Robot reading content

Is AI a content marketer’s friend or foe?

AI for content marketing isn’t coming – it’s already here. So how can – and how should – it be used? How can it enhance content marketing campaigns? And should content marketers and copywriters alike be fearful of a robo-writer rapture? Read on to find out…

Scott Bampton 7 months ago

Around 10 years ago, I read an article that changed my life. It was about how AI was coming, how it was going to change everything, how it was the biggest issue we should be talking about right now (back in 2013), and that many jobs could be at risk as a result.

It’s actually why I made the move from copywriter to content strategist a few years back; that article discussed how many “narrow skilled” jobs could potentially be lost to AI, and I already remembered a separate piece from 2008 about how AI had been used to write up simple news articles from the Beijing Olympics; writing, in the sense of putting words on a page, is a “narrow” skill. The generation or synthesising of content can easily be done by machines – all that needs to change is removing the human who is inputting the necessary data.

In the case of the Beijing Olympics, this data was easily discoverable as many factors were already known prior to the event taking place – the date and time of the event, number of competitors, names of the athletes competing in the event, the competitors’ biographies, the event’s history etc. So if a known number of people are sprinting down a standard-length track in a known location at a known time, and all that remains to be determined is the order they finish in…why do you need a human to write up that report?

That’s what’s meant by a narrow skill – in this case, the generation of content based on known data, in an order that makes sense to the reader. And there’s now a host of tools available for generating new content (called “Generative AI”) which can apply this skill to a much, much larger data set that was used in the training of these AI systems (so large that a number of companies are now suing because their copyrighted material may have been used in this training without consent). So we now have tools that can very quickly and easily generate “net new” content on any subject it’s been trained on…as a content marketer or copywriter, where does that leave you?

Why could AI be bad for content marketers and content producers?

The answer to this question comes down to how much human decision-making is involved in your role. As I said, my own journey away from the “narrow” skill of copywriting was triggered by that harrowing realisation that I could potentially become entirely replaceable by a machine one day. Marketing copywriting was already getting outsourced to cheaper countries at the time, it was just a matter of time before machines could do it even cheaper, or for free.

Yes, we’ve seen this all before in content marketing – particularly in SEO circles. Remember when producers were asked to create reams and reams of garbage content for company websites on the mistaken belief that “more content is better.” Then Google’s devaluing and subsequent crackdown on low-quality link building led to the “guest post zombie apocalypse” – where reams and reams of garbage content were created for clients and then placed on other people’s sites for SEO backlinks.

The short story here is that the same cycles are now repeating – just with better and better tools. So now ChatGPT and other similar generative AI tools can produce as many articles as you want, on any subject, of any length, instantly and for free. It means the internet is already being flooded with millions of pages of content that literally anybody can produce: “ChatGPT, give me 1,500 words on the hottest kitchen utensils of 2024.” Or: “I need 15 product pages of 500 words each for a beer brand.” Et cetera.

So if you’ve hung your hat on simply “knocking out” content of this type – sometimes of questionable value at the behest of a paying client – where is your value if a machine can now do it?

This is a question only you can answer. And that boils down to how you approach creating content. If somebody asks you to write X number of words on a  subject, do you just crack on and start producing? Or would you ask those key questions that ensure that content has value for an audience: who is this for? What tone of voice are we going for? Where will this page sit in the content funnel? What other content like this already exists? How can we make this better? Etc.

Currently, Chat GPT doesn’t know to ask these questions. It is programmed to do what the user asks of it, to the best of its ability. So if you ask it to produce a product page about fidget spinners, it will do so in a neutral tone of voice – dry, stale, reading a bit like a Wikipedia article or fidget spinner manual. It is simply putting words on the page about fidget spinners, because that’s what you asked it to do. Is that what you’ve spent the last few years doing too? Simply putting words on a page?

Or have you spend that time thinking broader? More strategically? Bringing a sense of creative flair to your content that a machine can’t? Can you bring together a wealth of knowledge on the brand you’re writing for to create something far more valuable than a machine could? Do you have the nous to question whether this content should even be written in the first place? Or whether it should be delivered in a different format? Do you have the soft skills to know how to put these questions to a client or superior in a respectful way? Can you get out of your own shoes and into the reader’s to really understand where the value is for them?

In short, can you think like a human, and not a machine?

Why could AI be good for content marketers and content producers?

Now we’re getting down to brass tacks. Is generative AI going away? No. Is it a threat to narrow skilled content professionals who haven’t developed a more rounded skill set? Yes. The solution? Take your human instincts and strategic thinking, and add tools like ChatGPT that are good at doing what they’re told (i.e. creating exactly the kind of valuable content you know your audience needs, because you asked all the right questions at the right time. Voila – match made in heaven!

The strategic side of content marketing (i.e. content strategy) looks at the “why?” So rather than jump straight to the planning of a new website, or the production of 50 blog articles, or 500 short format videos, you’re asking the questions higher up the decision making tree – what content do people need? Where do they need it? What format do they need it in? How, when, and where do we get their initial attention? What do we eventually want from them (e.g. a sale)? How do we gently guide them through our content towards a conversion without scaring them off by getting too salesy too early?

Then go off and get the data and insights together to answer these questions – website data, sales data, social media data etc. This is the core of great content strategy. By knowing these are the right questions to ask, you make yourself infinitely valuable than a machine that will simply churn out a stale version of anything you tell it to.

Even when you ask a program like ChatGPT to “liven this content up,” it does so in an extremely formulaic way. It doesn’t know what kind of lively you want, because it doesn’t know to ask that question – a “lively” LinkedIn post for a B2B ball bearing manufacturing company will look starkly different to a “lively” blog post for a fashion influencer.

Then there’s the next set of key questions involved in the production. How do we bring this to life? How do we make it sing? Does this content accurately represent the brand and its values? How do we make this, way, way more valuable than existing content on the web – which so many AI tools have been trained on? This is core part of adding the human touch to your content. Machines don’t have intuition. They can’t “read the room.” But you can. So how can you sprinkle on that magic at the production stage that makes a human-to-human connection in some way? People buy from people, after all – and they buy from people they like. How can your individual skills support this?

But can AI replicate something that looks like like creativity?

Can AI truly replicate that spark of creativity we associate with brilliant copy and content?

Take a moment to think about those eerily convincing text passages or poems generated by machines like ChatGPT. Can you tell whether it’s a computer or a human behind those words? The lines are increasingly blurry. AI algorithms are composing music and even creating visual art that can genuinely captivate audiences. It’s like having a digital assistant with an artistic flair, right?

However, here’s the real rub: the essence of creativity. Our creative processes involve a mishmash of emotions, intuition, and a deep understanding of our culture. It’s not just about throwing words together; it’s about breaking away from the norm and diving into uncharted waters. Our art, whether it’s a blog post or a social media campaign, is steeped in our personal experiences, feelings, and the complex jigsaw puzzle of our thoughts. Now, can we really expect AI to nail that?

And there’s the crux – AI can simulate the style, mimic the patterns, but it might struggle to grasp the depth of meaning and emotion that we effortlessly infuse into our creations. When we write, we’re not just combining words; we’re pouring a bit of ourselves onto the digital canvas.

So again, treat AI like the creative sidekick you never knew you needed. It can offer tools and inspiration to make content sparkle – helping you explore fresh ideas, smoothing out writing wrinkles, and making your creative process a breeze.

Sure, AI might not replicate the soul-stirring prose that only a human can pen, but it can certainly be the wind beneath our creative wings.

So at present, AI is not stealing our creative thunder; it’s more like a high-tech sidekick, helping us amplify our creative genius. As we hurtle into the future, the dance between AI and creativity promises to be a wild one, shaping the landscape of content marketing and copywriting in ways we’re only just beginning to fathom.

Can AI replicate the complex problem solving in content strategy – or could it one day?

As well as generating new art, poems, articles, songs and the like, AI has also been also showcasing an impressive knack for crunching data and deciphering intricate patterns. The realm of complex problem-solving is no exception. Algorithms can unravel convoluted puzzles, identify trends, and crunch numbers with a precision that makes your average spreadsheet blush.

In content marketing, navigating the labyrinth of audience engagement, SEO intricacies, and the ever-evolving digital landscape is no mean feat. Could AI be the wizard behind the curtain, conjuring up solutions to these challenges? The answer lies in the nuances between human intuition and AI’s analytical prowess.

Again, what AI is great at is sifting through heaps of data to uncover insights that might have eluded the human eye. AI can be the extra set of eyes, ears, and brains you need to decipher the complex algorithms governing search engine rankings or crafting the perfect content strategy. They can spot patterns we’d never see – but it’s us who need to know which direction the AI’s attention needs to be pointed in. After all, what’s the use is asking AI to find patterns in TikTok data, for example, if we’re creating a strategy for a B2B brand? ChatGPT and the like wouldn’t question this – it would simply scour the data for patterns as requested.

So the real magic happens when we marry our creative flair with AI’s analytical wizardry. Imagine an AI-driven content strategy that not only identifies key trends but also anticipates the next big thing in your industry. It’s like having a crystal ball that helps you stay one step ahead in the content game.

But, hold your horses before you start worrying about a robot takeover. AI’s strength lies in crunching numbers and identifying patterns, but it might struggle to replicate the gut feeling, the instinct honed by human experience. It’s the amalgamation of these human insights and AI’s analytical prowess that creates a symphony of problem-solving excellence.

So, while AI might not be snagging the lead role in the human drama of complex problem-solving, it can certainly be a remarkable supporting character. As we march forward into the emerging digital frontier, the collaboration between human ingenuity and AI wizardry is set to redefine the playbook of content marketing, turning the complex into the comprehensible with a touch of technological magic.

Why could AI-generated content be good for brands/clients?

AI is a powerhouse when it comes to generating copious amounts of content in the blink of an eye. Clients can now summon their content marketing teams armed with AI tools, requesting an avalanche of blog posts, articles, and social media snippets.

Clients may revel in the convenience of AI-generated content, but they still need their content marketers to be their guides. It’s not just about the ‘what’ but the ‘how,’ ‘when,’ and ‘where.’ Content marketers bring the human touch, asking the pivotal questions that transform a mere collection of words into a strategic masterpiece.

Imagine this: a client wants a barrage of blog posts. AI can whip them up with impressive speed, but it’s the content marketer who delves into the client’s universe, asking, “What’s the aim of this content? Who’s the target audience? What tone resonates with them? How does it fit into the broader content ecosystem?”

AI might be the rapid-fire scribe, but content marketers are the architects, sketching out the blueprint for a content strategy that aligns with the client’s goals. It’s not just about the format and tone of voice; it’s about understanding the intricate dance of SEO, audience engagement, and brand storytelling.

Moreover, clients lean on content marketers for the strategic orchestration of their content. AI provides the notes, but content marketers arrange them into a symphony that resonates with the audience. They guide clients on when to release content for maximum impact, ensuring it harmonises with the broader narrative and complements the client’s brand identity.

Clients may revel in the efficiency of AI-generated content, but it’s the content marketers who transform that efficiency into effectiveness.

Why could AI-generated content be bad for brands/clients?

While AI presents a treasure trove of possibilities, there are lurking pitfalls that clients need to navigate carefully.

One significant concern is the potential for deception. In the race to embrace AI, clients may fall prey to unscrupulous actors who present machine-generated content as the work of human creators. This not only compromises the authenticity of the content but can also lead to reputational damage when audiences discover they’ve been engaging with algorithmically produced material.

Another pitfall lies in the sheer volume of content AI can produce. Clients, in their eagerness to flood the digital space with content, may inadvertently create reams of material lacking the nuanced touch that human expertise provides. Without the discerning eye of a skilled content marketer, clients risk wasting time and resources on content that fails to resonate with their target audience or align with strategic goals.

The collaborative element inherent in human interactions takes a hit when clients interact solely with machines. The dynamic synergy that arises from brainstorming sessions, discussions, and creative collaboration is irreplaceable. AI, while efficient, lacks the ability to truly understand the intricacies of human emotions, cultural nuances, and the ever-shifting landscape of trends.

Clients need more than just content creation; they need content strategy that aligns with their brand identity, resonates with their audience, and contributes to overarching business objectives. Relying solely on AI may result in a one-dimensional approach, overlooking the strategic insights that human content marketers bring to the table. Crafting a compelling narrative involves more than just stringing words together – it requires a deep understanding of the client’s brand, audience, and market dynamics.

Clients will need the discernment and strategic guidance that human content marketers provide to ensure that the content generated not only meets the quantity criteria but also attains the quality and authenticity essential for effective communication in the digital realm.

8 tips for how content marketers can work with AI, not against it:

  1. Embrace AI as your sidekick: Embrace AI as a valuable assistant, ready to enhance your creative prowess. Consider it a tool to amplify your ideas, providing inspiration and efficiency rather than as a replacement for your unique human touch.
  2. Use AI for idea generation: Use generative AI to spark new ideas and overcome creative blocks. Let the technology generate content prompts or suggestions that can serve as a foundation for your creative brainstorming sessions.
  3. Fine-tune content: Treat AI-generated content as a starting point. Inject your personality, brand voice, and creative flair into the material. This ensures the final output aligns seamlessly with your brand identity and resonates with your target audience.
  4. Craft engaging introductions and conclusions: AI excels at data-driven content generation, but crafting captivating introductions and conclusions often requires a human touch. Focus on adding your unique storytelling ability to frame AI-generated content in a compelling narrative.
  5. Maintain a human tone: Keep an eye on the tone of the content generated by AI. Infuse it with a human touch, adjusting for the appropriate emotional nuances and cultural context that might be lacking in the initial AI output.
  6. Strategically integrate keywords: While AI can generate content based on keywords, strategists should ensure that these keywords are seamlessly integrated into the overall narrative. Human intuition is essential to maintaining coherence and avoiding keyword stuffing.
  7. Curate and edit thoughtfully: Act as the curator of AI-generated content. Review and edit the material with a critical eye, ensuring it aligns with your content strategy, style guidelines, and meets the expectations of your target audience.
  8. Prioritise audience relevance: AI may lack the ability to understand your audience on a deeper level. Use your human insight to tailor content to your audience’s preferences, addressing their needs and concerns. Consider the context and emotional resonance that will make the content more impactful.

Remember, the most successful integration of generative AI occurs when it complements your skills and adds value to your creative process rather than overshadowing it. Your skill is in your understanding of the content’s function – in asking the right questions – and in adding the magic human touch to the AI’s legwork.

Written By

Over the past 17 years, I've developed a passion for helping businesses understand content marketing in simple terms. I've been lucky enough to work at some of the most well-regarded agencies in the world - on successful campaigns for Bosch, Optum Health, University of Southern California, JD Sports Brands, Fosters Wine, Greene King, Tough Mudder, University of Arizona and Disney Interactive. I've also held in-house content marketing roles at Silicon Valley tech unicorn Truepill, and WPP-owned AI company Satalia.