likely, and the goal of the AI is to then start you at third base, and for a human, which we love the humans, to come in and get it to home plate. So that’s the one plus one equals three equation. There we go.

Small Business Trends: There it is.

Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah, mirror. So the way it works for us for example, is with those, let’s say 50 posts we get, I would pop in and just spend a few extra minutes humanizing them, maybe putting my voice on, making sure that everything is looking awesome from what the AI gives me. And then we like to stagger all 50 posts out over time. So what I would do, Brent, is I would actually probably tag you in most of those posts, maybe half of them, but if I broadcast them every day for a week, you’d be like, “Dude, you are annoying me. And I’m not re-tweeting this content.”

But if I spread it out once every three weeks, over the next few months, we’re both going to get a lot of long tail traffic. And so if you’re doing this often, and stockpiling your whole calendar in this way, it’s like it’s the new Evergreen, and for us it translates to a 50% trial to sale conversion. So those are the results we’re looking at.

And the reason is, is because the leads are already warm by the time we get to them. So what we look at is who’s liking our content, who’s commenting, and who’s re-tweeting it, and what are those people like? So we don’t do any cold emailing or cold calling, because if you’re already participating in my audience in some way, you like me, you know something about me, that hurdle is already cut in half for me.

And so again, we’re really putting that stake in the stand. Organic is the winner, and the reason is, is because these relationships. You know me, you’ve got some idea when my team member approaches you. It’s just a much different kind of conversation there. So we actually encourage and train our own customers on the same model, by request. So we do free courses every week. I joined those once a week.

Small Business Trends: What has been your experience in this whole [start up] process as, has it been what you were expecting? Has it been more difficult? Has it been less difficult? Tell us a little bit about your journey on that area.

Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah, thanks for asking. I mean, you get punched in the face almost every day, to be honest with you, and it can come as a shock often, but you do get numb to it, because there’s things, it’s just so out of your control. The biggest thing that I learned, this year especially, was that the overwhelmed feeling wasn’t going away. The list of to do’s, and all the things that had to be done immediately, yesterday, on fire, was never going to go away. And I needed to change my perception of those things. So I did something that people have been telling me to do for years and I was like, “Are you kidding? I don’t have time for this.” Which is meditating.

Small Business Trends: Really? Okay.

Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah. And the difference has been, for me, actually life changing, because the stuff. The punches in the face. All of these emergencies. They’re coming all the time. Like looking at the bank account. Ah! You know. And having the pressure of making sure my team is happy and good. And my investors and myself, but none of the outside stuff was going to change. So I had to learn how to change the inside stuff. And I’ve been trying to give that gift to as many other entrepreneurs as I possibly can. Because we all suffer from this. And most of the entrepreneurs that I know like to suffer alone. There’s a reason we do this thing, and you sign up for it.

So there’s nothing that I regret. Any punch in the face that I’ve had, I would take again, honestly, gladly, because it’s what has gotten us here, but also, I choose this ride, because the highs are so high. I mean the lows are so low, right? So I think knowing that’s the case, and that’s what you’re signing up for, I can’t wait to write the book. It’s going to be amazing.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

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