In early December 2022, I got a Slack message from a colleague. One line: “Are you frightened by ChatGPT?”
It’s a question that many people who make their living writing or creating content are grappling with.
In the eight months since ChatGPT appeared on the scene, generative AI tools — like ChatGPT, Bard and so many others — have become integral to how marketing teams do their work.
- More than 60% of marketers have used AI in their work (Influencer MarketingHub).
- 90% of marketers say AI helps them spend less time on the mundane parts of their job and more time on the parts they enjoy (HubSpot).
In this post, we’ll talk candidly about our experience with generative AI over the past few months, why humans still make the best marketers, and how we and other marketers can use this powerful and evolving tool thoughtfully and effectively to do the best work possible for our clients.
What Is Generative AI?
Just five days after its November 2022 launch, ChatGPT surpassed 1 million users. By January 2023, it had crossed the 100-million-user threshold. While there were plenty of AI tools on the market pre-ChatGPT, none have had the same massive, wide-reaching impact as generative AI tools.
So, what exactly is it? I asked Google’s Bard, another widely used AI chatbot, to define it. Here’s what it said:
“Generative AI is a type of AI that can create new content, such as text, images or audio, that is similar to human-created content.”
And because fair is fair, I popped over to ChatGPT and typed in the following prompt: Using one sentence, describe ChatGPT to a person who has very little knowledge or experience with AI tools.
Here’s what it said: “ChatGPT is an advanced computer program, developed by OpenAI, that can understand and generate human-like text, helping people with tasks like writing emails, articles, answering questions and even brainstorming ideas.”
Both Bard and ChatGPT are large language models (LLMs), a type of AI that can understand and generate human-like text.
There is an ever-growing list of platforms that use generative AI technology to create text, images, music, video and more. Some favorites among marketers include:
- Jasper, a chatbot focused on content writing
- SEO.ai, a tool built to accelerate keyword research
- Google Bard, a conversational generative AI that can summarize web pages, explain code and more
How Marketers Use AI
In June 2023, HubSpot released its AI Trends for Marketers report. The survey-based report revealed that marketers are using AI for all sorts of tasks, saving them up to 2.5 hours per day by taking over menial tasks to leave room for more high-impact work. According to the survey, marketers using AI most often use it to:
- Generate ideas/inspiration
- Write copy
- Create marketing images
- Summarize texts into key points
- Translate texts of marketing content into different languages
I also asked ChatGPT how marketers could use it most effectively. Here’s what it said:
- Content generation. AI can create engaging and contextually relevant content, saving marketers time and allowing for scalability.
- Data analysis and insights. AI can analyze vast amounts of data to uncover trends, consumer behaviors and performance metrics, providing marketers with valuable insights for decision-making and strategy formulation.
- Personalization and customer segmentation. AI can help create personalized marketing campaigns by segmenting customers based on their behavior, preferences and demographics, enhancing customer engagement and increasing conversion rates.
(Here’s the prompt I used for the above output: List in simple bullet points the top three ways digital marketers can use AI most effectively.)
Interestingly, while HubSpot found that 28% of marketers use AI for content marketing purposes, a significant portion (33%) use it for idea generation or inspiration. This rings true here at m3. We’ve found the tool useful for idea generation — whether that’s a list of blog post topics or a rough outline to organize thoughts.
We’ve also used it for research. Our senior account manager, Madison Stevens, found AI was great at helping her in the early stages of planning for an ABM campaign. ChatGPT quickly consolidated information based on the criteria she entered and even output a short synopsis of each company to give her a better idea of whether it would be a worthwhile target. Here’s how she described her experience:
“I used qualifying criteria that the client had given me to find a lot of information, do research and pull together a list of potential targets for the ABM campaign. I was able to find a lot more information and use that research to create a target list as opposed to paying for another service or trying to manually search sites like Zoom Info. It likely would have taken hours and hours of manual research to find that information.”
HubSpot also found 37% of marketers use AI to automate time-consuming SEO tasks like longtail keyword mapping, internal link building and SERP comparisons. And 84% of SEOs say AI has impacted their SEO strategy for 2023.
In our quest to understand the AI landscape for marketers, we signed up for a subscription to Surfer, an all-in-one content creation platform that scores your content as you write, predicting how well it will perform in search. We found the most valuable attribute of tools like Surfer is the keyword research function. Here you can create keyword clusters and topic ideas around each cluster. Our SEO expert, Rich Aviles, had this to say about it:
“I think AI certainly has its place in the SEO world, but at this point, I wouldn’t rely 100% on it to complete work. It should be used more as a tool and a starting point. A couple of the best practical uses I’ve found so far are for keyword research and content ideas around a topic, as well as optimizing page titles, meta descriptions and other on/off page SEO elements.”
Is AI a Good Marketing Writer?
Marketers are already using AI to generate content. A recent Forbes Advisor study found 42% of businesses are using AI to write long-form content right now. That said, HubSpot found that only 5% of marketers use it to write entire pieces of content, with the majority using it for ideas or inspiration and to help with outlines. And 96% of marketers say AI content is not complete enough to publish on its own.
As a content-driven digital marketing agency, we’ve found the tool can indeed help to speed up some tasks, but there are significant limitations — especially when it comes to writing. And in a real “the machines have become self-aware moment,” I asked ChatGPT to name them:
- Lack of true understanding. While AI can mimic human-like text based on patterns it has learned, it doesn’t truly understand the meaning or context behind the text. This can sometimes lead to irrelevant or inaccurate content.
- Emotional intelligence. AI still struggles with grasping and reproducing the subtle nuances of human emotion in writing. It can find it challenging to resonate with readers on a deeply emotional level.
- Ethical and cultural sensitivity. AI models like ChatGPT learn from large amounts of data from the internet, which can include biased or culturally insensitive information.
- Originality and creativity. While AI can generate text based on existing patterns, it may struggle to produce genuinely original and creative ideas or narratives that push the boundaries of what’s been seen or read before.
- Fact-checking. AI systems might lack the ability to verify the factual accuracy of the information they generate. They can sometimes produce or propagate misinformation if not carefully supervised.
- Tone and brand voice. AI can struggle to consistently maintain a specific brand voice or adjust its tone appropriately to different audiences or contexts, which is crucial in content marketing.
(Here’s the prompt I used to generate the above output: What are some of AI’s biggest weaknesses when it comes to writing content for publication?)
All of these are very real challenges for marketers. There are also legal and ethical issues to consider when using AI for content marketing. In March, the U.S. Copyright Office launched an initiative to examine the copyright law and policy issues raised by AI. And AI companies are facing several lawsuits around defamation (wherein AI allegedly spat out incorrect and potentially harmful information) and copyright issues.
Just last month, President Joe Biden announced that many of the companies behind the major AI platforms made voluntary commitments to implement increased safety measures, including watermarking to help the public identify AI-generated content.
Our Quality-First Approach to AI
There’s a lot to love about AI from a digital marketing perspective. It saves time, streamlines processes and can help us do our jobs better. But we also understand and respect its limitations.
We’ve started to create guidelines and best practices around how and when we use AI. (I say “started” because the industry is evolving rapidly. We need to remain informed, flexible and willing to evolve alongside it.)
We based some of our current practices on those set forth by the Marketing AI Institute. Our statement reads, in part:
“We look at technology as an ally. … Our philosophy is to use AI as one of the many tools in our well-stocked marketing toolbox. Our team is adept at navigating the complex world of AI and using it wisely to give you the best ROI for your marketing efforts. But we don’t compromise on our commitment to quality. While we may use AI tools to bolster our efforts in research and idea generation, our content is created for humans, by humans, with journalistic integrity and rigor — regardless of the tools we use.”
View our full statement on responsible technology use here.
Where Do We Go From Here?
According to HubSpot, 65% of marketers are largely not afraid of being replaced by AI. And that’s a good thing. AI is a powerful tool that can help us do our jobs better. At the same time, it’s not a replacement for human creativity and all-around awesomeness.
As HubSpot’s CMO, Kipp Bodnar, put it at the close of the report: “AI is about to be as commonplace as Google. You probably can’t imagine your life — or your work — without Google, and I believe we’ll be right there with AI within just a few years. Jump in, the water’s warm!”