2023 has been a year of disruptive technology. ChatGPT strolled into the public eye and companies scrambled to get their best AI business tools out to a market eager to learn how to use AI to make business operations more efficient. This year, I emerged out of a communication studies graduate program where I was researching human-machine communication in the world of industry, and somehow, digital marketing was where I landed.
Just like a business should review its financials at the end of the year, it’s also a great time to reset your marketing strategy. In my own marketing strategy, I like to use a blended strategy that both leverages technology and creates content designed for humans. This focus on human-centered content is especially important now.
Over the past year, I have seen many ads for various AI products that promise to completely improve some aspect of daily life through calendar management, content writing and even ad generation. Tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E have brought us an ability to have machines create almost anything we want.
Here is the caveat: AI can help, but it absolutely cannot replace your team and the effort that you put into your strategy. And having a human touch will be much more important in the coming year.
What is human-centric marketing?
I’m going to start by saying marketers will not be replaced by AI, but they’ll very likely be replaced by marketers who know how to make AI work in their favor.
I get it: You are inundated with ads for different products that use AI to solve common problems. There are many terrific tools out there that use tech and machine learning to help with different business functions. You can automate your calendar, your social media posts and your SEO strategy. And you absolutely should start adding some tools to your repertoire, but let’s first talk about reaching your audience without buying anything new.
We interact with algorithms everyday. Our music streaming services predict new songs for us to listen to based on what we’ve listened to before (this has ruined automatic playlists for me thanks to children’s content). Search engines make recommendations to us based on algorithms that judge the credibility of sites on the web, and the social media pages know exactly what you are most likely to buy next and show you ads for it.
While this makes it tempting to run out and purchase a variety of machine-learning-powered applications in the hopes they will help you automate your marketing strategy, I’m going to stop you right there. Humans like content that is clearly made for humans by humans. So while AI can absolutely help with this process, you need to make sure the human part comes first.
The components of human-centered marketing
I’ve created an acronym to help remember the components of a human-centered marketing campaign: REAL. The best marketing will be Relatable, Educational, Authoritative and Likable.
Relatable: Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes is a great way to connect with your audience. This could be by naming a pain point (e.g., “My feet always get wet in my winter boots”) and emphasizing that pain point.
Educational: I get a lot of pushback from clients about creating educational content. They are afraid that (1) their competitors will find the content and steal it, and (2) their clients will learn how to solve the problem themselves. Here’s the truth: Buyers who read helpful content are more likely to convert, and search engines are specifically designed to prioritize helpful content.
Authoritative: Every customer who finds your company is finding you because they are looking to solve a certain pain point. Authoritative content establishes you as a thought leader and also leverages your expertise in your niche.
Likable: One of the first things you will learn in any sales training is people are more likely to buy from people they like. Your marketing should be genuine and credible.
Whatever combination of marketing channels you use, try to make sure it fits those guidelines.
Email marketing: Hold the spam
Email marketing is a source of frustration for a lot of business owners. Emails hit spam folders instead of targets, or recipients simply don’t open emails. My favorite thing to do is explain to clients that yes, we are absolutely sending spam. Spam by definition is simply an unsolicited mass email.
One of my marketing clients uses ZoomInfo, a client relationship manager (CRM) that packs a pretty heavy punch. This CRM finds prospects quickly and is capable of sending out thousands of emails a day. Modern email clients, however, have grown hip to what a marketing email looks like, and some servers will reject these emails entirely.
When my client received an email telling him that his message was not delivered because the spam filter flagged and rejected it, he wanted to know how we could get these emails past this virtual gatekeeper.
I replied, “If it’s a good lead, why don’t you send them an email personally?”
The best marketers understand how to co-work with AI but also know how and when to step in and exert human judgment. A powerful CRM is an excellent tool, but the truth is that many people are averse to being on the receiving end of mass email campaigns (including me, a designer of mass email campaigns).
It’s not enough to step back and let your automation do the job. When you do send out emails through a CRM or a mailing list, make sure the wording is personable and friendly and doesn’t read too much like sales mail. I like to incorporate informative content in my emails, which seems to lead to better open rates.
Social media marketing: Fun but not feral
This also applies to your advertising campaigns and social media strategy. It’s great to put out regular content! But does your regular content humanize your brand? My recommendation is to put together a social media calendar that also prioritizes humans: clients, staff, yourself—anything that puts a face to the name.
When reviewing the analytics for many of the social media pages I run, there is one thing consistent among companies I work with: The most popular content is the simple content that shows brand leadership and employees just being people. I have seen pictures of employees just sitting around in the office reach four times the engagement rate that carefully designed Canva graphics do.
So if your employees participated in a service day or got together in person for a meeting for the first time in several months, snap a picture and share it.
It also helps to not take yourself too seriously. While it might not be on brand for you to go as feral as the Wendy’s Facebook page, show some levity and a sense of humor in your advertising. Encourage your staff to dress down for their headshots to look more approachable.
Search engine marketing: Leveraging the algorithms we interact with
These algorithms are also constantly changing, meaning that strategies you used to reach potential customers last year might not reach them as easily next year.
Google and Microsoft are both rolling out their own versions of AI search, leaving SEO specialists reeling about the potential for losing out on ranking and click-throughs. Currently, you can pilot Google’s AI-powered search experience (SGE) to see how this is changing search.
With AI search, the AI response shows above all the other search results. The application summarizes what it perceives to be the best possible answer to the search query based on information currently available on the internet.
The big fear is that no one will click on pages anymore. However, SGE cites its main sources right by its summary. Therefore, SEOs will need to pivot from the traditional keyword and content strategy and create clear, authoritative and up-to-date content with a call to action early in the content. Also, the search will prioritize results with a better user experience, which generally comes from human-centric marketing.
For humans, by humans is key
A couple of years ago, I spent a year copy editing content for Stanley Tate, owner of TateEsq, an attorney who specializes in discharging student debt in bankruptcy. His objective was to create content that answered any and all student loan questions people might have. After a year of optimizing his blog, his site ranked very well on Google.
There are two strategies that he leveraged: He covered all topics, even the ones that might not bring him business, like federal student loans, and he produced very informative content that people would be likely to read and come back to.
This is the type of content that will likely fare well when AI search fully rolls out because it explains the issue, links to credible sources and demonstrates a level of expertise and authority that will attract humans.
Whatever channels you market on, just make sure your content is made for people.
Photo by NDAB Creativity/Shutterstock.com
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