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How Virgin Holidays Made Millions With AI and Email
Blog Feature

By: Mike Kaput

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June 16th, 2020

How Virgin Holidays Made Millions With AI and Email

Virgin Holidays sells travel experiences that net hundreds of millions per year. A lot of its sales happen over email, so even a modest bump in engagements and conversions is worth a fortune.

Turns out, making a fortune is a lot easier when you use artificial intelligence. Virgin Holidays adopted an AI tool called Phrasee to do just that.

Phrasee uses AI to automatically write email subject lines. These subject lines sound human, but perform better than subject lines humans write.

Using the tool, Virgin Holidays raised open rates by 2%, a bump that was worth millions in new revenue. Additionally, writing subject lines now takes minutes, not weeks like it did before. That frees up the brand's marketers to work on higher-value tasks.

Here's how it all went down.

Virgin Holidays started using Phrasee a few years ago. The company had no culture of testing, says Saul Lopes, the brand's CRM, CX and Loyalty Lead.

"What was happening is I was waiting on copywriters [...] to get back to me on subject lines. Everyone has an opinion. And everyone thinks they can write the winner subject lines."

Lopes met with Phrasee, saw the tool's capabilities, and understood the value immediately.

"In the first two minutes I wanted it," he told Computerworld. "I saw the ability to save time and test a lot more, rather than a human giving me two or three variations that are pretty similar."

In the past, approving subject lines and doing no testing took weeks. That's no longer the case with Phrasee.

"Suddenly, I had 10 subject lines that were brand compliant in one minute," says Lopes. All these subject lines are now being rigorously tested, too.

The part about brand compliance is important. Virgin Holidays knew that AI could write subject lines more efficiently. But could a machine match the brand's fun, quirky voice? Turns out, those fears were overblown. Virgin Holidays fed their brand guidelines and tone of voice into Phrasee.

The tool was "on brand from day one," says Liam Savage, a CRM executive at the company. "Being at Virgin, the message is very key. We have to be very on brand. It's very quirky. For Phrasee to be able to deliver that keeps everyone happy.”

The subject lines written by Phrasee look so much like a human that even a human can’t tell the difference between human-generated and AI-generated subject lines. Well, Lopes can a little—but not in the way you would expect:

"It's actually sometimes a little more adventurous than our humans do in terms of tone of voice.”

That’s because Phrasee uses natural language processing (NLP) and natural language generation (NLG), two AI technologies, to understand sophisticated language and generate human-sounding copy at scale. The company also uses machine learning, another AI tech, to continually improve the tool’s performance.

In short, Phrasee “understands” what makes an effective, human-sounding subject line, creates subject lines based on that information, and improves itself based on what it learns from how its subject lines perform.

For Virgin Holidays, this powerful combination of AI technologies produces real world results. Lopes says the brand has generated several million more in revenue thanks to the tool.

Sounds like it makes dollars and cents to us.

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About Mike Kaput

Mike Kaput is Chief Content Officer at Marketing AI Institute and a senior consultant at PR 20/20. He writes and speaks about how marketers can understand, adopt, and pilot artificial intelligence to increase revenue and reduce costs. Full bio.

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