For as long as I can remember, marketing teams have faced a thorny issue: technology.
Before the Internet, I helped marketing teams prepare their presentations on CD-ROM to share with their sales colleagues and manage their outbound customer email campaigns in Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets.
If only a few words of this sentence made sense to you, remember that I am a Gen Xer. Rough translation: “In my day, we had to walk five miles in the snow to implement a marketing strategy.”
Technology is now a central element of any go-to-market strategy. But marketing teams haven’t gotten better at managing the acquisition and implementation of the plethora of technologies needed to power their work.
But it’s not for lack of investment.
Gartner 2023 CMO Spend Survey found that marketing leaders have seen their teams’ productivity drop to new levels, despite technology investments in recent years. As the research highlights, 75% of marketers say they’re under pressure to cut back on martech spending this year. Yet Gartner also found that the biggest new investment among CMOs this year is…wait…technology. And the biggest drop? Work.
Think about it.
Marketing teams spend so much time acquiring, implementing, learning, and managing technology that they have little time to work on what they bought the technology to help them do. It’s an endless hamster wheel.
What Marketing Leaders Don’t Know About Buying Technology
In almost all cases, the process begins with understanding how the new or replacement technology will fit into the commercialization process. But, in most cases, no defined process exist. This happens with all kinds of marketing and content technologies. But it’s especially evident in how content and marketing leaders are approaching the adoption of new generative AI tools.
Instead of starting by focusing on the fancy new capabilities that technology products offer, marketers must first determine what existing (or at least designed) processes buying the new technology will amplify, standardize, or disrupt. At scale.
I am looking for the integration of AI in the content and marketing process. I will preview two findings from the report in progress.
First, of the 200 marketers surveyed, 84% say they experiment with or actively use generative AI technologies to create content. However, only 17% of this group have a formal workflow process that includes generative AI.
This follows the pattern of many innovative marketing technologies over the past 20 years.
Consulting companies that select generative AI tools, I’ve learned that brands don’t know how, where, or even why the tool makes sense for their marketing teams. Yet they know it’s an “important” capability that has piqued the interest of senior management, which could complement (and, in some cases, replace) content creators.
Here’s the bottom line: Organizations that successfully integrate generative AI into their marketing and content processes aren’t using the tools to create impressive blog posts or the next big e-book.
My research suggests that their successes come from using generative AI to move workflow processes. They use it to summarize longer items, create derivative content like summaries, and provide services like real-time translation, automated email pop-up responses, and meeting notes.
These successful marketers are using generative AI tools not to be more creative, but to standardize and scale their marketing and derivative content work. It gives them more time to be more creative on original work.
As Gartner suggests in its research, these marketers “double down on scenario planning and balance effective short-term execution with investments that allow them to build future-proof capabilities.”
Processes make technology work
Sustainable strategies that involve AI (or any other technology) are not about words, images, and creative channels. They are about activities and processes that free up bandwidth, so teams can create.
To measure, improve or work on these activities and processes, members of the organization must understand and accept them.
Engineer and teacher W. Edwards Deming once said systems and processes cannot understand themselves. He also has Said this“Hard work and best effort, without outside knowledge, only drives deeper the chasm we find ourselves in.”
But what does that mean?
I had no system or process to write my last book. But I can predict that I will get it to the publisher on time. I know what I’m doing. Many marketers don’t have a content creation process, but it happens. They seem to know what they are doing.
You or I can produce our content on time or achieve great results playing with generative AI technology. But what about the rest of the organization? Do your colleagues understand what you do? Can anything evolve if everyone does their own thing?
In many companies, teams go rogue and buy 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 content and marketing technologies get hacked to do things they weren’t supposed to. A marketing team I worked with turned an HR workflow tool into a content calendar tool. It worked great – until it didn’t. Now they are looking to replace him.
I know the marketing team of a Fortune 100 company that manages a section of a website by editing HTML content in cells in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and uploading it to a server. This clumsy process stayed in place until a new employee tried it and asked, “Isn’t there a better way to do this?”
Technology can be an extremely valuable resource. But even generative AI is only as good as the process it is supposed to standardize and scale. If you’re using technology to automate ad hoc tasks, you’re not scaling or standardizing.
The next time you consider adding generative AI or another technology to your marketing or content stack, ask if you can define the process and activities you want to standardize and scale. Only buy or add something once you can.
Defining the processes and activities you want to improve will illuminate many of the questions you have about how technology will help you create more value – or even if it can.
It’s your story. Say it well.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute