In 1732, Benjamin Franklin published the first annual Poor Richard's Almanack to promote his printing business—an early example of content marketing. A lot has changed in the past 300 years.

Since content went digital roughly 20 years ago, content marketing has grown exponentially. In 2016, IBM made a bold claim: 90% of the world's data had been created in the previous two years. If you don't believe it, check the promotions tab or elsewhere in your inbox and count all the articles, infographics, podcasts, videos, and e-books that show up every day.

In the past two decades, content marketing has become a legitimate, effective strategy to generate leads and to nurture the sales funnel at every stage of the buying journey, addressing potential buyers' issues and concerns and pushing them closer to "the handshake."

The recent adoption of account-based marketing strategies has intensified content marketing efforts: Otherwise similar content began to be refined and personalized to fit the needs and the language of specific organizations, targeted by account-focused sales and marketing team. But it wasn't until the recent rise of AI that the level of content personalization became scalable.

And that has changed the game.

The content marketing noise is drowning out real communication

With this ever-increasing amount of content, delivered over more channels, getting the message across has become a huge problem for sales and marketing teams. The landscape of buyer communication is noisy, guarded, and complex. On average, a businessperson receives around 120 emails per day, and the success of cold-calling for business appointment-setting is an abysmal 2.5%.

How people make purchasing decisions has also changed: From traditional health and life insurance, magazines, and even car leases, to cable subscriptions, to monthly delivered food and clothing boxes, we are now more likely to buy things as a subscription, rather than pay the entire cost up front. This rise of the subscription economy, a term coined by the subscription billing company Zuora, has been embraced by service providers (for example, online content streaming companies) and heavy machinery manufacturers (such as Caterpillar) alike.

On top of that, consumers don't trust what brands say about themselves. People instead trust what their peers say about these brands and vendors, and even what the brand's employees say about the culture within that brand. Thank Amazon and Google reviews for that.

According to the research by the University of British Columbia, a direct correlation exists between the number of incidental similarities between the buyer and the seller, and the likelihood of a successful commercial transaction. It's not a big surprise: In a world where we have so many options, we want to know that the supplier's values align with ours, before we commit to such a transaction.

Buyer behavior is changing and so is marketing. Traditional marketing, focused on brand awareness, lead generation, and subliminal persuasion doesn't cut it anymore: The role of Marketing is now to enable Sales—to help it build long-lasting trust with the customer, to establish a relationship that will earn their trust.

So the big question is, What can we do to build those relationships with our customers?

Personal connections break through the noise; AI makes that easier

The most forward-looking organizations have already figured out the sales enablement channel with the highest ROI: social selling! It refers to Sales' building and nurturing relationships with their networks by sharing personal, nonmarketing content that is valuable for their existing and future customers.

And here comes the challenge again: Sales doesn't write its own content; and with those copious amounts of content flying around in the ether, Sales has no means of curating let alone personalizing it.

"AI is the modern-day equivalent of the industrial revolution. Instead of improving the output of things (by reducing waste in the manufacturing process), AI improves the output of humans (by reducing waste in the sales process and by producing information and insight that helps them perform at their peak)," Nancy Nardin, CEO of Smart Selling Tools, is quoted as having said in the DemandGen Report The State Of AI-Fueled Sales Enablement.

As strange as it may sound, AI is becoming a bigger factor in enhancing human relationships, with regard to sales engagement. By analyzing high volumes of daily content and tracking content engagement, AI can help marketers and salespeople prioritize their conversations based on a variety of factors, such as past interests, trends, and so on. It further informs them how to focus on the most relevant content for each buyer conversation, at every stage of the buyer's journey.

Essentially, that allows Sales to share the most relevant content on social networks and avoid useless, irrelevant information that frustrates and distracts the recipient. The ability to personalize and share helpful information boosts Sales' confidence and facilitates meaningful connections around topics of interest to real humans: i.e., potential buyers.

AI-curated content also enables organizations to deliver consistent messaging—another big challenge, especially for large, enterprise companies. Moreover, whether analyzing third-party or owned content, AI can ensure there are no conflicting messages issued to the public through social media or other digital channels. Full compliance with corporate rules and regulatory requirements, especially in today's highly regulated industries, such as finance, IT, and healthcare, has never been more critical.

Unlock the value of marketing content

In today's digital marketing world, AI is often used to leverage analytics and close resource gaps. Three out of four marketers interviewed for a PwC study agreed that AI is a "business advantage."

AI-fueled marketing content can also help build trust and thought leadership. With the level of personalization that AI affords, every salesperson can build a personal brand, positioning herself not only as a trusted adviser who understands the customer's unique challenges but also as a relatable personality with unique interests.

As of now, Marketing continues to lead the charge to create engaging experiences throughout the customer lifecycle for many organizations. But if you look at the transformation of Sales in the context of the entire buyer journey, the next step is the digital transformation of the sales organization.

True leaders of digital transformation in their respective industries, companies like SAP and Guardian Life, have been successfully using AI-powered content marketing strategies to nurture relationships and drive revenue across the entire customer journey for years.

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How to Unlock Content Marketing's Value and Drive Sales: AI Can Help

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image of Paul Odnoletkov

Paul Odnoletkov is marketing director at Grapevine6. He has 20+ years of experience executing go-to-market strategies and building marketing teams that take high-growth technology companies in Europe, USA, and Canada to their next level.

LinkedIn: Paul Odnoletkov