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Is content marketing worth it in 2024?

For years, Google has been the undisputed king of the internet, with businesses vying for a coveted spot on the search engine’s first page. However, the rapid advancement of AI is fundamentally disrupting the content landscape, challenging the very foundation upon which Google has built its empire.

The advent of social media made content distribution virtually free, and now, AI is making the cost of content production reach near zero.

This development raises significant questions about the value and purpose of content marketing in an era where AI can instantly provide answers to an increasing number of questions, sometimes with a single, definitive response. Jono Alderson, a guest on episode 60 of our podcast, The Brave, refers to this phenomenon as “solved query spaces.” A “solved query space” is a category of questions that users ask, for which there exists a single, definitive answer that can fully satisfy their query.

Google is acutely aware of this existential threat and is scrambling to adapt. The search giant’s recent core algorithm update, rolled out in March 2024, is a direct response to the challenges posed by AI-generated content and the proliferation of low-quality, unoriginal material across the web.

While Google’s recent algorithm changes emphasise the importance of creating authentic, valuable content, they also reveal the limitations of traditional content marketing strategies in the face of AI-generated content.

However, the rise of AI-powered instant answers within Google’s search results page poses a significant threat to brands aiming to capture that traffic through their own content. This challenge is not entirely new, as Google has been providing direct answers through rich snippets for some time.

What AI brings to the table is an acceleration of this trend, making it increasingly difficult for brands to compete for visibility and engagement through content alone. As AI continues to improve and generate more sophisticated answers, the entropy effect on traditional content marketing strategies will only intensify, forcing brands to adapt and find new ways to differentiate themselves in the eyes of both users and search engines.

In this new reality, the key differentiator for businesses will no longer be the quantity of content they produce or the keywords they rank for. Instead, success will hinge on the ability to craft a compelling brand narrative, tell authentic stories and actually produce original information that real humans want to engage with.

Businesses need to ask themselves – “what do we have to say that nobody else can? And how do we say it in a way that captures the hearts and minds of our audience?”

How to create AI-beating content

The term “content marketing” has become almost synonymous with maintaining an online presence. But with the rise of AI-generated content flooding the market, brands find themselves caught in a catch-22 situation. On one hand, not posting or rarely updating content can give the impression that a brand is inactive or out of touch with its audience. On the other hand, posting poor quality content can actually damage a brand’s reputation more than not being present online at all.

To add to the dilemma, the AI context outlined above also means that simply producing a large quantity of content is no longer enough to give a brand a competitive edge in the market. In fact, numerous Google algorithm updates over the years have aimed to penalise thin, low-quality content created solely for search engine optimisation, even before the rise of AI.

Instead, the good marketers will shift towards four critical factors: quality, uniqueness, timeliness and discoverability.

Quality

In an AI-saturated world, creating objectively good content that truly resonates with your target audience is more crucial than ever.

Too often, content marketing strategies underestimate the intelligence and discernment of consumers, resulting in shallow, generic, or self-serving material that fails to cut through the noise. Every “the ultimate guide to X” is an example of this. The title is as disingenuous as the content, which can fail to address the breadth and nuance of a subject in question.

Brands that produce good quality content have two key skills powering their content machine – vision and taste.

Vision means having a clear understanding of the content’s purpose and why it exists – what is it trying to achieve and why should people care about it? Taste, on the other hand, is knowing what good looks like to an audience who may have different perspectives and needs to those of the writer.

Uniqueness

Uniqueness, on the other hand, is about offering something that stands out from the sea of like-for-like content. If a brand’s content is simply regurgitating the same information that audiences have seen countless times before, it won’t attract attention or engagement. Truly unique content educates, entertains, or inspires the audience in a way that they can’t find elsewhere. It has a distinct voice and an opinionated point of view that sets it apart.

Some may argue that everything has already been done and done well, making it challenging to create unique content. However, the constantly changing and evolving nature of online platforms means that new opportunities are emerging all the time.

A good example of this comes from a Leeds based bakery I follow on Instagram – Get Baked.

There’s nothing new about cakes and definitely nothing new about videos of cakes on social media. However, Get Baked have managed to cut through the noise and gain my (and 200k more) attention through the mesmerising videos of their distinctive Bruce cake, named after the infamous Matilda character.

Not only do they have a unique visual asset to work with (what’s not to love about layers upon layers of ganache…) they also create videos that show unique perspectives on their business, such as one of my favourites which features how they quality test their own packaging. Get Baked also isn’t afraid to jump on the trend wagon, tapping into ‘day in my life’ and meme storytelling formats.

Timeliness

Playing with form and format brings us to speed of execution.

Brands clearly need to strike a balance between investing time in creating high-quality content and responding quickly to emerging trends and audience needs. This may require a mix of longer-term, in-depth content pieces and more agile, responsive content that capitalises on current events and conversations.

Discoverability

However, even if a brand succeeds in creating high-quality, unique, and timely content, it’s all for nothing if they can’t get eyeballs on it.

This is where discoverability comes into play. As content consumption habits continue to shift and evolve, brands must be strategic about where and how they distribute their content to ensure it reaches the right audience. This means staying attuned to emerging platform opportunities and adapting content strategies accordingly. For example, if a brand’s target audience is increasingly turning to TikTok for information and entertainment, investing in creating engaging, platform-specific content should be a priority.

What’s the role of AI in all of this?

As businesses grapple with the challenges and opportunities presented by AI, it’s essential to understand the technology’s strengths and limitations when it comes to content creation.

On one hand, AI excels at providing accurate answers, conducting online research, and generating initial skeleton drafts. It can quickly synthesise vast amounts of information, identify patterns and insights, and provide valuable editorial support to human writers. AI is also adept at repurposing long-form content into shorter, more digestible formats, making it easier to reach audiences across multiple channels.

However, AI falls short in producing truly original content or sourcing material not found on the internet, such as interviews or personal anecdotes. These unique, often deeply human elements are what make stories truly engaging and memorable. While AI can certainly assist in the content creation process, it cannot replace the creativity, empathy, and storytelling prowess of human writers.

This is why the concept of ‘AI-assisted’ content, rather than purely ‘AI-generated’ content, is the most promising path forward. By leveraging AI’s strengths in research, analysis, and optimisation, while relying on human writers to infuse the content with authentic emotion and original thought, businesses can create content that is both informative and deeply resonant.

It’s also worth noting that, despite the hype around AI-powered writing tools, users can often tell when content has been generated by AI without significant human editing. Telltale signs like repetitive phrasing, awkward syntax and even American spelling in British contexts can quickly give away the game.

As such, businesses should be wary of relying too heavily on AI-generated content without substantial human oversight and refinement.

So why invest in content in 2024?

While the content landscape may be evolving, the fundamental human need for information and answers remains constant. People will continue to search for solutions to their problems and seek out brands they can trust to provide them with reliable, valuable insights. By investing in high-quality content that genuinely meets these needs, businesses can seize the opportunity to become the go-to voice in their niche.

While it’s true that brands with large marketing budgets may have an advantage in terms of owning entire verticals through comprehensive storytelling, smaller brands can still thrive by focusing on differentiation and building loyal, engaged audiences. The key is to focus on creating content that showcases the unique personality, values, and perspective of the brand, rather than simply chasing short-term metrics like clicks or keyword rankings.

Finally, the rise of AI and the proliferation of low-quality content presents a significant opportunity for businesses to innovate how they deliver and monetise content. As audiences become increasingly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available, they will be actively seeking out trusted sources to help them cut through the noise.

By investing in content curation and personalisation, businesses can position themselves as the go-to resource for their target audiences, building long-term trust and loyalty.

Author
Photo of Bethan Vincent

Bethan Vincent, Managing Partner

B2B marketer and entrepreneur, with over 12 years of marketing experience and leading teams at Marketing Director level. Bethan knows what it’s like to start your own businesses, they are a regular speaker at international conferences and podcast host of ‘The Brave’.

Tags

AI
Business Challenges
content marketing
marketing strategy

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