Crystal has just hit everyone’s radar with the promise of delivering better, more effective communication. It’s an app that helps you tailor your emails based on the personal style of each recipient.
The premise: Crystal crawls publicly available data to create a communication profile for anyone you might want to talk to—clients, prospects, prospective employers, potential first dates. You can take the profile and write on your own communication, or you can have Crystal help you write and edit your email.
And while its claim as “the biggest improvement to email since spell-check” smacks of old-school email marketing lead generation, its ambitions are bigger. Crystal suggests that it provides empathy—by using a psychographic profile to shape communication, you can connect more effectively with your audience.
I hope that just made marketers sit up and take notice. It appears that Crystal founder Drew D’Agostino has built an algorithm to replicate best practices for marketing communications.
Like a lot of artificial intelligence products, it’s not there yet. While many folks seem amazed by the intuitive nature of Crystal’s suggestions, I would rate it as somewhere between a horoscope and a Myers-Briggs profile. But algorithms, like wine, improve with age and consumption, so there’s still time for its potential to catch up to its promise.
But you can see the opportunity for the enterprise side of this business: software that provides custom guidance for marketing writers based on the psychographic of their communications target. Not only would marketers have precise placement of content for their specific audience thanks to Google, Facebook and other providers of behavioral graphs, they’d be assured of speaking just like their audiences during that chosen moment of interaction.
Ultimately, though, I question the value of Crystal because it lacks authenticity. Taking your audience’s communication style into account when writing is not the secret sauce to impactful communication—it’s simply good manners. And replicating someone else’s communication style as a substitution for your own is dangerous—for individuals as well as for brands.
That is the reason many people are calling Crystal “the stalking app.” It is incredibly disingenuous to emulate your audience to the point of losing yourself. We are, after all, most compelling when we have a point of view.
— WIRED (@WIRED) April 27, 2015
This brings to mind what Brian Christian wrote in The Most Human Human: What talking with computers teaches us about what it means to be alive:
“To be human is to be ‘a’ human, a specific person with a life history and idiosyncrasy and point of view; artificial intelligence suggest that the line between intelligent machines and people blurs most when a puree is made of that identity.”
Fell Gray is a writer and brand enthusiast with a taste for beautiful shoes and smoky whisky.