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Almost Timely News: Content Marketing Is In Trouble (2023-06-04) :: View in Browser

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Almost Timely News: Content Marketing Is In Trouble (2023-06-04)

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What’s On My Mind: Content Marketing Is In Trouble

I saw a glimpse of what the future of content looks like, and it looks great for us as consumers and as storytellers. As marketers? We’re in a whole lot of trouble. Here’s why. We’ve been talking about generative AI for quite some time now, ever since Stable Diffusion and DALL-E back in early 2022, then ChatGPT in late 2022. These tools fundamentally changed how we program computers because they take plain language prompts and convert them into instructions in ways that allow even the most non-technical person to gain substantial benefit from them.

I said a while ago that literally every piece of software that is at all complex to use will have some kind of natural language prompt system built into it within months; earlier pioneers like Hubspot’s ChatSpot showed appetite from customers for interacting with complicated software in easy ways – with prompts. Just recently, Microsoft announced that the Windows operating system itself would have natural language prompt capabilities system-wide, so even mundane tasks like “move all my PowerPoint files older than a year into a subdirectory called 2022 PowerPoints” will be easy.

Here’s an easy way to tell if a piece of software you use will have generative AI soon. If it has an API, or it has an internal programming language, it will have generative AI because the groundwork for code-driven interactions is already there. Windows and Microsoft Office have VBScript. Adobe has scripting tools. Blender 3D has scripting tools. Hubspot has an API, and so on.

The ease of use that generative AI provides is now showing up in creative tools. A short while ago, Adobe released a beta of Photoshop that allows for generative fills. You select something in your image, then type into the prompt what you want the rest of the image to be. While software like DALL-E and Stable Diffusion have had this capability, it’s not mainstream and it was kind of a pain to use. Photoshop makes that easy now.

But the big one, the eye-opener for me was the announcement of Unity AI. For those unfamiliar, Unity is a very, very complicated and capable programming environment used mainly by game studios to create video games. Some of the biggest and best video game titles are built in Unity, games you’ve either played or heard of. In the most recent release of Unity, 5.2, the company showcased AI-based generation of landscapes and other shortcuts to speed up game development. Go search for Unity 5.2 on YouTube if you want to see just how good it looks.

And then, just this morning, we stumbled upon Unity AI. What is it? You guessed it: prompt-based generation of video game content. Now instead of spending hours, days, or weeks painstaking constructing scenes, characters, and sequences, generative AI and prompt-based programming will help developers accelerate their work, get to a first draft much faster, and spend their time refining the first draft.

As with systems like ChatGPT, expect the first drafts to not be perfect, to not be ready to ship as-is. But what a first step, because today, the first draft for a top-tier title can take months, if not years, to create. Now, that sounds cool, but you’re probably wondering, what does this have to do with content marketing?

The Unity environment isn’t just for video games. Because of the complexity of its engine, you can make videos with it as well, scripted video. If you’ve played any of the current games built on Unity, you’ve seen video cutscenes filmed entirely with the gameplay engine. They look great – highly realistic virtual environments and characters acting out a script.

In other words, with engines like Unity, you can shoot cinematic video without leaving your desk. That in and of itself isn’t new, but up until now, that’s been impractical because of the huge number of steps you need to take just to assemble a single scene. With generative AI and prompt-based interactions? That’s going to be much, much faster – which brings film-making on a shoestring budget to a whole new level. Suppose you’re shooting a film and you want to shoot scenes or B-roll in other locations? With tools like this, you might green screen in your talent into environments generated in Unity – or you might not use any human talent at all.

Think about what this means for content creators. High-quality video production will be possible with prompt-based instruction, in the same way that music production, image production, and text production are today with tools like ChatGPT.

Look at fan and independent content creator sites like Archive Of Our Own. There are MILLIONS of stories that have been created by independent content creators on sites like those, written fiction that earns more traffic and more audience than most marketing content. Now imagine how straightforward it will be (not easy, but straightforward) to convert the best of those fiction pieces into videos, into series, into films.

Think about any TV series that you enjoyed which came to an end or got unceremoniously cancelled. With generative AI tools, fans – whether or not they have permission to do so – will be able to engineer their own rich content in those worlds and universes in the same way they write fan fiction today.

Do you see the problem for marketing? Yes, marketing will benefit from these tools as well, but there’s so much untapped originality, so much outstanding writing out there online, so many good ideas that would never get funding for a feature film or a streaming video series that could be turned into those forms of content with generative tools.

And that means marketing content, which is already not the most exciting content in the world, is going to fall further behind on people’s must-consume list. There’s an ocean of content about to be created that will easily out-compete marketing content because it’s simply better content, a better way for a person to spend their time. We are headed to the bottom of everyone’s to do list for the most part.

So, what should we marketers do? The solution is simple and extremely difficult: make content worth consuming. It sounds so trite, so cliche, so 2005, but it’s 100% true. Our competition is no longer Netflix and Disney+, but everyone who can and will make incredibly rich content with the next generation of content tools.

Suppose making content – even on the shoestring budgets these new productions will have – is just not in the cards for us. What then? Well, there are a variety of ways we can participate and create mindshare in these new worlds, new environments, new content authoring mechanisms. In systems like Unreal, you need assets – content pieces that the engine can build with, like tables, chairs, soda cans, etc. If you’re a brand that makes any kind of physical object, you should absolutely be engineering and freely giving away branded virtual objects. A soda manufacturer like Coca-Cola should be handing out free virtual soda cans and vending machines like candy – with licenses for developers to use them – as free product placement sooner than later.

Suppose you’re not able to do that. What then? The reality is that even though independent studios, film-makers, and game makers will all benefit greatly from generative AI for making content, it will still take time and money, just less of it. Your company could be the sponsor, the patron of productions that align with your values and your marketing strategy. A film that would have cost 10 million to make might only cost10,000 to make – but that’s still 10,000 people probably don’t have. Your company might not be willing to sponsor the creation of a10 million film, but would you sponsor a $10,000 film? That’s a lot more palatable – and if it’s a hit, then you get to ride the rocketship to the top of pop culture for your fifteen minutes of fame.

Your marketing, in the new world of outstanding independent content, might evolve to look more like marketing from a century ago, when companies sponsored content left and right in an attempt to gain mindshare in new media like radio and the television. Look around for content opportunities and build connections with creator communities sooner rather than later, because this tidal wave is almost ashore.

Finally, I want to reiterate something we’ve been saying for years now. AI isn’t going to take your job. A person skilled with AI will take the job of a person who is not skilled with AI, because that person will be able to do so much more, so much faster, so much better than the person who is not. If you want to remain highly employable, highly sought after, you need to be using these tools now, today, while they are still fresh and the disruption has upset the apple cart. This is your window, your opportunity to leapfrog less agile competitors, be they other job seekers or other companies. As we saw in the early 2000s with social media, the window doesn’t stay open for long, and once it closes, the winners are difficult to dislodge.

You could be one of those winners if you act now, if you skill up now. There isn’t a course or a book or a lecture to take, because they don’t exist yet. There’s only knowing what tools are coming in your industry and getting proficient with them now, building your community, your personal think tank so that your ear is to the ground and you’ve got early skills in your field.

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See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn

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3 responses to “Almost Timely News, June 6, 2023: Content Marketing Is In Trouble”

  1. I am unclear why jobs will not be lost in the content revolution you describe. It is not just that someone skilled in AI will replace someone who’s not. It’s that someone skilled in AI can quickly do work that might have involved multiple people previously, surely?

  2. […] Almost Timely News, June 6, 2023: Content Marketing Is In Trouble […]

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