You might be surprised to hear that the people who stand to benefit the most from AI writing tools are actual writers.
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"AI tools work best when you already have great writers on the team," says May Habib, natural-language processing expert and CEO of Writer. "You cannot give a writing tool to somebody who isn't good outside of a writing tool."
"It's not about generating ten times the amount of content that you do already," May explains. "It's about your team ideating faster, drafting faster, editing faster, distributing faster, repurposing faster."
Ah, so the tools are there to help generate the endless SEO titles, descriptions, email subject lines, video scripts, and social media posts that can come from a single piece of content, thus freeing up writers to do what they do best.
"The more that you can automate those things that you know work, what you have a process for, the more that you can be exploring and experimental, and people will have creative juice and energy to try new things and not constantly trying to keep their head above water."
You can learn more about AI writing, brand voice, and how teams have made use of Writer in Episode 518 of Marketing Smarts.
Listen to the entire show now from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.
George Thomas: I am very joyous. Right now, you're thinking, "Oh my gosh, he didn't say excited," but aren't they the same thing? Anyway, today we are going to have an episode where I talk to May Habib about empowering your teams with AI. More importantly, if you remember last week's outro, what kind of AI was the hook—it is AI content.
This actually took a really interesting and exciting turn. When we were talking to May, we talked about what keeps her up at night with AI and B2B marketers, we talked about AI content and is it vitally important to companies success in 2023 and beyond, why, what kind, what areas, all sorts of things, how to get started, the hurdles you might run into, and what the heck does AI content success look like. It was a fabulous conversation and I'm so happy that you get to listen in to it. Without further ado, let's go ahead and get into the good stuff.
This is the moment you've been waiting for, the deep end of the pool, we're getting into the good stuff, and I have May Habib here. We're just going to dive in because I am curious where and how this conversation is going to go, because I don't know if you're leveraging AI for your marketing efforts right now or not, or if you will after this interview or not, but here we go. May, when thinking about AI, in particular B2B marketers, what keeps you up at night?
May Habib: Totally contextual right now. Right now, I would say what keeps me up at night on B2B and content marketing is all of the fear out there. Specifically, what are the things that we can be doing to counter that fear. I think the first generation of tools that helped generate content are really what is in market now and it's what people have experience with, and it's resulting in Frankenstein content. Surface level impressive, but kind of scary, it looks like a human, but it really isn't, it's kind of monstrous.
The idea that you can generate 1,200 words off of a headline is preposterous, and that is absolutely the fact. I think there's a lot of fear that that's what AI writing is and that it will tank a brand, tank SEO progress, and all of that. Our product is very different. Our customers use it very differently. I guess that's what is keeping me up at night now.
George: Definitely. I'm going to take this away from marketers or B2B marketers, and say humans many times we're just fundamentally lazy, so if we can get something that is, "That's good, let's just publish it," we might be in trouble. Why are we actually having this conversation? Hopefully, you're listening to this and you also heard that Google did a helpful content release. If you haven't, you should go check it out, but let's get back into the interview.
May, in your opinion, is AI or AI content or AI writing—again, there are several different directions we could go here—vitally important to a company's success or process in 2023 and beyond? Maybe answer why, and then in what kind of areas could they think about this conversation that we're having today.
May: Absolutely, 100%. I think an AI writing platform is the number one thing a marketing team could add to its stack right now to achieve its goals. I sound biased, but I absolutely would not be saying that on your show if I didn't think it were true relative to anything else that you could train on and buy. It's not about generating ten times the amount of content that you do already. It's about your team ideating faster, drafting faster, editing faster, distributing faster, repurposing faster.
We all are being asked to do so much more with what we have and achieve bigger and loftier goals that the inclusion of an AI writing tool in the toolbelt is just absolutely essential for marketers. I would say making that investment now so that it's actually operational by 2023 is really important, if you do believe that it is going to be transformative, and our customers absolutely are seeing that.
George: It's interesting. I almost immediately want to go off the beaten path, because you just dipped into you should start now if you want it to be up and operational for 2023 for your business. Actually, my brain went a couple of different directions. I should probably buy a tee shirt that says that. When it comes to getting it up and running and operational, maybe talk us through some of the things when we're thinking about set up and process that we should be paying attention to.
May: Our premise is that AI tools work best when you already have great writers on the team, so that is bar none. If you don't have people, if you don't have content strategists and writers and folks who really understand your audience, then no tooling in the world is going to help. That's what you have to get down first. But when you've got that team and you want them to get the points up on the board quickly, you want them to do the strategic job and not be in the weeds, that's what I mean about really taking the time to incorporate tools into a workflow.
Writer works out of the box in ten seconds, so it's not about the technology needs time. It's that thinking about how to repurpose with AI is a bit of a workflow change. If I write a blog post, then I have a meta description, I have pre-header in an email, I have an email itself, I have a social post, I have a LinkedIn post, I have something my CEO posts. That is a lot of content that comes out of one blog post. The idea of actually using AI to automate that from a distribution perspective and a repurposing perspective, those are new skills. That's what I mean about taking time to incorporate it into everybody's workflows.
If you have a 60-page style guide and someone is your terminology person, someone is your brand voice person, and now you're all remote, really using a tool that automates style guide adherence and automates edits, that's a bit of workflow change. Making that second nature is when all of those tooling investments start to pay off and add up, the team just goes so much faster.
George: It's super interesting to me. You mentioned that you have to have the writers on staff. I'm happy, by the way, to say the next words out of my mouth. It feels like whatever you get is a starting point from the AI writer, not the finish line. Can you wax poetic on the idea of after you use a tool like Writer or another AI writing tool, these are the things that you should be adding to it or thinking about, or a process you might put it through, versus we didn't tell you to put in a title, generate some information, and then post a blog article? Wax poetic on that.
May: I spoke with somebody last week who was like, "I took an article that I generated with Cowrite and I put it into Hugging Face's GPT Content Detector, and it told me it was generated by AI." I was like, "No. Did it really? Shocking."
Honestly, it is our job to really educate as the technology providers here. What we are finding is if you as the innovator on a team don't truly understand the technology, then your teammates are going to interpret it as magic, and we don't trust magic. Understanding the large language model technology as great prediction really helps people get into the right mindset. This is an ideation tool. If you have great training, data, and a customized template, which exclusively Writer does, then you also have a draft, but that is not what the foundational model is going to give you.
You have to train it and customize it for it to be a drafting tool, otherwise it's an ideation tool, it's repurposing, it's distributing, it's a bunch of the stuff that we have out of the box to help the best content marketing teams. I can definitely go one for a while about just those misconceptions. Part of it was the first generation of the advertising, people writing blog posts on their mobile phones. That's not what people actually do when they care about content in B2B.
George: I love the ending of that. If you care about your content, especially B2B marketers, you know that we need to, it's what builds trust, it's what equals reciprocity, it's what streamlines the sales process. It's interesting. I'm so happy that we're drawing a line in the sand in this conversation of it's to streamline your process, not to replace your process. It's not to be your process. It's something to bolt onto your process. That's so good.
I love these interviews and listening to thought leaders and the topics that we get to talk about. As you were just so eloquently rolling off with this and that, my brain started to go in the direction of how should teams use it, it feels very much like May is talking about it's on your website, it's on social, it might be for marketing, sales might get a piece of it, service might get a snippet out of something that's created.
So, I do want to ask the question, how should teams be using this AI content or the content that comes out of the AI writer as they move forward?
May: There are a lot of different use cases. We have customers who use Writer to generate first drafts of newsletters to their subscribers based on everything they wrote that week. It's fine-tuned for their brand voice, it's fine-tuned for which types of articles get a deeper treatment and which ones get a listicle treatment. We have other customers who will automatically generate alternative headlines on a blog post because the editor taking her red pen wants to also understand where else they could have taken this headline.
We have customers who will take a 2,000-word case study and turn it into an email for sales, turn it into a brief for customer success, so taking the deeper level and really cutting it down for the various use cases. On the CS side of things, it's a focus on implementation. On the sales side of things, it's an emphasis on ROI. And no one had to think about those things. Now, of course, you have to think about it at the outset.
There is emerging in our customer base kind of this scaled content strategist type of role. It really is just content strategy, but I think a very modern strategist who is thinking almost automation first. When you really dig into some of the cool things our customers are doing and the way the innovators have won over the skeptics on their team, it has been in training Writer on the data and the content that they're already very happy with. Now, that is more often than not surprised at how little content sometimes people are happy with when they are setting up a new channel or a new type of content for a new segment of their audience. They're thinking about a month in, two months in, I'm going to have enough pieces of content like this that I'm going to be able to train Writer.
So, it is an interesting world. The folks that are getting up to speed, literally, with these tools are head and shoulders, I think, above the competition. We always say that the folks who have a good understanding of what their brand voice is are going to be the first adopters, and we're seeing that. These are people in highly competitive spaces, so we have lots of customers in finance, in fintech, in insurance, in CPG, in e-commerce. Differentiating and just the frequency with which that brand voice needs to be differentiated is a challenge that they're using AI to solve.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, you might have hit the rewind point, because there were a couple of good nuggets kind of hidden in that section. One, the idea of content strategist and content strategy, aka maybe a content director, being at the helm of this, the idea of them being able to think automation first, but then understand the process that comes after that. I'd be remiss, because it isn't going to be the first time you've heard this, but after you have that piece of content, the content confetti that happens afterward that goes to all the different places.
Then what's really fun is you even dipped into training the tool. As soon as you dipped into training the tool or training whatever it is, we have brand, we have voice, we have tone, we understand how we want to talk about the things, that led my brain to the next question. How can teams get started using AI content or an AI content machine, if you will, if they're not yet doing so? I fully understand there are people that are like, "I don't know," so in this answer, think dipping their toes into the water. How can they just kind of test and play and that kind of thing?
May: Go to Writer.com, sign up for an account, go to Cowrite and click on the Highlights template, and put in the last blog post that hit your site, and see what comes out. We're going to automatically give you a package of highlights, and it's things that you can use on social, it is a meta description, it is takeaways. Think about how long it would have taken somebody to do that. With a coffee break and even a mild case of writer's block, you just saved yourself four hours.
Use it on the next post and think about what it would be like if the output were customized to your workflows. Maybe you're sending out an email newsletter, maybe you've got a link building campaign where you excerpt that post and send it out to 50 people to post on their blogs or in their newsletters. Whatever it is in your workflow, think what would it be like for me to press a button and actually get that content, what would be most accelerating? Then if you happen to have examples of that, that first version is going to be even better. We just need to be pointed to where it is, whether it's a Google Doc or it's live on your site, to be able to train on it.
George: One of the things that I like to do is have almost polar opposite questions next to each other. I literally teased that one as think dipping their toes in the water. Let's say we have the B2B marketer that is listening right now, the Marketing Smarts amazing human because they're tuning into this podcast, and they're like cannonball, and they're ready to splash into the deep end. When you think about that mindset, how can companies or B2B marketers use AI content to truly up their game? What is a next level ninja action or hack that you would suggest or thing that they could start to think about?
May: A lot of it depends on how much headcount there can be dedicated to this. Let's say that you have half a headcount, so somebody who can actually spend half of their time over the next year thinking about AI. I would turn them into my content automation chief.
Actually, a big promise that is unfulfilled for a lot of content programs is that they are across the customer journey. Go talk to sales. Go talk to customer success. Go talk to product. What are their content bottlenecks? Then come talk to us. Nine times out of ten, those bottlenecks we've solved for somebody, and we can help you think about how to design a template that addresses that bottleneck.
For half a headcount, you've really done something super strategic for the entire organization and done it in a consistent way. Because what are you going to get? You're going to get a consistent brand voice across all of those places where you're now infusing AI into the process, where you have a consistent set of materials that you've trained on, a consistent set of terminology and style.
So, it is very exciting if you are doing that cannonball.
George: I have to tell you, my brain works in a funky weird way, but I almost want to put search into LinkedIn in the next six to twelve months for a chief content automator. Now that May said that, I'm like is that actually going to be a title in the future. It might be. That is super exciting to me because the world is always changing. What we're talking about today is actually changing what we're doing around content, AI content, and the process of creating great content, and that content confetti.
Here's the thing. It's September 26th at 8:30 in the morning that we're recording this, I have lived on this planet for 51 years as of today.
George: I've realized sometimes things go wrong. What are some AI content, or even just AI hurdles that you've seen companies face along the way that you would want to tell the Marketing Smarts listeners watch out for this?
May: We've only seen this happen once. Again, it's early days in the market and all of our customers are incredibly sophisticated. We did see someone invite a content marketing agency that they've been working with for a long time into their Writer instance, and that's total kosher, you can invite whoever you want into Writer, and then they invited a freelance writer who didn't fact check what came out of Writer.
The large language models are liars. We do something called claim detection, it's going to be out in general release really soon. The facts that we're not sure are correct, we'll highlight for the writer to make sure that they Google and check. This writer was just not as conscientious. Thankfully, it got caught (not great for the agency) at the customer level.
Those are the kinds of things. Number one, you have to bring in good writers. That is just the be all and end all. You cannot give a writing tool to somebody who isn't good outside of a writing tool. That's what I think is going to be super interesting in this new world. Our technology and editors are only getting more powerful in terms of really turning a conversation into great finished prose. Research being automated, really being able to ask AI questions and have it automatically end up as prose.
To those who are great, they'll be able to master these tools and get even better and get even more prolific. The inverse is true. It's a virtuous cycle. It could also be a vicious cycle. That really is the number one thing is really making sure that you trust the folks that you've given the tools and publishing authority to.
George: As you were telling what I would call that AI content horror story, my brain went to this is just another example of when you do what is easy in life, life will be hard, and when you do what's hard in life, life will be easy. That writer really needed to do what was hard so that they didn't end up with the story being told on this podcast today.
We talked about hurdles. Again, these kind of polar opposite questions. In your mind, if you think about we've climbed the mountain, or maybe we're at the Olympics and we're on the number one podium, gold medal around our neck, what does AI content success look like to you?
May: It looks like the people that you've hired for editorial strategy doing editorial strategy. It looks like the people you've hired for content strategy doing content strategy. It looks like people that you've hired for UX writing doing UX writing. The repetitive, the monotonous, the boring, the detail-oriented but not interesting detail-oriented that we really have AI to help us do that.
It's not that we are asleep at the wheel. We have the right checks and balances, but we have turned into folks who have set up self-driving mechanisms so that we can really do and move onto the more interesting, harder work. At the top of funnel, what keywords should we be going after? Middle of the funnel, where else can we get distribution? Bottom of the funnel, how do we talk to more customers and turn those into interesting stories?
So many B2B marketers really want to get into video and there's just so much. TikTok has been on everybody's backlog for two years now. The content pit is bottomless. The more that you can automate those things that you know work, what you have a process for, the more that you can be exploring and experimental, and people will have creative juice and energy to try new things and not constantly trying to keep their head above water.
George: I love this mindset of it being the helper to help the humans be more streamlined, be more creative, not get bogged down in these repetitive tasks, and actually be a little bit more human because they have the energy to do so as B2B marketers.
Are there a couple of examples you can share where you're like, this happened, it kicked butt, it took names, anything that we can point to as a North Star for the listeners to look at?
May: There are a number of them. I feel like what we have on the site in the most detail is probably the Adore Me story. You can head over to our blog and check out Adore Me, which is a sustainable fashion brand really taking on Victoria's Secret. These guys are kicking butt. They have a lot of writers and content creatives who were really in the minutia of writing content for the site, writing content for public consumption, and really creating the brand required creative energy on the content side that wasn't really leftover after all of the work around e-commerce was done.
Anyone in e-commerce listening knows just how much content is required to really merchandise an e-commerce site. We were able to go in, and their VP of strategy is a super innovative guy, really went over some real SEO skeptics and copywriting skeptics, and the content that was generated out of Writer sounds like Adore Me because it was trained on Adore Me. So, it has been a real success story there and they've been able to go so much faster as a result of being able to have things like push notifications, ad copy, product SKUs, and newsletters all get beefed up with a first version that was automatically created for people.
George: So good. One of the things that I like to do is I like to pick the brain of the guests in a little bit of a different direction. You've gone through a very unique journey to be who you are, where you are, doing what you're doing, and then end up on this episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast. We all learn these nuggets along the way, what I like to call wisdom, and I like to get words of wisdom. May, what are some final words of wisdom that you have for the Marketing Smarts audience as they move forward in their day?
May: I think taking a step back. So many marketing leadership positions are shorter lived than the leadership positions of parallel teams. We've all read the headlines around the average tenure of CMOs. The data really does extend down to the VP level, too. I think at the end of the day, we're trying to put brands on the map in this enduring way. What could be more important than a brand voice that was associated in your audience's mind with you, who made that happen, made that consistent, and took that through the whole company? I think that is a role that the most successful CMOs really relish. The CMO of Accenture, who is just an amazing customer of Writer, to Jamie Barnett, who is an incredible three-time CMO who has been a big supporter and driver of what Writer has become.
When I think about the most successful CMOs, they are associated with the brand voice of the company and making that a reality. When you think about that trickling down into initiatives for marketing, I guess that would be my learning from having gotten the privileged seat of watching marketing teams, watching these marketers close up and the things they care about, the things they focus on, and then how that translates into how their teams operate. It is so much less about how many blog posts did we get up, or what is the keyword ranking of this set of keyword groups, etcetera. It is does the audience know who we are? In the words of Ann Handley, brand voice is the new logo. Could they distinguish us from our writing?
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B. You could use other social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, totally up to you.
I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to Mprofs.com/mptoday. You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.
We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we talk with Alexander Ferguson about video testimonials as a tool for B2B growth in 2023, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.
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Published on October 20, 2022
May Habib, CEO and a cofounder of Writer, an AI writing platform for teams. She is an expert in natural language processing, AI-driven language generation, and the evolving ways we use language online.
LinkedIn: May Habib
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