The Power and Promise of AI in Digital Marketing
- AI challenge. AI in digital marketing faces trust issues due to its vastness.
- Content conundrum. AI in content marketing is both embraced and distrusted.
- Trust duality. AI in marketing can both enhance and erode brand trust.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is simultaneously winning and losing the battle for public trust. We happily buy products, watch movies and binge social media recommended by AI. Yet surveys suggest that we don’t trust it.
No wonder: We’re warned almost daily that AI is dangerous, unregulated, violating copyrights, destroying academic integrity, perpetuating biases, lying to users, and, of course, threatening human existence.
We marketers usually work with benign technologies, not ones that draw comparisons to nuclear power and dystopian sci-fi. So how do we maintain trust in our brands while using this helpful but controversial technology?
Let’s take a look at the status of AI in digital marketing and content marketing.
AI in Digital Marketing: Sprawling Technologies and Trust
AI is a sprawling category of technologies, not a technology. Talking about “AI” is about as specific as talking about “clothing” or “footwear.” That is crucial to the trust challenge.
The AI that generates “deep fake” videos is not the AI computer vision that navigates a self-driving car, not the AI that generates intelligible writing and not the AI that makes ecommerce recommendations. It is not the AI that identifies mineral deposits underground, the one that detects wildfires to save lives, or the AI fraud detector that stops cybercriminals from using our credit cards.
In certain contexts, AIs have clear utility and engender trust. Out of context, though, AI is suspicious. That partly explains our contradictory attitudes toward it.
Related Article: AI in Marketing: More Personalization in the Next Decade
The Trust Contradictions of AI in Marketing
Survey data suggests that people trust and mistrust AI for the wrong reasons — an important realization for using AI in ways that protect and increase brand trust.
A July poll by the Artificial Intelligence Policy Institute found that 62% of Americans are concerned about AI while only 21% are excited. Lopsided, right? Meanwhile, in a survey commissioned by database provider DataStax, 72% of consumers indicated they “… trust a company more when they receive relevant recommendations.” Almost two-thirds of respondents didn’t realize that AI in content marketing powers recommendations from their online retailers and streaming services!
It gets even murkier with generative AI. A shocking 73% of consumers trust AI in content marketing written by generative AI according to a multinational survey by Capgemini Research Institute. Yet ChatGPT itself warns that it “…may produce inaccurate information about people, places, or facts.” Indeed, the anti-misinformation outfit NewsGuard fed ChatGPT 100 false narratives and asked it to write content supporting and expanding upon them. ChatGPT complied 80% of the time.
But that flaw in generative AI doesn’t absolve us of responsibility as marketers. If we use AI in digital marketing, our brands own the outcome.
Related Article: Machine Learning and Generative AI in Marketing: Critical Differences
4 Rules for AI Trust
What do the nuances of AIs and the survey data tell us? Many people trust the value they receive from AI but mistrust the abstract nature of an unregulated technology mimicking human models, communicators and decision-makers. People often like AI best when they don’t know it’s AI. So, what should and shouldn’t you disclose about your AI use?
Brand trust is normally straightforward: Be transparent, be true to your values, be your word, and be respectful, and make things right when you mess up.
AI thwarts that formula because it is known to sometimes be untrustworthy yet commonly does things that increase trust — like recommending life-changing books or stopping the car before it crashes. How do we manage that duality while maintaining trust in our brands?
Rule No. 1: Be Transparent About Authorship
Marketers should disclose use of generative AIs to the audience when authorship matters. If you use AI to generate an image of a cartoon beach for your swimwear website, don’t bother. The reader’s interpretation of that image does not hinge on who generated or drew it. It’s like mood lighting at an event — no one expects disclosure about who designed the lamp and light bulbs.
Blog posts are another story. We trust written content largely because of the author’s credentials, experiences and reputation. Slapping someone’s name on an AI-generated article, therefore, breaches trust. Recently we’ve seen Amazon require authors on their Kindle books platform to disclose when the content is produced by AI. But as of now, Amazon is not passing that information on to consumers, raising important questions about the responsibility brands — in this case both book authors and Amazon — have to their consumers.
Don’t hide it. Try a disclosure like, “This article was written with the assistance of generative AI. The author takes full responsibility for the views expressed and evidence presented.”
Rule No. 2: Never Fake Inclusion
Brands will be tempted to use AI-generated models to represent diverse people and cultures (some already have). The problem is that AI-fabricated inclusivity is worse than exclusivity. It means the brand chose to spoof an identity — probably to save money — instead of hiring a model who lives that identity.
That said, AI can help brands elevate inclusion in their marketing. For example, many marketers use AI to generate metadata tags for photos, videos and graphics they store in their digital asset management (DAM) system. Auto-tagging keywords about skin tone, height, body type, gender, location and culture enables a brand to present content in which consumers see themselves (see my last CMSWire article for detailed examples).
Rule No. 3: Use AI to Increase Accessibility
Accessibility, the concept of making products and services useful for everyone, is often grouped into diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). But marketing images of people with disabilities does not make a service more accessible to them. It’s a somewhat empty gesture.
AI can, however, improve accessibility. For instance, Apple includes an AI-optimized screen reader (a tool that reads out the text and UI elements) with all its devices and operating systems. Last year, Apple even introduced an AI iPhone tool that recognizes doors and reads the text on them. That way, a visually impaired user can navigate the world with more autonomy.
I’m not suggesting every brand invent accessibility technologies powered by AI. Rather, every brand should integrate and promote AI accessibility technologies in their products and experiences. From a brand trust standpoint, the best AIs are the ones that make a functional difference in our lives (not the ones that save marketers time).
Rule No. 4: Don’t Glorify AI Over Human Beings
These days, brands invoke AI in digital marketing and press because it’s buzzy. Eventually, though, bragging about AI this and AI that is going to fizzle. As AI matures, brands need to know when to use it or not, and when to tout it or not.
Here’s a practical example: should your brand highlight the fact that it uses AI chatbots for customer service? In a survey by ecommerce platform Digital River, 69% of respondents said they’d rather get assistance from a person than chatbot when shopping online. An AI chatbot is not perceived as an improvement over traditional service (not yet, anyway). Promoting the availability of real human representatives would instill more trust than promoting chatbots.
A human touch — whether in restaurants and bars, taxis, stores, gyms, banks and medical offices — might become a luxury. So sure, use AI in customer service to moderate your service costs, but no, don’t act like that’s “better” than speaking to an empathetic human being. To many people in many situations, it’s not.
Related Article: What’s Coming Next Decade for AI in Marketing?
Balancing Authenticity and Innovation: The Role of AI in Digital Marketing
When discussing brand trust, we have to distinguish between scary pop culture “AI” and the actual “AIs” that we interact with daily. Any digital tool can be used to cultivate or corrode trust. Over time, we’ll care more about the value and utility technologies provide, not the mundane fact that they utilize AI.
In the meantime, be sensitive to public sentiment, even when it’s contradictory. Trust your artistic instincts and taste over AI’s. If it assists, give it credit. Don’t save money by using AI as a stand-in for genuine diversity. Rather, use it to tag, organize and distribute content that is authentically inclusive. Remember that AI is not merely a novelty — at its best, it is a functional tool that protects and enriches lives.
Finally, don’t assume AI is better just because financial markets currently believe that. Give people the choice to be served by AI, and the choice to connect with real people.
I’m cautiously optimistic that AI in digital marketing will strengthen brand trust. But that is not up to the developers of AI. That is up to us.
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