As the year at the bottom right of my screen changes and I have to think twice every time I write down a date, tradition dictates it’s time to reflect on the year gone by.
While my role at Elixirr Digital has me engaging with clients across the full scope of digital marketing, 2023 found my time particularly weighted towards content. Which in and of itself is interesting – when you ask a client what their biggest digital marketing challenge is, “content” is so often the answer.
Why is that? As I think back over the last 12 months, these are the points which loom large in my mind as to why content remains such a significant challenge in the digital space.
The scale of the task is understood to be large, but hard to define or place bounds on
In an article I wrote back in 2017 (time is a flat circle), I dug into why content often caused problems in website redesign projects. The cliff notes from the article are:
Content was often an after-thought, not given the same level of attention or consideration as user experience, visual design, or web development.
I would say this has changed – everyone has now seen enough LinkedIn posts to know ‘content is king’.
It’s now, for the most part, understood content is an important part of a successful web redesign. It’s also understood it is difficult, time consuming, and requires specific resources and skills to get right.
These are all positive changes. However, the understanding that content needs to be taken seriously comes hand-in-hand with questions of “how do we achieve that?”.
One of the factors which used to make last minute content such a pain for website projects was that content can be a huge undertaking, and brings with it all sorts of existential questions for an organisation – questions like “what do we want to say?” and “what does our brand voice sound like?”.
The challenge for those looking to deliver content is how to scope out what’s required, place sensible bounds on it, and create an approach which can function alongside the wider delivery content is intended to support.
Many will look for a one size fits all answer to the challenge, but the solution is more nuanced (as is often the case). Ultimately, every project is different, and it comes down to the ambition of what you are trying to achieve – and how far from your ambition your starting point lays.
Print “chancers” muddy the waters on what digital content expertise looks like
While there are transferrable skills print marketers and copywriters can use in the digital space, the reality is that while both mediums use the written word, they are less similar than they might seem.
The differences are vast – from strategy, to structure, to layout, to the way language is used, to the technical and linguistic requirements of both user experience design and SEO, digital content demands approaches and competencies which aren’t part of the print world.
Just as print content would fail if you created it using digital principles, you can’t simply take print copywriting and produce digital assets.
However, as digital advertising budgets continue to grow and digital outstrips ‘traditional’ advertising with 62% of all ad spend now being digital, the direction of the market puts pressure on print content marketers and writers to move into the digital space.
While this was by no means a new problem in 2023, it feels like something I am seeing and hearing of more and more often, with print specialists trying to transition into the digital space by presenting themselves as digital content experts. The problems this goes on to create, due to all the factors I outlined above, is the suggestion content is a difficult thing to get right and, in many cases, a project risk.
I’m not saying content is easy – it’s a challenging field which requires the right expertise and approach. However, it’s significantly more difficult when you’re trying to do it using outdated ideas and approaches.
AI is not the silver bullet people are hoping for (yet)
2023 was a big year for generative AI. 2024 will no doubt be a bigger one.
Struggling with the scope of the project and the amount of content that needs to be re-written? Lacking the skills in your organisation and your current partners aren’t up to scratch? As a response to those two issues, GenAI (such as ChatGPT) sounds like a great answer.
Unfortunately, GenAI isn’t very mature at this stage. While it can certainly help, there’s still significant human input required – both in terms of writing the prompts to trigger the right kind of output, and in terms of QAing the output.
Those existential questions from before – “what are we saying?” and “how do we say it?” – come back to make the AI’s job significantly harder. Add in more factors like “is what we’re saying true/accurate?” and “is what we’re saying in line with the UX design?” and the amount of work a human has to do to correct the output becomes comparable to the work to write it in the first place.
I expect GenAI will get there. Based on the pace of development, it might even get there in the next 12 months. But it’s not there yet.
AI still has a role to play, however. By scanning your content and your data, AI can help you better and more easily understand how your content can be categorised, how different types of content are performing, and what trends can be revealed by this model.
The power here comes from the combination of quantitative data and the ability to scrape content for meaning – allowing for more detailed and nuanced views than your more traditional analytics platforms have offered in the past.
Predictions for 2024
The reality is that AI is the only game in town when it comes to content in 2024. It’s the technology which is driving change and the first thing on people’s minds when you talk about the future of content.
I expect we’ll see the capabilities of GenAI continue to expand over the next 12 months. I’d be surprised if we make it to a point where ‘unsupervised’ content generation is a reliable way to execute content for a web redesign or across a marketing campaign. That said, it’s certainly not outside of the realms of possibility.
What I expect to see when it comes to AI in 2024 is disappointment.
The hype around GenAI, particularly when it comes to filling the capability gaps so many organisations seem to have around digital content, is significant. But if organisations try to lean on GenAI to fill those gaps, and we see brands start to lose their grip on tone of voice, brand identity, and factual accuracy, the hype may sour.
AI will certainly have a role to play, and an impactful one. The example given above, in the space of data models combined with the contextual understanding of content, has the potential to change the game when it comes to content auditing and current state assessment.
But GenAI as the solution to an organisation’s struggles to hit the standard of content they need in sharp timelines? I’m yet to be convinced.
Let’s talk about content
At Elixirr Digital, we create effective digital marketing copywriting which helps businesses to achieve their objectives. If you’d like to find out how we can support your digital content needs, reach out to us today.