ChatGPT’s generative AI revolution has been the most significant marketing story of 2023, and with good reason. It certainly looks like one of the most disruptive marketing technologies since the arrival of the mobile phone. Marketers, and communications executives, who have played around with ChatGPT, or similar generative AI writing platforms, such as Jasper AI, have found they can write 700-word articles or press releases in minutes.
And while today’s AI-written articles still lack quality, human depth, creativity, and an understanding of reader interest, there is a lot of promise for plugging into content marketing programs. Even with this first usable form of generative AI, copywriters, communicators, and content marketers have seen use cases for search term discovery, draft outlining, and getting over the blank page problem.
Still, there should be a pause for marketers thinking they can turn over all content production to AI. While evergreen content can easily be replicated, demand and lead-gen content, which must precisely position products in the market, is currently above AI’s writing pay grade. On the visual side of things, Midjourney and DALL·E 2 are showing the capacity to produce business photos and artwork that vastly surpasses stagnant stock imagery, but aligning with brand guidelines isn’t always an easy pathway. But that might not always be the case, as generative AI’s improvement is happening at an astonishing pace. Open AI’s introduction of GPT-4 in March showed massive advances in intelligence. In fact, it showed the ability to pass nearly every exam other than AP English Language and AP English Literature.
As its English and artistic nous improves, brand marketers must strategize how their agencies and themselves can implement AI into their current and future content efforts. This is especially true as more brands turn to content marketing for cost-effectiveness efforts during the downturn. As cookies continue to be eliminated across the internet, the efficacy of performance marketing has plummeted. As a result, brands are investing more in branded content, which can have a more cost-effective, longer-term benefit than paid advertising, which has its faucet turned off as soon as you stop paying.
To find out how content marketers can navigate these generative AI issues and the future of content marketing, BMV, a content marketing and PR agency built for startups and challenger brands, surveyed 1,000 content marketers in Q1 to inform its 2023 Content Marketing and Generative AI Outlook. The following data provides insight into how marketers think about content production and the ways their content will rank and be discovered as AI interfaces increasingly power search engines.
Respondents at a Glance:
BMV surveyed 1,000 U.S. marketers and communicators who self-identified as working on their organization’s content marketing initiatives. These included respondents across the following:
- 40% B2C Brands
- 30% B2B Brands
- 30% at an agency or company selling to both businesses and consumers
Key Outlook Highlights
Despite macro headwinds, 45% of marketers say they have increased their content marketing budget for 2023.
Nearly 7-in-10 content marketers believe AI writing tools such as ChatGPT will replace at least some of their writers over the next five years.
The other third of marketers (31%) believe generative AI platforms will only supplement the work of their writers over the next five years rather than outrightly replace them.
58% of marketers said they believe in the future, AI-produced content will be penalized by search engines in some way.
83% of content marketers noted they are at least slightly concerned about the future discovery and/or search ranking of their content in a world driven by AI-powered search engines.
The most common use of AI tools in content marketing departments today is to identify SEO keywords (37%), followed by content ideation (35%), and then writing content drafts (33%).
Content Marketing Growth is Resilient
Despite the market slowdown, layoffs, and cost-cutting occurring across corporations in Q1, content marketing continues to be fairly resilient in its growth.
Nearly half (45%) of content marketers reported in Q1 that their content marketing budget had increased for 2023, while 29% noted it had stayed the same as the year prior. Only over a quarter (26%) said their content marketing budget had decreased this year.
B2B companies, which include enterprise software companies that have been hit hard by the recent technology pullback, were slightly more likely (28% vs. 23%) than B2C marketers to say their content marketing budget decreased in 2023. This highlights that B2B marketers can no longer afford a ‘growth at all costs’ approach with their marketing efforts, and cost-effectiveness will be top of mind with their content efforts.
AI’s Potential Disruption of Content Marketing is Polarizing
AI is polarizing for the potential cost savings to content marketers and many other departments. Nearly 7-in-10 content marketers believe AI writing tools such as ChatGPT will replace at least some of their writers over the next five years.
Cutting into that near 70%, we find that 40% percent of marketers believe these solutions will replace their junior or entry-level writers, and 29% think they will replace all of their current writers. Of course, writers are not the only college-educated workers who fear AI taking their jobs. An Oxford study released in February estimates that nearly half of U.S. jobs might be at risk.
That said, nearly a third of marketers (31%) believe generative AI platforms will only supplement the work of their writers over the next five years rather than outrightly replace them. This view of augmentation versus replacement indicates that there will be increasing demand within at least a third of marketing departments for content marketers that work alongside and perhaps train the AI tools their company is using.
Some of these same marketers that lean towards AI supplementation may also be anticipating that, at some point, the content generated solely by AI will be penalized by search engines, necessitating having humans lead production efforts to ensure authenticity.
58% of marketers said they believe in the future, this type of automated content will be penalized by search engines in some way. While Google, at least, has said that it won’t punish AI-generated content for the time being, the longer-term prognosis is harder to decipher.
Of course, in addition to the threat of being penalized by search engines, marketers must also be closely following how Bing and Google are now incorporating AI chatbots directly into their search engines. Google has said that its AI chatbot Bard will be added to its search engine as it follows in the footsteps of Microsoft, which has already incorporated AI chat into Bing.
Therefore, it’s understandable that 83% of content marketers noted they are at least slightly concerned about the future discovery and/or search ranking of their content in a world driven by AI-powered search engines. Interestingly, B2C marketers (88%) were more worried about this than their B2B peers (77%).
Current and Future AI Usage in Content Production
While content marketers are watching the use of AI within their field evolve in real time, there are many areas where they are already utilizing aspects of AI. The most common use case today is using AI tools to identify SEO keywords (37%), followed by content ideation (35%), and then writing content drafts (33%). Rounding out the top five use cases for AI today was converting long-form content to social media posts (33%), and assisting with the production of photos/videos (32%). Using AI currently to support producing long-form content was further down the list at 29%.
The fact that keyword identification and content ideation are seeing the lion’s share of AI usage early in its adoption within the market makes sense. Creating brand keyword lists can take hours, and ChatGPT has shown the ability to generate hundreds of relevant keywords in seconds. From there, it is much easier for marketers to hone in on 5-10 keywords and topical areas that make the most sense.
When it comes to areas they are not using AI for today but would like to explore the use for in the future, writing and editing full-length content (28%) was number one. Converting long-form content to social media (26%), and producing audio content/podcasts (25%) round out the top three.
When looking for differences between B2C and B2B respondents, the most notable was more B2C marketers are using AI today to create content outlines (32%) than their B2B peers (25%).
Content Marketers’ Goals, Tactics, and Successes in 2023
As we expanded our focus to look at the other major trends playing out in content marketing currently, we examined the type of content that marketers are looking to produce throughout 2023. When asking across both B2B and B2C marketers, we found that producing photos/graphics/visuals (36%) is the type of content they plan to create the most this year. That is followed by making short-form videos (35%) and email/newsletter content (32%).
When spitting into B2B vs. B2C results, you can see the unique differences between content plans. Nearly 4-of-10 B2B marketers reported that demand and lead-gen blog posts were their main content focus. Comparatively, that didn’t even rank in the top five content plans for B2C marketers (30%).
Meanwhile, email/newsletter content was the top choice for B2C marketers (36%), while being the fourth most content of focus for B2B marketers (30%). Across the two groups, there was pretty similar interest in short-form form videos and photos/graphics/visuals, as they both ranked in the top three across both marketing disciplines – illustrating a continued industry focus on visual storytelling.
This increase in visual storytelling is also based on many content marketers being asked to take on the content production of social media assets. In fact, when we asked content marketers what their top goals were for their content marketing efforts, “increasing engagement on social media channels” was their top priority (38%), and “increasing the overall amount of content on social media channels” was number three at 36%.
The interest in social media KPIs skews more towards marketers focusing on engaging consumers, as 41% of B2C marketers noted their top goal is increasing engagement on social media. Meanwhile, B2B marketers reported increasing content on their company website was their number one goal (35%).
Other top goals across all marketing categories included increasing content on the company website (36%), increasing inbound traffic (35%), improving search engine rankings (34%), distributing/building awareness of content (33%), and increasing backlinks (32%).
Honing in on Content Distribution Successes and Failures
When it comes to distributing content, marketers were very evenly split on which distribution methods were providing the best results. This probably isn’t a surprise, given strategies must be customized based on the brand and each piece of content.
Nearly 1-in-5 B2B marketers (18%) noted they find the most content distribution success via organic posts on Facebook/Instagram. That was followed by those saying they found the most success utilizing organic LinkedIn posts (17%) and boosted social posts/paid influencers (15%). Another preferred method for success with distribution was earning coverage and backlinks to their content from media and other websites (15%).
On the B2C side, marketers were again very focused on social media for distribution. These marketers were most likely to say they were finding the most success distributing via organic Twitter posts (21%) and organic TikTok posts (17%). Notably, spreading via paid/boosted social media posts OR with paid influencers (16%) came in above success with organic posts on Facebook/Instagram (12%), which shows the growing imitations of organic consumer brand posts on this channel.
However, while influencer marketing is an attractive option to distribute branded content and stand out on noisy social media platforms, marketers need help getting influencers’ attention.
In fact, 20% of B2B and 18% of B2C marketers say getting media and/or influencers interested in their content to amplify it is their most significant barrier to content marketing success. This was the number one barrier for B2B marketers, followed by the challenge of producing/writing quality content that prospective customers actually engage with (19%) and ranking high on search engines with content (18%).
For B2C marketers producing/writing quality content that prospective customers engage with (19%) and getting eyeballs/unique views on our content (19%) ranked just above securing media and influencer interest.