Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s twice-monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists. Send us your questions!

Everyone Loves Data, But They’re Forgetting About the Art!

Dear Content Therapist: My work as a content marketer is increasingly data-driven — how many people will this reach, how many conversations can we expect, what is the SEO score for an article, etc. All of this is important, and I use data and analytics tools every day in my job. However, it’s easy for these conversations to turn into strictly numbers and ROI, with no consideration for the creative quality or whether the work we produce makes sense for the brand. And anything that doesn’t seem to have an immediate impact (thought leadership and earned media, to name just two activities) is automatically discounted by many of my colleagues.

I don’t want to come across as that person who doesn’t like data. However, I feel like we’re losing sight of how our customers actually get to know brands and make purchasing decisions, as well as the steps that eventually lead to a deal. How can I make the argument for creativity in content marketing without coming across as anti-data? — LOOKING FOR THE MIDDLE GROUND

Paul Chaney: You raise a valid question. It’s almost like we have to shut down the right side of our brains in favor of a left-brain focus on data and analytics. You’re also right about discounting less immediately impactful content in favor of that which produces short-term benefits. 

But let’s get to the heart of the matter and answer two important questions: 

  • “What is marketing’s goal?” 
  • “What is creativity’s role in a data-driven age?” 

What Is Marketing’s Goal? 

You get different answers depending on who you ask. The American Marketing Association defines it this way: 

“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

That’s a verbose version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s answer: “The process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.”

If you boil those three definitions down to their essence, the result is the same: selling products or services that solve customer problems and add value to their lives. Data and creativity have a part in accomplishing that goal. 

In his book “This Is Marketing,” Seth Godin gives it an entirely different spin. “Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem,” Seth writes. “Marketing helps others become who they seek to become.”

That leads to the second question. 

What Is Creativity’s Role in a Data-Driven Age? 

Before the internet, marketers had to rely more on gut instinct. For that reason, creativity was king. (Well, that and advertising. Lots of advertising!) An eight-word tagline could be worth millions (and still is, I suppose). But now that we have access to vast amounts of data that shouldn’t mitigate against creativity, both have immense value. 

Being a committed “Godinite,” I tend to favor Seth’s philosophy. 

He believes creativity is more important than ever in modern, data-driven marketing. He puts it this way: “Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but the stories you tell.” 

If that’s not music to a content marketer’s ears, I don’t know what is. Let me expand on that thought. 

In an age where customers are bombarded with information and marketing messages, the key is to cut through the noise with creative, compelling narratives that connect with people emotionally. As Seth puts it: “framing a story in a way that appeals to your audience.”

That means rather than merely relying on data and analytics, use your creativity to develop “remarkable” experiences that make customers take notice. 

That requires moving beyond generic, interruptive tactics and building authentic customer relationships through personalized, value-added content and experiences. And that demands creativity. 

Data and creativity can co-exist equitably. The secret to how lies in the subtitle of “This Is Marketing“: “You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See.”

Data allows you to see clearly; creativity is the avenue you travel to be seen.  

Combining data-driven insights with creative storytelling allows you to develop innovative, customer-centric strategies that cut through the clutter in the digital age. You get the best of both. 

Make data your friend, and take advantage of everything it has to offer. But use it to inspire, not limit, your creativity. 

How Liable Are We When Using AI in Content Marketing?

Dear Content Therapist: Like many marketers, we’re experimenting with AI in a variety of ways. But one question I can’t seem to get a good answer to is this: What are the legal implications of using AI in content marketing? 

I have so many questions every time we produce writing or images with AI’s help. How can we navigate copyright law? Who owns this AI-generated content and does it matter if it’s not fully AI-generated? And what about data privacy? The answer is probably complicated, but what legal guidance about using AI can content marketing leaders like myself give our teams? — THE AI-WARY MARKETER

Paul Chaney: There are three ways to approach the answer: 

  1. Laws governing the use of AI in marketing.
  2. Common-sense ethical practices.
  3. Internal guides that ensure legal and ethical use. 

Laws and Regulations

Existing legal frameworks, such as copyright law, data protection regulations and anti-discrimination laws, apply to AI use in content marketing. However, there are concerns that current laws may not sufficiently address the ethical challenges posed by AI, such as algorithmic bias, transparency and accountability. Laws specific to AI are still a work in progress in the U.S., with lots of gray areas.

For example, according to an article by GenEdge Consulting Managing Partner Natalie Lambert and Trimble Vice President Eric Lambert:

“In the United States, the current position of the U.S. Copyright Office is that the author of a work of authorship must be human, not an AI. … However, it’s not yet clear how much human effort and involvement is required to allow for copyright to apply.”

The U.K., meanwhile, will protect AI-generated work under copyright law, with the human prompter receiving copyright. 

Separate from the copyright debate, data privacy laws may apply. For example, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) — similar to Europe’s GDPR — requires transparency in data collection and processing. Thus, if you are using AI in marketing to gather and process data, you may have to disclose it in California.

(I recommend reading the article mentioned above in its entirety; it contains a much more detailed explanation of the legal scenario, particularly regarding copyrights.) 

Common-Sense Ethical Use

In addition to or in lieu of existing laws and regulations, you can rely on common sense to guide your decision-making. By that, I mean to play by the rule “better safe than sorry.” 

Regarding copyright, understand that any responses to prompts are likely built off existing content. So, if you use AI for inspiration, do your best to make it your own and do your due diligence to ensure you are not copying any current ideas or works. 

“Better safe than sorry” also applies to discrimination, bias, privacy or anything that could harm others or intrude on their rights. 

One way to avoid crossing legal or ethical lines is to use AI platforms such as Writer, Lately and Adobe Firefly that protect customer data privacy and take other precautions.

Internal Guidelines

In addition to the above, companies should develop internal policies and standards to guide AI’s use in content marketing. This includes addressing issues like copyright, privacy, bias and brand reputation.

If your company lacks such guidelines, consider creating standards for your department. These resources can help: 

  • Group of Seven (G7): Principles and codes of conduct for AI use.
  • Info-Tech: AI governance blueprint, available for download. 
  • AI Guardian:  An AI policy template.for ethical policy creation.. 

In addition, look at the AI policies created by brands such as Bosch, Continental and HubSpot

Include these guidelines in your policy: 

  • Transparently use AI and do not claim to have created original or unique content.
  • Fairly use AI in any decision-making process, avoiding bias to the fullest extent possible.
  • Question and check facts, claims, source origin and intellectual property use.
  • Never share personal or identifiable customer or business information with AI tools.
  • Report anything that may seem suspicious or not quite right.

Make your AI best practices document visible and accessible to your team. Encourage feedback to make it a living document that you update as needed. 

Laws governing AI use will develop over time, as AI is an increasingly present reality policymakers will have to address. But until the regulatory environment forms, use good judgment (better safe than sorry) and implement an internal policy.  

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed mental health provider, health care provider or legal professional.