Is Speed, Not AI Technology, the Real Enemy in Marketing?


More than 25 years ago, I managed one of the most innovative types of companies on the planet – a website development agency (yes, really).

Remember, this was 1996. We weren’t redesigning websites. We were introducing websites to businesses. We blew marketing executives’ minds that they could publish interactive content and change it every day if they wanted.

In our downtime, a brilliant programmer at the agency taught me some basics of programming and writing code. Though it didn’t stick, his philosophy did: Computer technology is a simple concept because it only reads and writes data. “Anything interesting that happens between those two things is all on me,” he said.

Today, you rely more and more on technology – generative AI, content automation, digital asset management, performance tools, etc. – to execute and measure better content efforts. You are now encouraged (warned, really) to get good at technology or else.

But what does “get good” at technology even mean? Faster? Better?

Many value propositions of technology solutions seem to be about “empowerment.” You often see vendors pitch it as the primary benefit: “Our solution will empower marketers to _____________.” They fill in the blank with the marketing activity for which you are responsible. But whatever the activity, “empower” almost always means “do it faster than before.”

Technology brings speed and cynicism

The drive for speed and automation is terrible. Recent research finds marketers increasingly cynical about their ability to do anything other than deal with the fundamental changes in media and marketing technologies.

Scott Brinker, author of the annual MarTech Landscape, reports more than 11,000 marketing software solutions exist today. All are designed to empower you to move faster.

Looking into 2024, I am struck by the notion that marketers are due for an epiphany.

In the name of speed, what work will you not delegate to the space between the reading and writing that technology does?

Technology makes you fast and dumb

If you ask, technology can tell you what concepts to focus on. It can automate the prioritization of those concepts and turn them into information. Technology can suggest words, images, and narratives to express experiences for specific audiences.

At some point soon, you must ask yourself if any gaps in your creative process shouldn’t be filled by technology.

Let me give you an example.

I recently worked with a financial services company and talked with the vice president of marketing about a challenge she had with new employees.

Twenty years ago, when she started at the company as an intern, she manually researched and wrote the job descriptions for the business’s sales, marketing, and public relations areas. It was menial. It was a slog. However, she said, it was also the best way to understand the business. Doing that job helped her understand the nuanced roles, processes, and everything that allowed the business to communicate more effectively.

Today, however, the immediate reaction is to delegate those tasks to an AI-generative content tool. It can accomplish in 30 minutes what it would take a human days or weeks to do.

But at what cost? Does the business lose because it doesn’t instill that knowledge and wisdom into a human? I realize that example might not illustrate the most critically needed piece of knowledge, but it raises an important question for many scenarios. As the marketing executive asked me, “How will we replace that learning for the human?”

This trend reflects a commonly accepted assumption by more and more businesses: Faster is always better.

It’s not true.

Only sometimes can faster be better

In 2023, 45% of marketing leaders believe their company compromised core values to enable short-term wins. That’s an 80% increase over 2022’s numbers, according to the full report of the earlier referenced research.

Further, about 40% of marketers say that “pressure on short-term success and lack of time to think about outside core business structures is a significant barrier to their business.”

I know from CMI’s recent research that content and marketing practitioners face time pressures more than ever. As Ali Orlando Wert, senior director of content strategy at Appfire, tells us: “I think in the rush to do all the things, we run out of time to address scalable processes that will fix those painful silos, including taking time to align on goals, roles and responsibilities, workflows, and measurement.”

Being a real-time human marketer is a silly notion. It requires omnidirectional senses, super-hero processing speed, and the delusion that you can create meaningful ideas in the blink of an eye.

But then maybe that thinking explains the need for more technology. You’ve deployed the technology to read and write faster. What’s so wrong about trying to squeeze what happens in the middle – human creativity and wisdom – into as small a gap as possible?

That’s where the irony comes in. The smaller the gap between reading and writing, the smaller the ideas fit within it. That’s a real problem, and I see more and more of it.

A few months ago, a B2B client had no shortage of big ideas to shake up its content and marketing program. But every idea was shot down. Each one would consume too much time to detail, design, and implement. A senior leader – a skeptic – asked seriously, “Can’t we just feed that idea into ChatGPT and see if there’s a 70% solution that’s faster?”

Think about that.

The business would consciously try an idea that was 70% as good as the original, all in the name of being faster. And before you shake your head and say, “Smart businesses would never do that.” They already have.

According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the acceptable standard for programmatic advertising occurs when 50% or more of the display ad is visible for at least one second. The industry acknowledges that as a “quality” impression (e.g., valuable) of an ad.

Well, at least it’s fast.

Humanity slows things down, but it allows for better

It’s time to slow down and think about what you want to do with technology instead of what technology will do to you.

Last week, I read a tech company’s white paper. The underlying thesis was the misalignment between marketing teams and business operations stemmed from not enough technology.

Nope. That’s not the issue. The challenge is if you don’t know how or why you’re doing something, doing it faster will not help. That’s the real gap between reading and writing. How will you fill that gap?

An old proverb says, “If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.” If you look at the human time to generate big, creative, differentiating ideas as a problem, you will solve it with technology.

But consider being an anti-real-time marketer. You allow human time to help your marketing be better. Yes, you use tools to help read, write, and everything in between. But the goal is not to be faster. The goal is to be better.

As my colleague used to say, “Whatever happens between read and write – that’s all on me.” Just remember being slower than AI isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.

It’s your story. Take time to tell it well.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute


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