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Robot writers: the potential and perils of AI copywriting

Last year, campaign.co.uk published this article about how Goldman Sachs is investing in an automated copywriting startup. Naturally, this got all the human copywriters here at HN to wondering whether our jobs were about to be lost to robots.

Although the boss assured us that there were no immediate replacement plans, the question remains – does AI copywriting have a future in B2B marketing?

Come on… really?

Even in an age of VR, where the digital world is inching closer and closer to the physical, the ability of robots to take over creative jobs sounds a little far-fetched.
But it’s definitely being worked on; Google’s AI has written some eerie, haunting short poems, and has beaten a grand master at Go, widely believed to be the most complex game ever devised. And there are the incredible feats that IBM’s Watson is pulling off, from cooking up a storm to saving lives.

So why shouldn’t AI be able to match human writers when it comes to B2B copy?

After all, we can do quite a lot to define the sales funnel or buyer’s journey that we hope to move targets through. Our job is to match solutions and messaging to stated (or assumed) customer needs at various points on their journey, and both halves of this equation (solutions/messaging and needs) seem amenable to being specified for the AI.

We can also point to loads of examples of good B2B copywriting for AI to learn from.

And as I sit here with a cold while my computer perches contentedly on the desk, one of us seems rather obviously to be a far more resilient worker…

The rise of the machines?

But I’m not panicking — yet. Because what is possible in principle is perhaps not so much in practice — yet.

Rarely do we receive a brief that is completely unambiguous in intent and complete in every respect. Because, frankly, composing such a brief is time-consuming and our clients are busy people. So they’re looking for us to connect lots of dots by ourselves, and to clarify where necessary through the faster and more efficient process of having a conversation.

Asking even the cleverest computer to reliably identify gaps and then pick up the phone to ask questions feels like a very tall order right now. Maybe in a few years I’ll have to reassess, but right now I’m feeling pretty secure.

What would be cool is access to an AI copywriter to use as an additional tool in my copywriting toolkit.

I’m thinking of how Watson’s recipes work best when filtered through the judgement of a human cook. And of how machine translation can make the lives of translators easier, but rarely works well enough without human post-editing. I can see how a robot copywriter might help me think of options I’d not have found on my own, and that could help me become a better writer.

So bring on the robot copywriters; I’m not scared… yet.

Why is B2B content failing to engage customers?

Are you struggling to create B2B content that provides business value? If so, then you’re not alone — it’s been said that as many as 83% of B2B marketing leaders are failing to produce content that engages their customers. Here are four top reasons content fails to engage and some practical advice to put it right.

 

Nuturing_contentProblem #1: content focuses on early stages of the buyer’s journey
Picking up customers might not be a problem, but keeping them engaged through their decision-making journey is more challenging.

Solution #1: create nurturing content
Map your content creation to different stages of the journey, and focus on moving the customer from one stage to the next. Then you won’t only be creating content – you’ll be creating a relationship with your customers.

 

Document_strategyProblem #2: no documented strategy
You might have a strategy, but it’s different depending on whom you ask – and that means not everyone is pulling in the right direction.

Solution #2: document your strategy
It’s not rocket science. Get that strategy written down, get everyone on the same page and join up your approach to content marketing.

 

Get_human

Problem #3: stuffy content
“We’re a business and our content needs to reflect that. It’s what our customers will expect. But they just aren’t interested in our content.”

Solution #3: get human
Take the suit and tie off your content and turn it into something they’d want to read in the evening, not just at their desk. That’s partially about making it relevant to them, both professionally and personally, but also about the tone and style you adopt.

 

Say_something_newProblem #4: your customer already knows what you’re saying
Your customer does nearly 60% of their decision-making without talking to you. They’re smart and they’ve heard it all before.

Solution #4: say something new
Don’t settle for ‘interesting’ or ‘accessible’ content. Do your research and tell the customer something they didn’t know, which forces them to question their buying criteria. Perhaps they always assumed they couldn’t reduce their energy consumption, for example, when in fact you can help them with that?

 

You can download the full infographic here.

What are your secrets for creating engaging content?

Share your tips for creating content that grabs your audience and doesn’t let go on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the comments section on our blog.

Tailor your customer reference programme to suit your client

Customer reference programmes are a great way to promote your product or service to potential new customers and overcome any objections they may have. However, the amount of time your reference customers are willing budget for this may be limited.

If that’s the case, you can still deliver value for yourself, and them, without investing too much time. Ideally, you’ll offer them a range of options and allow them to choose the level of involvement that best suits them. For example:

Level 1: Logo and name only

Use of your customer’s name and/or logo on your website and in marketing collateral requires the least amount of commitment. But, remember, you still need their permission.

Level 2: Testimonial

Customer quotes that endorse your company’s work are valuable when you have to work that little bit harder to engage with your audience, such as when using direct mail or PR activity, for example.

Level 3: Text-based customer success story

In an ideal world, your customer will be willing to participate in a telephone or in-person interview and to review the copy before publication. This can take the form of a press release, newsletter article or printed case study.

Level 4: Video story

If your story is one of real human interest, why not exploit  audio and video for your customer reference programme to show the emotion behind the words? A three-minute video interview can be used at conferences or seminars, published online and promoted through social media channels.

Level 5: Speaking engagement

If customers have a very high level of goodwill toward your company, they may be willing to speak at a conference, trade show, seminar or similar event. Get the most value you can from this commitment: such presentations can be recorded and broadcast on your website as a video or podcast.

Level 6: Reference visit or telephone reference

The highest level of commitment a customer can make to your company is to agree to be a reference site. The customer will agree to take telephone calls or host visits from your qualified potential customers to allow them to discuss their experience with you and see elements of the solution in action.

Which customer reference activities have worked best for your company? Let us know in the comments field below, or through Twitter and LinkedIn.

Dowmload our free Customer reference ebook

Download our ebook:
‘Your guide to supporting the sales process with an effective customer reference programme’

Continuing the cycle: when the buyer’s journey is over

It’s a familiar scenario: someone has bought your product or service and is satisfied. A customer’s completed their buyer’s journey, you’ve made a sale and everyone’s happy.

But what about the next time? How do you ensure that you’re considered in the future? How do you stay at the forefront of your customer’s mind?

In short, the answer is: genuine interaction.

When we say genuine, we’re talking about going beyond product-focussed communications. Remember, your customer hasn’t just bought your services; they’ve bought into your company ethos, your approach to business and your brand personality. In fact, it’s likely that those were the factors that led them to choose you over your competitors. Keeping those aspects of you shining through – rather than what you’re selling – will go a long way towards your customer considering you the next time they have need of your services.

But how do you do that? At HN, we’ve been helping businesses continue conversations with existing customers for a while and we’ve seen the following examples have great success.

  • A quarterly update email lets everyone know what your company’s been up to. Perhaps you’ve announced a new partnership, or attended a recent industry event. Even if there’s nothing like that going on, you could always share your company’s latest blog post (if you haven’t got a company blog, then you’re missing out!)
  • Build an online community, be it a LinkedIn or Facebook group or a technical forum, and get discussions going among your customers. In doing so, you’ll create multiple opportunities to engage directly with your customers – showing your knowledge and passion for the issues that affect them. You never know, you might even learn a thing or two from them!
  • Organise a customer event where you can discuss issues and upcoming developments that you know they’ll be interested in. It doesn’t have to be a Gartner Symposium-sized event; even an informal get-together gives you a chance to interact on a personal level with your customers and plenty of opportunities to discuss further business opportunities if the time is right. And, anyway, nothing says thank you like free food.
  • Interact on social media by responding to mentions and posts or even reaching out to influential customers or industry figures. When done right, you can start and maintain conversations on key topics facing your customers, just as in a forum or at an event.

Have you tried any of these for your  sales cycle? If you already do these things regularly, how do they work for you? Let us know your experience by leaving a comment, or getting in touch via Twitter or LinkedIn.