Ask Why Before You Buy Content Tech (Even AI)


For as long as I can remember, marketing teams have faced a thorny problem: Technology.

In the pre-internet days, I helped marketing teams wrestle their presentations onto CD-ROMs to share with their sales colleagues and manage their outbound customer email campaigns in Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets.

If only a few words in that sentence made sense to you, remember I’m a Gen Xer. Rough translation: “In my day we had to walk five miles in the snow to implement a marketing strategy.”

Technology makes up a core part of any go-to-market strategy today. But marketing teams haven’t gotten any better at managing the acquisition and implementation of the plethora of tech it takes to power their work.

But it’s not for lack of investment.

Gartner’s 2023 CMO spend survey found marketing leaders have seen their teams’ productivity fall to new lows, despite technology investments in the last few years. As the research points out, 75% of marketers say they’re under pressure to cut martech spending this year. Yet Gartner also found the biggest new investment among CMOs this year is … wait for it … technology. And the most significant decrease? Labor.

75% of marketers say they’re under pressure to cut tech spending, yet it’s also their biggest investment this year, according to @Gartner research, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Think about that.

Marketing teams spend so much time acquiring, implementing, learning, and managing technology that they have little time to work on whatever they bought the technology to help them do. It’s a never-ending hamster wheel.

What marketing leaders don’t know about buying technology

I’ve worked with many brands to help them select content and marketing technologies, from content and digital asset management to marketing automation and customer data platforms.

In almost every case, the process begins with understanding how the new or replacement technology will fit into the marketing process. But, in most cases, no defined process exists. It happens with all kinds of marketing and content technologies. But it’s particularly apparent in how content and marketing leaders approach adopting new generative AI tools.

Instead of starting by focusing on the new, sophisticated capabilities tech products offer, marketers should first figure out which existing (or at least designed) processes the new technology purchase will amplify, standardize, or scale.

I am researching the integration of AI into the content and marketing processes. I’ll preview two findings from the report in development.

First, among the 200 marketers surveyed, 84% say they experiment with or actively use generative AI technologies to create content. However, only 17% of that group has a formal workflow process that includes generative AI.

84% of marketers say they use generative #AI, but only 17% of that group has formal processes, according to unpublished research by @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

That follows the pattern for many innovative marketing technologies over the last 20 years.

In consulting with companies selecting generative AI tools, I’ve learned brands aren’t sure how, where, or even why the tool makes sense for their marketing teams. Yet, they know it’s an “important” capability that’s attracted the interest of senior management, who might supplement (and, in some cases, replace) content creators.

Here’s the punchline: Organizations that successfully integrate generative AI into their marketing and content processes don’t use the tools to create awesome blog posts or the next great e-book.

My research suggests their successes come from using generative AI to shift workflow processes. They use it to summarize longer pieces, create derivative content like abstracts, and provide services like real-time translation, automated contextual email responses, and meeting notes.

Early success with generative #AI in marketing involves workflow processes, not #content creation, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

These successful marketers use generative AI tools not to be more creative but to standardize and scale their derivative marketing and content work. That gives them more time to be more creative on original work.

As Gartner suggests in its research, these marketers are “doubling down on scenario planning and balancing efficient near-term execution with investments that enable them to build future-forward capabilities.”

Processes make technology work

Sustainable strategies that involve AI (or any other technology) aren’t about creative words, images, and channels. They are about the activities and processes that free up bandwidth, so teams can create.

To measure, improve, or work on those activities and processes, the people in the organization must understand and agree to them.

Engineer and professor W. Edwards Deming once said systems and processes cannot understand themselves. He also said this: “Hard work and best efforts, without knowledge from outside, merely dig deeper the pit we are in.”

But what does that mean?

I didn’t have a system or a process for writing my latest book. But I can predict I will get it to the publisher on time. I know what I’m doing. Many marketers lack a process for creating content, yet it happens. They seem to know what they’re doing.

You or I might produce our content on time or get great results from playing around with generative AI technology. But what about the rest of the organization? Do your colleagues understand what you’re doing? Can anything scale if everyone does their own thing?

At many companies, teams go rogue and purchase their own technology because it takes too long to follow the official acquisition path or the approved solutions don’t do what they need.

I’ve seen enterprise marketing and content technologies get hacked into doing things they were never intended to do. A marketing team I worked with turned a human-resource workflow tool into a content calendaring tool. It worked great – until it didn’t. Now, they are looking to replace it.

I know a Fortune 100 company’s marketing team that manages one section of a website by editing HTML content in the cells of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and uploading it to a server. That clunky process stayed in place until a new employee tried it and asked, “Isn’t there a better way to do this?”

Technology can serve as an extraordinarily valuable resource. But even generative AI is only as good as the process it’s intended to standardize and scale. If you use technology to automate ad hoc tasks, you’re not scaling or standardizing.

The next time you think about adding generative AI or other technology to your marketing or content stack, ask if you can define the process and activities that you want it to standardize and scale. Only buy or add something once you can.

Defining the processes and activities you want to improve will clear up many of the questions you have about how technology will help you create more value – or even if it can.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute


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