Dear Marketers, Don’t Forget The Human Part of the Marketing Workflow

Throughout 2023, when generative AI exploded onto the scene with ChatGPT, I heard a lot of marketers say, “oh yes, now I can get all my content generated without having to employ actual people.” They ideas was they would be able to work more quickly, save a bunch of money (with reduced headcount and freelancers which could then be applied to more lead generation through advertising and placement), and ultimately be more successful.

Welcome 2024 and I ask the question, “so, how did that work for you?”

I have been working with a small SEO marketing firm who has an engagement with a very well known network data analysis and observability company. This observability company wants this small firm to generate a bunch of content that they can use for capturing organic traffic and as part of drip campaigns. So the SEO marketing firm turned to ChatGPT (the non-paid version; although they have switched and the results were not much better). What they quickly realized though, was that the content needed to be “beefed up” by someone with industry and domain expertise. Enter me. I have to say, the content was atrocious. It was superficial, at times nonsensical (saying something but not saying anything at all), and very uninformative. I often ended up having to rewrite the entire blog post while using the same, already approved structure and headings.

Needless to say, I could do it in an hour so my hourly rate actually ended up quite high and I was happy about that.

But it got me to thinking about how marketers use technology within the marketing workflow. For campaign execution, marketing technologies are absolutely fantastic. Hubspot and other companies make it really easy to build a campaign, attach it to some customer criteria, let it run, and use the data to improve it. Of course, the human involved in that is simply a custodial administrator: they have to setup the campaign to begin with. But for the creative aspects of marketing, writing, designing, imagining, innovating, technology falls flat (no, that’s not an absolute; let ChatGPT iterate on a new logo 10,000 times and it might come up with one that is potentially interesting). That’s because no amount of technology, no sophistication of AI (notice I didn’t say intelligence, that’s a topic for another conversation), can compare with a human’s ability to make connections and draw inspiration. And that’s the key: inspiration. Throwing a re-branding project to AI is like giving paintbrushes to a snake. The technology is simply not equipped to be inspired which, in turn, can leads to a very flat output.

Now I am not suggesting that marketers should abandon the application of technology in creative endeavors. ChatGPT is quite good at generating structures of articles and even some beginning content. That is what I have realized during this most recent project: even though ChatGPT produced surface-level text, it did produce “buckets” of useful information. Once I agreed that the buckets were correct (a couple of times they weren’t and the client had noted that in comments on the draft), I could just focus on making them more meaningful, giving them depth, and adding the expert voice that was needed.

Like the application of all technologies in any industry, there is always a period of massive adoption (bright, shiny object syndrome) and then a pullback as reality sets in. I see a very meaningful future for technologies like generative AI within the marketing workflow. Marketers will learn to use AI to analyze campaign data (generating connections that they may not see; no, those connections may not be meaningful in and of themselves, but they may spark inspiration in a human being looking at them), predict keywords (for SEO), and even make suggestions for future content topics. But, as marketers, we cannot allow technology to supplant the creativity that makes humans such a valuable part of the enterprise machinery. No AI system, no matter how sophisticated, can replicate the experiences that contribute to human inspiration. I am sometimes inspired by an experience when I was 12, realized during a walk while I am 51, when I was thinking about a recent movie I had watched right after a conversation with my wife. All of those little elements combine themselves in the human subconscious which bubbles up interesting connections and ideas, aka inspiration. If we allow generative AI to produce the marketing elements which are creative in nature, then humans will become just the tenders of the marketing garden, rather than the gardeners themselves.

I, for one, would prefer to remain a gardener.