This was originally published as a LinkedIn Article by David Sprague on September 28, 2023.
While most of the current chatter about Washington, D.C. revolves around the possibility of a federal shutdown, the conversations for content marketers are about continental breakfasts, where to get your badge and who’s attending what. Thousands of us have converged on the nation’s capital for Content Marketing World 2023, attending a ton of educational meetings that dig into where we stand as an industry and what’s next.
The theme of this year’s event is “Evolve,” which makes sense, given the transformation the content world has seen since the introduction of ChatGPT. Although, isn’t evolution supposed to take thousands of years? In just 11 months, our industry has undergone a veritable Yahtzee shake. Here are the most common takeaways from the first full day of the conference (not all of them are AI-related, believe it or not).
Despite AI, human content marketers are still necessary
To no one’s surprise, almost every session talks about generative AI directly or as a supporting point. If I may add commentary here, some folks are doing so in an inorganic fashion. I get the desire to want to have something to say about it, but if it’s not in your wheelhouse, it’s probably best to stick to your area of expertise.
But the point is that it’s on everyone’s mind because it impacts our livelihoods as content marketers. But a sub-theme from those at the show is that AI-generated content still needs people. Specifically smart, talented people. In the opening keynote address, Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs, was asked what keeps her up at night. She responded bluntly, “Disrespect of writers and creators.” She noted that you can’t use AI if “you’re not a good writer and don’t respect the craft.”
In her presentation on content experimentation and risk-taking, Phyllis Davidson, VP principal analyst at Forrester, noted that AI will begin to create content with less human interaction moving forward, but keeping human beings in the loop is necessary to scale content and give it life.
I suppose a group of content marketers pushing the idea that content marketers are still necessary is a form of self-preservation, but real talk here: ChatGPT isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with clever, personalized content in its current iteration. In one session, a presenter asked how many of us use AI. All hands went up. He followed up by asking how many are using that content as-is. Just one person. As Handley noted, “Being a writer means you’re charged with making people feel something.” The fact is, AI isn’t going to take your job; someone who knows how to use it will.
Content must be more personal
This is a continuation of the last point. ChatGPT can spit out many words, but it doesn’t necessarily position content in a way that represents your company or addresses the nuances of your customers. They want to know that a piece of content addresses explicitly their specific challenges — and that you know how to solve them.
Beverly Jackson, VP of brand and product marketing at Zillow, took attendees on an insightful journey through the company’s current iteration of marketing. While “Zillowing” — imagining what it’d be like to live in someone else’s house — became a part of our cultural lexicon, the company understood that it had to expand its service to meet changing customer needs.
They’re now more than just a place to look; they help users get loans, find a real estate agent, rent, etc. But they did so by understanding the specific needs of their customers. The way they create content for buyers is different from renters. They drilled down to include options to explore housing needs for pet owners, folks with kids, etc.
In her presentation on building trust with CEOs and the C-suite, Emma Moorman, marketing services product director at Informa Tech, pointed out that personalized content makes the buyer's journey easier and is critical to increasing the likelihood of customer conversion.
While it’s impossible to create a single piece of content for every customer, knowing as many variations of customer personas as possible and creating content around those nuances is a best practice that will probably never go away.
Content continues to change — and we should, too
Robert Rose, chief strategy advisor of Content Marketing Institute, perfectly encapsulated the “Evolve” theme by stating, “Marketing is content marketing. It’s how we put things into the marketplace of ideas.” In essence, content marketing is no longer an ancillary part of marketing. You really can’t market yourself today without pushing your chips into the middle on content.
Bennie Johnson, CEO of the American Marketing Association, took a page from biology class by reminding us that there’s no reason for a species to change in stable conditions. But that’s not where we are now. Generative AI, while indeed the most impactful change in recent memory, is just one example of how technology requires content marketers to remain ever-vigilant in examining how we ideate, create and distribute content.
Jonson made another insightful statement, pointing out that we have checklists of things we need to do daily, but most of them are missing something: a reminder to evolve. And that is more important than ever as we create strategies to harness AI and prove our relevance as an industry.
We’re all taking information as we get it and making sense of how to incorporate it into our content goals. Today, we have to process it as fast as possible. It’s not easy, but it’s training us all to work smarter and faster. But, hey, if you’re a content marketer, adapting and executing is part of your DNA. That’s all for now from Content Marketing World —t here’s networking and light refreshments to consume!