February 6, 2023

Digital Marketing Education

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How AI’s digital memory can debunk brand narratives


End of the long tail

It gets worse. ChatGPT heralds the end of long-tail search results. The utility simplifies your universe of results into one integrated “black box” answer. Yes, you can technically “regenerate” a response, but in my experience, there’s minimal new content.

Keep in mind that most brands struggle to own top organic search results, especially on important and consequential queries (e.g. what’s the best dog food). Brands compensate for this through advertising, content optimization and massive spending on search agencies and consultants. AI search is shifting that paradigm. Perhaps Google or Microsoft’s version of OpenAI will soften the squeeze, but if a single response is really good, will consumers want more noise?

Voice assistants Alexa and Google Assistant forewarned this no-long-tail reality. Voice barks back one response, and brands have limited influence in shaping the result. Several years ago, I co-led a “voice audit” of major CPG brands and found that nearly 80% of “impact queries” default to Wikipedia, detractors or activist groups. Only in rare cases was the answer to a simple “Is (brand) sustainable” sourced from the actual brand. The shorter the tail, the higher the exposure.

One silver lining in all this: Internal advocates may get more ammo to push for more impactful and authentic initiatives and strategies. CMOs may also quickly realize that green targets and ESG commitments are among the most important inputs into brand building. Less “check the box,” more “do or die.”

So, now what?

In the coming months, expect a groundswell of startups, consultants, agencies and newly minted AI optimization firms to flood the market. Most will herald more-for-less marketing optimization. Here’s my advice:

First, keep exploring AI creative possibilities, but balance this with a reality check of how these algorithms will position and rank your brand in the marketplace … and especially in front of curious buyers. Here the old adage still applies: “Listen before you engage.”

Second, think well beyond marketing to the substance of your brand promise, from product superiority to responsible sourcing to data integrity. And take an extra hard look at your impact messaging and ask if it is factual enough to pass the AI bot test.

Third, put on the concierge hat. Anticipate the obvious (even hard) questions, and ensure you have credible, honest responses readily available to consumers. Over time such owned media content may well influence AI algorithms in your favor.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly—especially now—walk carefully on the green front. Don’t oversell. Don’t become fodder for a 50 million-view TikTok show entitled Bot Greenwashing. (I’m actually serious)

Oh, and remind your teams that, like Google and Wikipedia, AI never forgets.



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