How could AI supercharge your marketing efforts? And where could it trip you up? Marketing leaders Alexandra Senter, CEO of The Big Smoke agency, Amanda Laviana, Senior Marketing Manager - Brand & Content at Plenti, and Charlie Windschill, Director of Growth Marketing at Ortto, discussed how they’re already embedding AI in their teams at the Marketing Live conference in Sydney.
Their conversation covered how AI could elevate your marketing team’s efficiency while unleashing their creativity, as well as potential pitfalls to avoid. Plus, they shared their predictions for the future of AI in marketing - including why mastering AI is crucial for marketers looking to stay ahead of the game. Read the full conversation below for real-world insights on how to take your marketing team's performance to the next level with AI.
Experimenting with AI for content creation
Charlie Windschill: When did you both sit up and start paying attention to AI? Was there a particular moment in time or a tool you used?
Alexandra Senter: I started to pay a bit more attention when I began to see a lot of our people using AI for Instagram captions, rather than just using traditional AI tools like Grammarly or Jasper or something a bit more, I guess, benign in that context. But when they started to produce content, that's when we started going, “How do we manage that?”.
Charlie: So was there a bit of a switch when you went from using a tool, but perhaps not realizing it was AI-driven, to more proactively pursuing tools that are AI-powered?
Alexandra: It's a funny one because a lot of people say, “We've just started to use AI in our marketing,” and I'm like, “Well, haven’t you been using Grammarly for years?” And they just didn’t consider that these tools are AI-driven. And especially with a lot of e-commerce functions, they’re using AI without realizing it. So I think it's also about just naming what it is and understanding the implications of using it in your workflow.
Amanda Laviana: For us, about nine months ago we expanded our content team, and with that expansion came the expectation that we would be scaling our content, specifically SEO content. Sometimes that needs to be long-form and we really needed to scale that quickly with our team having grown, so we started looking at lots of different options. We contracted freelance copywriters, did a lot of work in-house, and then we started to look at tools like Jasper to see if they could augment our writing. That didn’t work too well, but that was about nine months ago, so I’m interested to see what their caliber is like nowadays.
But we had fun experimenting, trying other things like DALL-E the image generator to do some brand work and we looked into using AI voice-over options. We've slowly adopted little pieces after experimenting. And that’s not addressing the obvious AI usage that's been going on with ChatGPT and the actual content production side of things. That’s been game-changing and has completely transformed the way we have been building our SEO content.
Charlie: I want to touch a little bit more on this idea of the fear around AI that it's going to put some of us out of jobs. I think it's important that we talk about this before we start talking about how we effectively embed AI into processes. So, as you think about the rise of AI and the rise of this narrative in tandem that it's going to put us out of employment, what do you think the relationship is like between the current job market and AI?
Alexandra: The problem we've got is, on one side, it's easy to produce content using AI. But at the same time, it takes away a lot of the creativity required. So while a lot of writers are concerned about it, at the same time, a lot of writers are realizing they can actually charge more money for their work because companies are starting to realize that they've got to be a little bit less lazy than just generating content from ChatGPT. I think it's that juxtaposition between effective content creation, but it still has to be nuanced, have that humor, and have that personality.
When you’re seeing examples of influencers on Instagram, say, using AI to generate the captions for their posts: you can tell how different it is when they use AI to promote a product compared to their other, original content that’s a lot more real, more likely to appeal to their audience. So I think we're going to see more and more people really focus on showing a more genuine part of themselves when they're writing and writers who thought for a long time they might become irrelevant are actually realizing they might become more relevant.
Amanda: There's a lot of discourse around this idea that AI is going to put us all out of work, and the copywriter is the first person who's going to be put out of work. I totally disagree with that. I think that AI itself is not going to put anyone out of work. I think that marketers who know how to use AI are going to put other marketers who don't know how to use it out of work.
It’s going to be a matter of figuring out how to use the tools to your advantage and use it to automate the parts of your job that can be automated, that don't need that human touch, and use your energy for the creative parts, the human parts of your job.
I saw an interesting example where a copywriter asked ChatGPT to give him a five-sentence story about the feeling of being a new father meeting his newborn son. And of course, ChatGPT spits out this five-sentence thing that sounded like a greeting card – it was exactly what you would expect to read. Very Hallmark. It certainly wasn't wrong, but it wasn't human. And then the copywriter did his five sentences and it was incredibly powerful - he was talking about the connection he had looking into his baby’s eyes, how breathless he was - ChatGPT just didn’t come anywhere near what he wrote. You can tell ChatGPT to write it in this tone or that tone and it will get, maybe, halfway there. But it's never going to be all the way there in the same way that a human is. So again, I think it's figuring out how to create shortcuts in your job, rather than replacing yourself completely with some piece of technology.
Alexandra: As a CEO, one of the things that I'm finding is that you have to encourage your team and empower them to feel like they can still contribute and be creative without the fear of being replaced by AI. You need to show them that they can use AI as a tool to be more effective. I think we should look at it as an opportunity to be better as opposed to something we're scared of because being fearful of it is going to slow down the ability to ramp up as an organization and use it.
Charlie: I think another way of thinking about it is, what are the parts of your job that are maybe a little bit mundane? The ones we don't like doing every day. I personally hate that first blank page moment of trying to write an outline or research a topic, so how can I use AI to help me jump over that first hurdle? And then get to the part that I think is a little bit more fun - the depth and the nuance. Amanda, you're using AI for the actual content generation, could you tell us about that process?
Amanda: Yeah, definitely. We're using AI as a starter place. As you said, Charlie, looking at that blank screen when you have a piece of content to create, it's intimidating, especially if you’ve got a bit of writer's block. I think ChatGPT is the best brainstorming partner possible. And not just for writing articles, either - if we've got a campaign, we can just type five points about the campaign into ChatGPT and ask it to turn those into a marketing brief. ChatGPT formats it, makes it look nicer, and gives it a little bit more context. That's something that we can use straight out of the box and send it around, get approvals, that kind of thing.
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However, when it comes to actual content creation, what I would say is it’s about experimenting, playing around, asking questions, and getting ideas. We've asked ChatGPT so many times to create a pun and its puns are absolutely horrible, but they give us a seed and then help you to get a better idea out of it. So for us, it's much more about it being a jumping-off point than a finished product. We've used it to help us with subject lines, headlines, calls to action.
One way I really like to use ChatGPT is taking a long piece of copy that needs to be shortened - it does a really good job of that. I would always double-check it, I would never put it out the door as it is. But it's really, really handy for those things that are just a big part of your day-to-day life you need a head start on. We've even checked email code with ChatGPT and used it to make iterative changes to emails for campaigns. The use cases are endless. There's so much that it can do. It does have pitfalls, but there's a lot that it can do to make your life easier.
Putting processes in place to ensure experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness
Alexandra: You commented Amanda that, although you use ChatGPT to help you produce content, you wouldn’t just put it out the door without checking it. How do you train your team to be more intuitive when they’re looking at the content and knowing what to change? Because I think one of the challenges we're going to find is a lot of young marketers not knowing how to humanize AI-generated content or use it in a way that makes it unique.
Amanda: We’re pretty lucky in that all of our team is very, very closely in touch with our brand voice. And that's usually what we're looking for when we're going through it with a fine-tooth comb. We're typically trying to find points where we can add our brand voice, make things a little bit more fun, and make them sound a little bit more human.
Charlie: I would add that a part of your process should always, for any content - whether it has an AI component or not - be fact-checking. AI can have “hallucinations” where they make up facts - they sound completely accurate and they’re written with confidence, so you believe them, but they're actually not true. The current version of ChatGPT was fed by data that only goes up until about September 2021, so the actual data it’s spitting out might not even be up to date. So throughout the content creation process, yes, having a process to make sure any AI-generated content has a strong brand voice and identity is important, but so is fact-checking.
Alexandra: Following on from that, we've seen people using AI to produce content that's very generic, easy to find on Google, and easy to generate. They’re not producing AI-written op-eds analyzing political news. So, from a publishing perspective, you've just got to be mindful of the limitations. It doesn't mean you can be lazy. It doesn't necessarily mean content can be fast-tracked.
Charlie: Are there any other things you would suggest people look out for when they’re starting to embed AI in their processes?
Alexandra: One of the things that we noticed when using AI to produce images, is that sometimes they might not be very diverse. So you need to make sure your prompts from an image perspective - and from a content perspective - take that into account. We talk as marketers about living and dying by the brief you give your team, right? I think that's doubly true with AI. if you don't get your prompts right, you're going to end up with something very generic.
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Encouraging AI adoption and empowering your marketing team
Charlie: Amanda, you said before that it's going to be marketers who adopt AI who put other marketers out of business. To build on that point, I think it will be marketing teams that successfully adopt AI who will be bigger challengers to their competitors. How can we as people managers help our teams to successfully adopt AI? Particularly if we have team members who fall on the late-adopter side of the spectrum, who may be a little bit more change resistant.
Amanda: Introducing the full team to the benefits that come with using AI, making it a team effort, and sharing those processes so that everyone feels equal in their understanding of what the tools are, how they work, and how they can actually help them with their job. That's a big one, because I think as soon as people understand how much easier these tools can make their jobs, most people are going to be so eager to adopt them.
On our team, everyone is all over it. We are all so eager to automate parts of our job and make our lives easier. But I think there might be some pitfalls for other teams - let's say a sales team. If the sales team understands that they can write an email using ChatGPT, they're most likely just going to do that, and then use it as is. So it's a bit of a balance of encouraging use, but also encouraging caution. Even something as simple as a sales email should definitely have a human eye on it. ChatGPT really needs to be viewed - at least at the present moment - as a tool and not as a silver bullet that's going to make everything easier for every role.
Charlie: Something that's worked for me is picking one or two people who are quick to adopt and helping them to find success, and then they can do a teach-back with the more resistant team members. It’s usually when they see their peers successfully taking it on that they're like, "Yeah, okay, right, I'm on board, let's try this out."
Alexandra: The feedback side is really important to consider, too, because a lot of people won't know if what they're producing is worthwhile, and they need to feel comfortable enough to share it with the team and get that insight.
Charlie: Right now, it’s like the dust is blowing and we're waiting to see how it settles. I think as it settles, we'll see some processes, some tools, and maybe even some people being weeded out because they opted for the lazy route. But let's talk a little bit about where we see things going for AI in the next three to six months.
Alexandra: I think we’ll see more personality-driven AI tools that let you change the tone of voice and the target audience. When Sophia the robot came out a few years ago, one of the things everyone loved about her was her sense of humor, and that hasn’t been something that a lot of AI tools can emulate yet. So I think that's going to be the thing that marketers will love and that their audiences will respond to.
Charlie: I'm really interested in being able to train these tools on your own tone of voice, too.
Amanda: I think that personality-driven AI will be huge. I also think that AI in general is just going to become a bigger part of all of our jobs as marketers. It's going to be something that will be showing up on your resume - that you’ve mastered this new piece of technology to automate parts of your work that other people haven't quite figured out yet.
Charlie: One thing we’re starting to see is how AI can help us uncover the next trend or insight in our data. We've all been struggling for years now with how we can get more out of our data, so I hope that might be part of the next evolution of AI tools as well.
The potential impact of AI-generated content on SEO
Charlie: We’ve received a few questions from the audience. The first one is, “With the proliferation of AI, there‘s going to be an explosion of content because it's so easy to create. As the marketer, how are you going to compete with that?”
Alexandra: From the content side, I think that if all you want to create is listicles, it’s going to be very hard to compete. But if you want analysis, an opinion that matters, that's where brands will stand out. From the search point of view, I think we will become very quickly aware of what’s junk content and what to ignore. What will stand out is the ability to create content that people respond to and engagement metrics will be key.
Amanda: I would agree with that. With this new level of competition in the content space, there’s going to be a lot more emphasis on branding and producing content that positions brands as experts, authorities, and trustworthy. People choose where they get their content from and if it’s a brand they trust, that has that authority and expertise, that's what's going to be setting competitors apart in whatever space it is.
Charlie: If you're thinking about the impact on SEO, this goes hand in hand with the algorithm updates Google has made in recent years to prioritize content that users find value in, with variables like engagement rates and EEAT - Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness - being important. So I think that’s absolutely right, content volume is going to blow up, but it's going to mean that the really good stuff will rise to the top that much more efficiently.
Another SEO question from the audience: “Will there be an impact on search result features like snippets in the future based on these AI-generated articles?”
Amanda: We’ve discussed that the level of competition in the search space is going to be greater than it's ever been, with the ability to produce huge amounts of content, so I think it will affect search results. I don't know how it will affect the snippets - it may be that the way that AI-generated content is formatted becomes a trend that Google recognizes, and as we’ve said, Google does want to reward and recognize original content. So I'm not sure what the impact will be, but I'm very curious to see how Google is going to handle that moving forward when perhaps the majority of content becomes AI-generated.
Charlie: One thing we’re starting to hear people talk about is Google adding a disclaimer to results they think might have been generated with AI. I think that would probably be the responsible thing for companies to start doing proactively.
Alexandra: And I think that it could be really embarrassing for a lot of companies if they're not doing it proactively.
Charlie: We’re talking a lot about Google, but with the new AI-powered Bing, SEO people I’ve talked to think we're going to see a lot more search traffic migrating over there because Bing will provide a better user experience. In terms of what happens with search results and content, I think it's going to be more of a question of where is the traffic going and how we start to optimize for dual-browser experiences. So that's something to look out for as well.
Using AI to power data-driven marketing
Charlie: Another question that’s come in is, “Have you used AI for analytics, product decisions, or strategy, and do you see any tools on the horizon that might help with that aspect of marketing?”
Alexandra: From an agency perspective, we’ve used AI tools to create a campaign strategy, but that still required a lot of manual input because it was very generic and it didn’t take into account the campaign goals, so I'm not sure if the AI is mature enough on the strategic side. There are a couple of tools we've been playing with for omnichannel customer journeys that are AI-driven, so I'm at the very beginning of that phase to see if that's workable for the company.
Charlie: I come from a product analytics background and I previously worked at a company that was starting to look at machine learning to surface interesting cohorts in product usage data, which I think is indicative of some of the tools out there. And I think there’s a question behind that question, which is, “How can I spot the next opportunity to make product enhancements or build campaigns and target particular users using AI?” I do think that machine learning and algorithms are surfacing opportunities in data.
This is an interesting question about privacy: “A lot of agencies have requirements not to share the information that they're given in their briefs, so there’s an issue around privacy and the management of market-sensitive data being fed into cloud-based AI tools. How does that figure into your production decisions?”
Alexandra: We don’t put anything specific about the companies we work with into the AI, but I do see that could be a massive issue. I think the onus will be on the companies producing the software to really take into account how they deal with privacy and data.
Amanda: That is a privacy concern that we've taken very seriously, so as an organization, the rule is no customer data, no personal details can ever be uploaded into any sort of AI generator.
Final advice and predictions AI-powered marketing in the future
Charlie: Let’s wrap up with some rapid-fire questions. What are your favorite AI-powered tools?
Alexandra: Dreamcatcher is what we use for our AI images.
Amanda: My favorite is absolutely ChatGPT. It's made my life so much easier.
Charlie: What advice do you have for marketing teams looking to embed AI in their ways of working?
Alexandra: Put guidelines in place for how you expect your team to use AI - build out a framework or a checklist.
Amanda: I'd say get curious. We've talked a lot about using AI for content generation, but there’s more you can do with it, so find out what works for your job and your business is going to be a matter of personal experimentation. Have fun with it.
Charlie: Last question, what's one AI tool you wish existed (or you want someone to tell you about if it does already exist)?
Alexandra: We need a tool that helps people understand how to communicate internally in teams. I think there’s an opportunity to create a tool that helps reduce friction in communications. I feel it would be a nice win for HR.
Amanda: I would like a tool where I could build AI stakeholders who have my stakeholders' exact opinions, personalities, and objections built into them, so I could just share my content and get approval or changes right away. That would be great.
This conversation took place at the Marketing Live conference in Sydney, and has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Andrea Warmington is a content strategist and writer, who has been working in content for 10+ years. She started her career as a journalist before moving into the world of content strategy, for both B2B and B2C businesses. She has a lifelong love of storytelling and believes in taking a journalistic approach to all of the content she creates. In recent years, she's developed a real passion for leading transformative content projects that establish tech businesses as thought leaders and reputable publications in their own right.