The future of marketing and search changed instantly when OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November 2022. Users were amazed at the artificial intelligence (AI) tool's ability to naturally engage with users and provide detailed answers to complex questions.
In just five days, it racked up a million users—something Spotify, Facebook, and Instagram took months to accomplish.
Many people began wondering whether ChatGPT and other generative AI tools—thanks to their ability to provide robust answers that don't require users to make multiple clicks—would overtake traditional search tools.
Competitors quickly took notice. Google declared a "code red" and quickly launched Bard, its own AI tool. Microsoft responded by investing a reported $10 billion into OpenAI to make Microsoft Azure the exclusive cloud provider for ChatGPT and incorporate the tool into its Bing search engine.
In just a few months, it's become clear that AI tools like ChatGPT could potentially bring extensive disruptions to marketing and search.
But a few key questions remain: Will ChatGPT replace marketers? Will it really end Google? And how can marketers embrace the new technology?
Is AI Coming for Our Jobs?
One of the most salient concern regarding AI is its potential impact on employment if it can truly work more efficiently at a significantly reduced cost than humans.
The release of ChatGPT underscored those concerns. However, its impact on marketing could vary widely, depending on the task.
Copy and Creative Production
Many ChatGPT users were shocked at the tool's ability to instantly produce (relatively) high-quality written content on any subject with a simple prompt. Marketers quickly keyed into the implications that held for search because a large component of SEO involves written content.
As the technology develops, tools like ChatGPT could potentially produce articles at scale without requiring an army of human copywriters.
For now, ChatGPT functions to support creative production by generating outlines and other forms of content that humans then modify. In the near term, AI tools could likely replace people who write highly reproducible SEO-focused content.
Search Engine Marketing
AI's impact on search engine marketing (SEM) will be slightly different, primarily because of the competing incentives around search. Here's why:
Imagine you are a marketer who wants to spend $25 on advertising that generates $100 in revenue, which is a return on ad spend (ROAS) of 4.0. If you turn those conditions over to Google's AI tools, their incentive is to spend as much as possible to get clicks. In other words, if you tell Google you want to spend $25, it will spend all $25.
Humans have different motivations. They'll take that ROAS goal and target several options to uncover efficiencies because their incentive is to spend as little as possible for clicks. Under those conditions, the experimentation could lead to a lower ROAS, delivering more profit to the advertiser.
Such tension means there will always be a benefit of having human advocates working in the SEM space because their presence delivers a compelling cost benefit.
Big Questions Around Search
Although ChatGPT may eventually replace some marketing roles, its capacity to overtake search is limited, mostly because of monetization and reliability issues.
High Technology Costs
At this point, ChatGPT's complex technology makes it cost-prohibitive to monetize the platform through paid advertising.
By some estimates, ChatGPT's computing power costs outweigh traditional keyword-based search by a factor of 10. That means Google and Microsoft—if they ever attempted to monetize their chatbots—would need to set very high click prices to offset computing costs.
There's also no guarantee that real world users would be more likely to convert through a chatbot than they would through a search bar.
Another significant challenge for ChatGPT is its reliability. When Google delivers search results, users have a high degree of confidence that the information is accurate because they can scan the results and use their judgment to decide which information source best suits their needs.
The same is not true for ChatGPT. Many users have reported instances of the tool's delivering inaccurate, biased, or even hostile results.
Without the right sourcing tools, a chatbot could be a powerful misinformation source, undermining the entire search ethos.
Things People Aren't Talking About (Yet)
One critical factor overlooked in the ChatGPT discourse is Microsoft's search position. Bing accounts for less than 9% of the global search market, having generated nearly $12 billion in revenue last year.
Microsoft's massive investment in OpenAI could be a play to attract more users to its search engine in an attempt to capture a larger share of the search pie. Even a modest 2% gain could deliver Microsoft billions in additional search revenue.
What's more, Microsoft recently announced that it would incorporate ChatGPT into Bing's smartphone app. To date, Bing hasn't had much visibility in the mobile market, and such an integration could change that, enabling Microsoft to pull additional search traffic away from Google.
Takeaways for Marketers
Overall, talk of ChatGPT as a revolution is overhyped, at least in its current iteration. However, it's unwise for marketers to ignore the tool, because it will continue to improve. Here are three things marketers should do to ensure they remain on AI's cutting edge.
1. Use the tool
Marketers must be prolific ChatGPT users with an eye toward finding efficiencies or creating force multipliers. Ask yourself how the tool can make you faster, more efficient, and better at your work.
2. Keep humans involved
ChatGPT is not ready for unsupervised work. Marketers must keep humans involved, particularly in vetting and approving results. Otherwise, you risk embarrassing yourself and your clients.
3. Get to know Bing
If you're not already using Microsoft's search tools, it's time to start. The ChatGPT integration could potentially draw in a slew of new users who can be reached with Bing's already effective SEM tools.
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The last few months have given us a glimpse of AI's nearly unlimited potential. Although we are a long way from a time when AI can develop and execute a marketing strategy without human involvement, AI tools will take on an increasingly important role in every phase of the process.
We're only beginning this journey, and it isn't easy to envision all the possibilities AI technology could bring. Marketers must stay engaged to ensure they don't get left behind.
More Resources on ChatGPT in Search and Marketing
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