There’s so much buzz about AI in marketing I need a bee keeper’s suit just to keep the bullshit off of me. The marketing world is swarming with articles, opinions, podcasts and videos about how AI’s going to change world completely. I’m sure they’re right.
Most of the publicity is positive, touting the time savings and efficiency that AI tools will provide. But there are also plenty of Chicken Littles who are saying I’m bound to lose my job any day now.
That kind of fear is a familiar refrain for those of us who know the history of marketing.
Way back in the 50s when television was widely adopted, everyone said radio was dead. They said it again in 1981 when MTV came out… “Who would want to just listen to music when you can watch music videos.”
When email was invented they said direct mail was dead. (It’s actually making a resurgence in 2023.)
Then when social media and “digital marketing came out, they said advertising was dead. None of it ever happened.
Now I’m doomed, they say, because AI’s going to automate every marketing task under the sun… copywriting, strategy development, naming, research and even logo design work will all be done automatically, at the push of a button, faster and cheaper than it’s ever been done before.
I don’t doubt that Chat GPT is fast. Every day I get more spammy pitches for AI-based content services that will “write quality blog posts in 1/10th the time. Literally, in seconds.”
But I take issue with their definition of “quality.”
To qualify as “quality” in my book, any marketing message needs relevance, credibility, and differentiation. Or at least two of the three. Computer-generated articles fall flat on all three fronts.
A recent article in Forbes said everything Chat GPT creates is based on something that has been written before. So you get zero brand differentiation with articles written by AI.
It takes your prompt and scans a massive dataset of 175 billion items like books, newspapers and research papers, plus a snapshot of the internet taken in 2021. It can assemble information that already exists, construct sentences, and even choose phrasing that emulates human speech quite nicely, but it cannot create something new.
It efficiently finds what’s out there and regurgitates it back to you. What you get is a barely revised version of exactly the same obvious, surface-level stuff that everyone else in your market is using.
So you might say it’s just a fancy algorithmic parrot, or a very sophisticated plagiarizing program. (Harvard’s already working on an AI tool designed to detect AI written work handed in by students.)
Predictive AI creates predictable marketing content. And predictable content produces predictably mediocre results.
Consumers, on the other hand, are unpredictable. We behave in ridiculously random ways, and we use logic to justify our illogical decisions. AI cannot predict that.
Like any robot, Chat GPT is good at doing exactly what you tell it to do, but it can’t read between the lines. It can’t think laterally and recognize those times when 2 plus 2 does not equal 4. And it’s those unexpected connections — key consumer insights — that are the foundation for the best marketing campaigns. That’s one area where humans will always have an edge.
Those of us who can read between the lines and make those connections will always have a place in the future world of marketing.
Want proof? Don’t listen to what I have to say on the subject. In fact, don’t listen to any writer. We’re all biased on this subject. Instead, listen to what Chat GPT says about itself…
I’m going deep down the robo-rabbit hole for this. Here’s a verbatim snippet of what Chat GPT wrote when told to: Write a persuasive article about why UNpredictable marketing content produces higher rates of engagement and conversion than predictable content:
“The benefits of unpredictable marketing content are numerous. Firstly, it the attention of your audience, forcing them to stop and take notice. This is particularly important in age where consumers are bombarded with advertising messages from all directions.
Secondly, unpredictable content drives engagement. When people are or intrigued by something, they are more likely to engage with it. This can take the form of likes, comments, shares, or even direct messages. The more engagement you receive, the more likely your content is to be seen by a larger audience, which can ultimately boost conversion rates.
Finally, unpredictable marketing content positions your brand as creative and innovative. By breaking the rules and doing something unexpected, you show your audience that you are not afraid to risks and try new things. This can lead to increased brand loyalty, as consumers are more to remember and connect with brands that stand out from the crowd.”
That’s Chat GPT talking! Notice that it’s not immune to typos, it loves clichés and it’s rather formal and formulaic… “firstly, secondly, finally.”
But more importantly, it’s just not very persuasive. Would that copy really help if you’re trying to convince a boss or a client to approve a campaign that’s truly “out of the box?” I don’t think so. It’s one big DUH.
Bias will always be a part of AI in marketing
It’s well known in market research circles that you can easily ask leading questions to produce research results that support your position. Ethical researchers are always guarding against that, and a lot of money is spent in questionnaire design to eliminate that bias.
Unethical people can always use tools like Chat GPT to manipulate and rearrange the “facts” to support whatever point they’re trying to make. The quality of the results you get are directly proportional to the quality of the questions you ask. It’s just a matter of how you word your prompt.
The prompt mentioned above is admittedly biased. I was looking for copy that supports my hypothesis that UNpredictable stuff works better than predictable stuff. I could just as easily prompt it to argue otherwise.
So there’s still a human being steering that ship. At least for now. I’ve actually been getting pitches to sell me Chat GPT prompts! For just $19.95 I could purchase the exact wording that everyone else is typing into Chat GPT to extract all that “quality” content.
Begs the question… Have marketers really gotten that lazy? We can’t even type our own, unique prompts into the robotic tools that are going to do all the work for us???
Sadly, I believe that’s in line with the trend over the last 10 years. While the volume of noise is going up, up, up, marketing teams are taking more short cuts than ever before. The the overall quality of the “content” is going down.
Before you decide to let Chat GPT do all the writing for you, answer this question:
What’s the objective of the marketing content you’re trying to create?
Some startups just want to load their new website full of keywords and try to play on the same field as their established competitors. It’s a purely reactive approach: “Hey, those guys seem to be getting good milage out of content like this, so we should do that too.”
In some big companies there’s a lot of pressure to meet content quotas. Bosses never actually read or watch any of it, but they carefully track the volume of stuff that’s being produced.
In those two scenarios by all means, lean on Chat GPT for quantity over quality.
However, if the objective is to be distinctive, differentiated, and more creative than your competitors, you’re going to need real, human creatives instead of a robot.
If you want to build a brand, persuade someone to buy, or affect real change in any way, you have to go deeper, find a different angle, add brand personality and give the piece a creative touch that will set it apart from all the other AI-generated content.
Here’s some more verbatim content from Chat GPT on that subject: Write a blog post about why Chat GPT is not a good tool for creative writing:
As an AI language model developed by OpenAI, GPT-3 is a powerful tool that can generate text, answer questions, and even write stories. However, despite its impressive capabilities, GPT-3, specifically Chat GPT, is not the ideal option for creative writing.
First and foremost, GPT-3 operates on predefined algorithms and data sets. It lacks natural intuition and creativity, which are essential elements of good creative writing. While it can produce coherent sentences and paragraphs, it cannot create a plot, develop characters, or evoke emotions. These are the hallmark features of a great story, and they require a human touch.
Secondly, creative writing requires an understanding of human experience and emotions. GPT-3 does not have such capabilities. It cannot comprehend social nuances or empathize with characters. This lack of understanding makes it difficult for GPT-3 to produce meaningful or compelling stories.
Furthermore, creative writing is a process that involves exploring ideas, experimenting with different styles, and developing one’s own voice. GPT-3 can generate texts, but it cannot be creative in the same way that humans can. It has no purpose or intent, no sense of humor or irony, and no insight into the human condition. As such, relying on GPT-3 for creative writing would limit one’s potential as a writer.
Lastly, relying on Chat GPT for creative writing would limit the development of important skills that come with the writing process. Writing helps one to develop critical thinking, analytical skills, and the ability to communicate effectively. It also allows one to explore their creativity and express themselves through their writing. By using GPT-3 for creative writing, one would miss out on all these benefits.
In conclusion, Chat GPT may be a powerful tool in natural language processing, but it falls short when it comes to creative writing. It lacks the ability to understand human emotions, develop characters, or create compelling stories. Relying on GPT-3 for creative writing would only serve to limit one’s potential as a writer and miss out on the benefits that come with the writing process.
My big take-away from that is the reminder that “writing helps develop critical thinking, analytical skills, and the ability to communicate effectively.”
So true. Clarity is the cure for many of the world’s ills. And nothing helps clarify a great idea quite like the process of writing it down. If marketers, and business people in general, never write anything from scratch, then where will we be?
Original thinking is the hallmark of great marketing, and you simply will not have it if all you’re doing is editing the content that the computer spits out.
Chat GPT also said this: “Lack of intuition: Intuition is the spark that ignites creativity. It allows us to make connections between seemingly disparate ideas and come up with something truly original.
So if it’s not good for creative writing or persuasive arguments, how can you use AI to produce marketing content?
Here are some practical, immediate ways you can use AI without ruining your brand image or credibility…
Generate your own images.
If you need free images to illustrate articles like this one, AI can be a very helpful tool. I used the Open AI site DallE to generate an image of a writing robot in about 5 minutes. It’s good enough for editorial support, but I wouldn’t use it in an ad campaign. It should not replace great photography or the inspired touch of a good commercial illustrator. Use AI images to give those creative professionals a good, clear place to start. Then let them elevate the idea in their own, unique way.
Get past writer’s block.
If you have absolutely nothing, and you’re pulling your hair out staring at a blank computer screen, you could use Chat GPT as a brainstorming tool. Just start typing prompts into it, and see what comes out. Chances are, it’ll give you a place to start. Just don’t expect it to do all the work for you. Use the AI output as the starting point, not the finished product.
Organize disjointing ideas.
A lot of business people have trouble organizing a brain full of disjointed thoughts. They simply cannot articulate what they’re trying to say. In that situation, Chat GPT can be useful for generating a reasonably understandable outline and editing a bunch of unrelated sentences into a coherent piece. But even that takes a fair amount of work. You might have to go back 10 times with different prompts to get anything usable.
Conduct your own secondary research
When I started out we had to go to the local library, the college, or to Powell’s Books to do research on a subject. All the answers were not at our fingertips, so it trained us how to dig deeper and look harder from all different angles. AI tools can help you do that, or they can just be a lazy crutch. You decide.
Needless to say, there are already dozens of good uses for AI in marketing that I haven’t covered here. There are many elements of marketing that are already routinely automated. For instance, chatbots for customer service questions are old hat by now. But those interactive, text-based conversations still need improvement.
AI is great for making personalized product recommendations in the ecommerce arena. But it’s also commonly used to generate generic product descriptions that don’t sell worth shit.
AI personalization of Email works, but it also produces a lot of obviously robot-written email scripts and spam that’s completely misdirected.
So far, the results are mixed, but I have no doubt it’s going to get better rapidly.
It’s fascinating to think of all the possibilities for AI. That’s why the Science Fiction genre is so popular. It’s fun to fantasize about the future, but it’s dumb to worry about it.
Suffice it to say, I suspect that Jeff Bezos will be right about this when he says, “People almost always OVER estimate the impact of new technology in the short term, and UNDER estimate it in the long term.”
Twenty years from now the marketing world certainly will be radically different. One detail that was outlined in an HBR article is particularly revealing;
“We believe that product placement and personalized product recommendations on AI platforms are inevitable. In that universe, Brands will need to shift their marketing focus from influencing consumers, to influencing the AI algorithms.”
Ouch! Not exactly what I want to be doing. But I’m not too worried about my immediate job prospects. The proverbial sky is not falling.
As long as I live there will be great demand for marketing experts who can think laterally, write well and execute. Plus, I believe that as long as you keep learning, and don’t turn your back completely on new technology, you’ll be fine.
Ultimately, I see AI as being just another tool in the successful marketer’s quiver. Plus, original thinking and writing like this will become even more valuable, because of the sheer volume of computer-generated content marketing.
One thing’s for sure…
There will be a weeding out among writers and “creatives” of all kinds. I recently heard about a copywriter who just lost his job to AI. He was writing click bait headlines at Amazon so yes, they replaced him with a program that scrapes words off the Amazon product pages and puts them together in a cookie cutter fashion.
According to Forbes, “marketers who are used to working in a routine, formulaic way might have reason to be worried, but those who are capable of applying truly human qualities should have nothing to fear.”