There's a lot of buzz in the marketing industry about ChatGPT and other AI content generation tools. Some sing its praises and others feel like it's the end of days. But most importantly, it's opened a Pandora's Box of issues that we'll probably be debating for years to come.
Is the content these tools produce as effective as human-generated content? One thing is for sure: if you're looking to position yourself as a thought leader, your content has to provide unique value.
In this article, we'll be taking a look at how AI content and human content differ, why your brand's voice and expertise matters now more than ever, and what you can do to stand out from your competitors.
Content marketing and ChatGPT
If you're familiar with SIX, you probably know by now that one of our core values is Be Human. We build human connections between our clients and their prospective customers to help set them apart. Your company's unique insights, knowledge, and perspective add value to your products/services and to your content.
That's what content marketing is all about — attracting and engaging potential customers with highly valuable content they can't find anywhere else. It builds trust in your brand.
You might be thinking that it's cheaper and less time consuming to use ChatGPT for content marketing. But what happens if your audience catches on and realizes that your expert insights were generated by a program anyone can use? Do you lose their trust?
Conversely, what happens if your competitors all start using AI to churn out page after page of content? If your content provides more unique value, you'll stand out from the crowd.
A couple of years ago, I took Ahref's Blogging for Business course, and one of their concepts in particular has stuck with me: quality over quantity. They argued that publishing two very high-quality, in-depth blogs a month and optimizing them for search engines is a better strategy than publishing every week or every day.
Especially now, since Google's August 2022 "helpful content update," search algorithms prefer to rank content that provides unique value and expertise. And that unique value and expertise comes from humans writing for humans. Nothing, not even a really smart AI, can replace that value.
Full disclosure: I'm a writer
I’m not just saying all this because I’m a writer by education and trade. Or maybe I am.
For full disclosure of my bias: I spent several years studying writing, and the past several as a writer and editor. To me, writing is an art and a core part of who I am. It's what I've always wanted to do.
My degree is in English with a concentration in creative writing. I studied the written word, the craft of writing, and the theory behind it. I've been in countless workshops editing (and being edited by) other writers. I studied grammar extensively. I learned from a department of English professors who were ruthless with their red ink (and still live as editors in the back of my mind). At my first writing job, I wrote or edited for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. And I’m lucky enough to have found a career in content marketing, where I can use my writing and editing skills every day.
My experiences and the lessons I've learned inform everything I create.
I can't lie and say the insinuation that AI can replace professional writers doesn't offend me. Or that I'm not concerned about the ramifications and ethical questions being posed by writers, educators, and other marketers.
I'm not saying humans are perfect at writing. I'm a huge believer that there's always room for improvement. But in my professional opinion, ChatGPT isn't a replacement for a good writer.
AI writing vs. human writing
Search Engine Journal published a great article on the flaws of ChatGPT content: unnatural language, lack of expression, an inability to offer insights, wordiness, and a penchant for making up facts, among other things.
In marketing, it's important for writing to be clear, concise, and conversational. ChatGPT gets a bit verbose and repetitive, like a student padding a paper to meet word count. It's also objective and, as Search Engine Journal explains, is trained to provide facts for both sides of the argument (not great for creating a persuasive piece of marketing).
Humans know how to write for other humans. They know to use active language instead of passive language and to write conversationally instead of formally. They know how to persuade. How to vary their sentence length to keep it engaging. And they know that word choice makes all the difference.
That's the thing about viewing writing as an art: you know choosing the right word can slightly — but crucially — affect the impression you leave on your audience. This is an important thing taught in poetry or short fiction workshops that applies to marketing, where space is also limited. Every word counts, and humans understand the nuances of language well enough to control the feelings they evoke. More importantly, marketers understand how to look at content from the perspective of their buyer personas and cater it to their audience.
Can readers tell the difference between AI and human-generated writing?
It depends. As an editor, I can tell there's something off about a piece written by ChatGPT. It gives off an uncanny feeling that the writing lacks a person behind it, because people unconsciously develop a voice in their writing, regardless of whether they're writing for a brand. Their word choice and syntax is unique to them — that's how researchers have used language analysis to identify the authors of anonymous works.
As an editor, you get an ear (so to speak) for identifying who wrote something. And for that reason, AI also gives me red flags that would normally indicate plagiarism. The voice is off. It doesn't sound like anyone in particular wrote it. It sounds like it was pulled from somewhere else.
Now, for all the non-editors in the world, this difference might not be so apparent. The content might seem a bit flat, generic, or uninspiring, but they might not know your brand's voice to compare it against. But they will base their impression of your brand off that content.
Will AI-generated writing replace human writing?
No. Because it lacks everything a human brings to writing: emotion, experience, expertise, opinion, persuasion, perspective, nuance, and a unique voice.
I asked our Social Media Strategist and Writer, Keith Hannigan, for his thoughts on ChatGPT:
My feeling is that no matter how amazing a program is in emulating emotion, it can't capture a writer's voice. It can't capture how the author felt in a specific experience. I love reading screenplays. Diablo Cody writes nothing like Aaron Sorkin, who writes nothing like Quentin Tarantino, who writes nothing like William Goldman, and so on...
Emotion is crucial to connecting with your audience and telling your story. But all AI can do is emulate emotion. Only humans writers can bring real emotion to a piece of content. And emotion is what persuades people to buy.
But ChatGPT is quick and easy — that's the appeal of it. Shortcuts rarely pay off in the long run, however, especially in marketing (think keyword stuffing and other black hat SEO tactics). As Ann Handley, a best-selling author and marketing expert, wrote in a recent blog on AI, "The promise of the 'ease' of AI Writing is false — it's a trap.... Writing is a full-body contact sport. You need to participate fully. Your brain. Your hands. Your personality. Your voice. All of it."
You can use AI to assist the creative process, but not replace it. You can use it to generate ideas or for research. But you shouldn't rely on it for writing. The New York Times interviewed workers for an article about ChatGPT and found that most used it for brainstorming, but found its writing inaccurate and low quality compared to what they could have done instead. It's important to understand the limitations of ChatGPT in order to put it to use.
According to Ahrefs, ChatGPT is particularly unsuited for creating content because it's trained to generate copy that "basically summarizes the internet." Good content offers unique value, knowledge, and expertise; ChatGPT simply reports back what it finds on the web. As the article points out, "Sure, you can now create hundreds of copycat articles in a few hours, but what’s the business value behind doing this?"
Human writing will become more valuable
One of the first things I thought of in response to AI-generated copy is that in devaluing writing in general, it will also make human writing more valuable — just as you would be willing to pay more for something handcrafted rather than mass-made.
And later on, I found that computer scientist Paul Graham had expressed a similar thought:
If AI turns mediocre writing containing no new ideas into a commodity, will that increase the "price" of good writing that does contain them? History offers some encouragement. Handmade things were appreciated more once it was no longer the default. And in particular, handmade things were appreciated more partly because the consistent but mediocre quality of machine-made versions established a baseline to compare them to. Perhaps now we'll compliment a piece of writing by saying "*this* couldn't have been written by an AI."
Your competitors might start using AI to create content. But will their audience fill out a form to download eBooks or white papers written by AI? Maybe. But they'll be more likely to give you their contact info for your handcrafted content.
The author is no longer dead
In 1967, literary critic Roland Barthes wrote "The Death of the Author," arguing that the writer's identity and background should no longer inform the the meaning of a text.
That theory never sat well with me, so an upside to the rise of AI is that the author will now matter more than ever. Industry expert Robert Rose said it well in a recent article for the Content Marketing Institute: "AI can never be you."
A lot of our clients are B2B companies that want to be thought leaders in their niche industries. Often, the industry is so niche and the client's expertise is so unique that simply put, no one else could produce this content.
It matters that the educational content is coming from your company. It's the unique value and perspective that you bring to your clients. As Ann Handley said in her article on AI writing, "The advent of AI makes one thing really clear to me: Your relationship with your audience matters more than ever. *Who* is wielding the tool is crucial."
Take the SIX blog for example: its value comes from being written by our marketing professionals sharing their insights.
Now, I know what you're thinking: when we write content for clients, and we're not them. We don't have their experience.
Usually, one of our writers drafts the content and the client is closely involved in editing it. For particularly technical work, we have writers who are subject matter experts (SMEs) and work closely with the client to produce the content. Sometimes, an expert on their internal team writes a first draft and we edit their work.
Whichever route we take, we always learn our clients' industries, stay true to their brand voice, become well-versed in their unique value propositions, and conduct research to understand their audience. AI can't do all that.
Is AI-generated writing ethical for your brand?
ChatGPT learns from existing web content but doesn't cite it, which could be a potential copyright issue (and means that a competitor using ChatGPT might unknowingly be pulling from your content).
But that's not the ethical question I really want to pose. Instead: is it ethical to publish something you didn't write, when you're claiming to be a thought leader?
For the SIX blog, I would never use AI to write an article, because this blog publishes advice from our experts, who have first-hand knowledge of the topics they're writing about. Passing off something a computer generated as our expertise and thought leadership isn't just unethical: it's unhelpful.
ChatGPT or any other writing machine isn't a marketing professional with real-world experience and a unique point of view to share. AI can't generate new ideas or add to the conversation. It can only regurgitate what's already been published on the internet. And what's the value in that?
Sure, maybe you can use AI to crank out articles for SEO and rank for keywords... but can you? Google recently clarified its attitude towards AI-generated copy, which was originally that it was against their guidelines but that they couldn't automatically detect it. Now they're saying that "however content is produced, those seeking success in Google Search should be looking to produce original, high-quality, people-first content."
To provide real value for your prospective customers, you need to publish content that shares your company's expertise. Not something anyone could write with ChatGPT.
Do you need human-generated content?
Did it take me a few hours to research and write this blog? Yes. But this blog could only have been written by me because it pulls from my personal experience, perspective, and opinion.
All of your content should pull from your company's unique experience, perspective, and expertise as well. And AI, no matter how well-trained, can't glean that from the internet and turn it into content that attracts, engages, and persuades your audience.
Now's the time to up your marketing game and begin creating truly valuable content to stand out from your competitors. Learn more about the content marketing services we offer or book a short call with one of our marketing experts.