We need a new kind of content marketing.
Why? Because while some brands remain stuck in a rut of clunky, obsolete communication, in the outside world machines capable of optimizing content generation are springing up.
For example, AI algorithms can root their way through vast mountains on information to bring users the most relevant content, reflecting their personal interests. Content selection is therefore automatic, although the process has to be underpinned by strategies like Content Intelligence which populates users’ profiles, even anonymously, to match preferences gleaned from their online browsing.
But, if content and technology are the answer to the challenge of communication, what does the future hold for businesses who embrace them? We asked an expert, Alberto Maestri.
Q: What we’re witnessing could be called “platform disruption”. Over the past few years, online platforms have changed economic exchanges and the way we see them, so why do you think content should be at the heart of business strategies in this new economic model?
A: Platforms are among us, and the algorithms governing how they work and how value is created for end users – the easiest examples would be items linked to Amazon or social network feeds which are continually optimized to reflect our profiles - are an ever-present feature in our everyday lives. We listen to music on Spotify, we book holidays on Lastminute, we let ourselves be guided (literally) by Google Maps and Waze.
Content is one of the most interesting features in this new platform economy powered by dynamic experiences. After many years of growth in Content Marketing and reaching out to “human” users, both myself and a number of analysts believe that content design must now focus its evolution along two major axes:
- Content must be dynamic and fluid. In other words, intelligent. The idea of intelligent content has attracted increasing attention: gradually, the content must get as close as possible to users’ experiences, potentially anticipating their future behavior in order to delight and create valuable experiences.
In the 2015 book "Content Evolution. La Nuova Era del Marketing Digitale" Francesco Gavatorta and I coined the phrase HyperContent which means content that doesn't fit a specific format as defined by Content Marketing, and is not necessarily tied to the individual characteristics of the end user but more representative of surrounding time and space, namely the context in which the user is immersed. Technology has helped us move forward to a new stage in this evolution, taking us from Content Marketing to HyperContent Marketing.
- We have to stop talking (or trying to talk) to users only as a target B2B or B2C audience. Algorithms are the new decision-makers. It is them which must be convinced. An algorithm will choose which product to promote to people. This forces digital strategy directors to take a more holistic approach to the user experience which is no longer seen as an exclusively human one but also incorporating algorithms and (ro)bots. After all, SEO, programmatic advertising and many other activities performed on a daily basis are already moving in this direction.
Q: If the question businesses should be asking themselves is: “How can we make our brands better reflect the user experience?”, how can AI help Content Marketing to understand what their users’ needs really are?
A: AI helps to orientate content generation - or a part of it - profiling and gauging it to match the experiences of each person interacting with it. Or rather, each individual, through mass customization processes by virtue of which, for example, someone about to travel to Australia, with a given available income and placed in particular social and personal categories, will no longer land on a static home page that is the same for everyone, but a landing page with the perfect offering for him or her.
And that’s not all. There are already a number of interesting cases of AI-generated content. This would be the latest iteration of UGC - user generated content - whereby content is generated by computers. I'm not (just) talking about the kind of interactions we have daily with bot and automated instant messaging platforms. There are also solutions like Articoolo which offer the end-to-end creation of “human-proof” content. It’s still a little unrefined but it’s evolving and definitely improving.
Media giants like Forbes, Yahoo!, Reuters have been using such solutions for years to feed their content machine at an exponential rate, to delve into the depths of the big data ocean in order to identify semantic patterns, recursions and trends that can be turned into relevant content. Adobe, IBM, Oracle, Salesforce, SAS and other primary organizations are already offering businesses and suppliers innovative and highly effective solutions of this type.
Q: You co-founded HyperContent Lab, a think tank to extend the present and future of Content Marketing and Storytelling. I know the first survey is currently underway in Italy to map out where we are with Digital Content Marketing in this country. Can you give us a quick overview of any major trends and what direction we are moving in?
A: This is the third edition of this national survey. I can’t reveal the final results but I will happily share three insights we gained from the data of 112 participants (mainly marketing managers, marketing directors and people heading up social media marketing in organizations.)
- Content Marketing is here, it’s happening in Italy. Or it looks that way, judging from 64% of the responses to the question, “Does your organization develop and manage a Digital Content Marketing strategy?” This is a major premise that bodes well for the two-year period 2019-2020, which looks like it will be strategic in making up the gap between ourselves and international benchmarks in the field.
- Once content strategy has been defined, it is managed manually by dedicated staff: notable among the few technologies used are HubSpot, the Adobe and Salesforce suites and MailChimp, MailUp and WordPress for more vertical email marketing and blogging activities.
Technology is key because organizations need the best technological platforms possible if they are to become more effective and efficient Without them, the risk is they might struggle to manage the complexity of the data and dynamics that are increasingly coupling marketing and HR, customer experience and employee experience, etc.
- 67% of the respondents in the 2018 study reported that they expected their organization’s use of digital content as part of marketing activities to increase in 2019. One of the biggest trends to emerge was an interesting polarization:
1) A number of respondents named blockchain, AI and augmented reality (AR) as the technological paradigms that were still to be fully decoded in terms of their potential scope of application.
2) Alternatively, others pointed to the trend whereby brands are increasingly relying on humanization and anthropomorphism, in the sense that they are “using people to get to people”, aided by the content produced and distributed over digital media.