Using Generative AI is not a competitive advantage

By: Richard Michie

It’s controversial but I firmly think that using AI is not a competitive advantage. I’m talking particularly about Generative AI such as ChatGTP, Midjourney and similar platforms that churn out creative copy, images and even video based on prompts.

In this talk I gave at MarketingShowcase in Manchester in June 2024, I talk about why jumping on the latest marketing bandwagon might not be the best idea for your marketing strategy, and importantly why not using generative AI is a competitive advantage for your business and it’s marketing strategy.

Using Generative AI is not a competitive advantage

AI is great for lots of things, like finding cures for diseases, analysing huge data sets etc, but I believe that creativity is a very human trait and it should stay that way.

Here’s a full transcript of my talk at MarketingShowcase

My name’s Richard Michie. I am the SEO, the CEO. Sorry, not SEO. That’s something else. I’m the CEO and founder of The Marketing Optimist. We are a marketing agency based in Leeds. Actually, we’re based right across Yorkshire. Because of Covid, we all work remotely, so we’re kind of pan Yorkshire now. And I’m going to talk to you today about does that tech trend really fit your marketing strategy? So can I have a quick show of hands for anyone who’s using AI? Okay. And can somebody just shout what you’re using AI for in particular?

I’m developing it.

You’re what? Sorry?

I’m kind of developing it.

You’re developing it. Oh, that’s exciting. What kind of development are you doing?

Well, anything from machine learning to artificial intelligence really.

Right. Okay. So just for the people who can’t hear, so machine learning and artificial intelligence. That is a really, really great way of using AI and I absolutely love that. Is anyone using AI for anything different? Yes?

We do some coding so we can get the infrastructure

Okay. So for those who couldn’t hear that, that lady is using AI for coding. So kind of code it with chunks of code that you can then reuse and then redevelop any further. Is anyone else using AI for anything else? Yes?

Content creation and inspiration.

Content creation and inspiration, right? I like the inspiration bit. That’s very good. Anyone else using it for content creation? You’re using it for content creation?

Idea generation.

Idea generation. Great. Okay. So Public Enemy said, “Don’t believe the hype.” So the reason I want to talk about content creation and how kind of not necessarily jumping on the new technology is the best idea is because they don’t always last and they don’t always work out. You might be going jumping on AI content journey. Is anyone using Chat GTP to generate content? Quick show of hands, quick nod, a few nods of heads. So anyone using ChatGPT to generate their content? It’s great and it’s quick and I know it’s kind of a miracle. You put in your little prompt and suddenly it throws out all these words and you go, “My God. I could not write that in this time and get this kind of quality.”

The issue is what ChatGPT is chucking out in a minute is somebody else’s copy. Because what ChatGPT did was without asking anybody, they went and they scoured the entire internet and they pulled all this stuff into their machine-learning model, as you’ll know. They pull it all into their machine-learning model and then when you ask it a question, it takes a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a little bit of this and a little bit of somebody else’s copy and gives you the answer. And to you, you are kind of going, “That’s great. That’s answered the exact thing that I needed it to answer.” But that is somebody else’s content.

Who here is kind of an original content creator who writes their own copy. We’ll just stick to write- you write your own copy? Okay. So did ChatGPT ever come to you and say, “Excuse me, can we use your content?” No, they didn’t. And if you were a famous musician and they came to you and said, “Can we just use your content? And by the way, we’re not going to pay you. We’re just going to mix it in with other stuff and we’re not going to tell you we’ve done it either and everyone else is going to chuck out the same content as you’ve got.” You wouldn’t be very happy, would you? Anyone be happy about that? No.

But that’s exactly what ChatGPT are doing. And all the other kind of image people are doing that as well. So they’re taking other people’s original content and they’re remixing it. And it might be great because you go, “I really need a picture of a cat on a Cadillac, waving a flag, drinking a pack of beer.” And you’re going, “I can’t get that anywhere and I can’t possibly mock it up. So I’ll just stick it into one of the image generators.” And lo and behold, out it pops and you go, “That’s amazing.” But that has remixed somebody else’s content because it can’t do it on its own. It has to use a learning model, doesn’t it? It has to be told this is a picture of a cat, this is a Cadillac, this is somebody drinking a pack of beer. Mix it all together. But that will be somebody else’s content. So you do not own that content.

Generative AI is taking business on a downward slope

The real worry at the minute with AI is that it’s a downward slope down to the bottom. And that is because over time you use ChatGPT to get your content out, you pop it out and then what’s going to happen? Anybody? ChatGPT is going to rescore all that and put it back into ChatGPT. So it’s going to start eating itself. So what’s going to happen is slowly but surely, actually quite fast, the content is going to get worse and worse and worse as it starts to eat itself. And the only way it’s going to get better is by taking your original content and putting that into ChatGPT. But then that will start the death spiral again.

So we’ll come on to why I don’t believe you should believe the hype. So let’s look at a few examples of what’s gone before. And so does anybody recognize any of these logos?

Ask Jeeves?

I’m old enough to remember Ask Jeeves. For anyone who’s not aware what Ask Jeeves was, it was the really strange alternative to Google and it had this nice chap. I don’t know whether you can see him, but he’s a nice butler kind of guy and he’s going to give you the answers. But Google killed him unfortunately. So a lot of people, my point is that people relied on lots of these things initially. And in marketing and in business, they were kind of the given and they were like, “We have built a business on these types of things.”

So Napster is a case in point. So Napster was the kind first equivalent of Spotify, but they ripped everyone’s content off. And quite rightly the publishers of the content of the songs weren’t very happy. So they created their own version and Napster got sued and went bust. It’s since been relaunched, but it’s not the same deal as it was. It was effectively a load of pirated music that you could download. And obviously the copyright people got a bit shirty about it. I expect the same thing to start happening with ChatGPT because there are already authors in America and in the UK who are already starting class actions against ChatGPT. Because you can go on and you can say, “Write me a story like JK Rowling,” and it’ll sound exactly like JK Rowling. And that’s because it’s based on JK Rowling’s writing. So it’s plagiarism and it’s wrong.

So anyone else recognize any of these things that at one point were the savior of the internet and everyone got really excited about? Anybody want to shout out one they might have used?

You had a Blackberry for it. They were horrible, weren’t they?

Okay. Yeah, yeah. So they were horrible to use, but indestructible, which is fair enough, I guess. So there’s a few interesting ones in here. Anyone know what this one is? So that is, does anyone remember when you could buy a JPEG? NFTs? So you could buy a JPEG of, and it’s called Bored Ape. And they were basically really rubbish drawings of apes that people spent thousands of pounds on. I mean hundreds of thousands of pounds. And they were really excited. Some people spent millions of pounds on Bored Ape and the like. And they were effectively a JPEG. Donald Trump even brought out some NFTs. And you could just take a screenshot and you got exactly the same thing, but for free.

Those have since fallen through the floor. People built businesses on NFT going, “This is my money.” And if you got in early and got out early, you probably made quite a few million. However, they’re worthless now. They were always kind of worthless. They were always kind of that, what’s the term for it? Oh, I’ve gone completely blank. They were useless. We’ll go for that. So there’s Bored Ape there.

Did anyone ever sign up for Clubhouse? So clubhouse was a thing that you had to go on a waiting list for and it was basically like an audio chat room where Oprah went on so you could get involved in the chat with Oprah and people went crazy for it. People were swapping invites. They were, “God, this is amazing.” And then when you actually got an invite and you got on it, it was horrible. And nobody uses it now. So it was the biggest thing and everyone in marketing was like, “You have to be on this system. You have to be.” And people were paying for invites to get on it and trying to put whole processes behind it. And now it’s pretty much died a death. I’m pretty sure it’s still there, but it’s nowhere what it was.

Did anyone ever do much on, I’m going to still call it Twitter because X is a silly name, but anyone to do any marketing on Twitter that was successful in the old days before Elon Musk got mental with it? So in the old days in 2010, I did an event called Better Culture, which we promoted solely on Twitter. And we were getting 400 or 500 people an event that was just done solely on Twitter because at that point Twitter was kind of a wild west in a good way. So there were no big corporates on it. There weren’t many trolls on it. You couldn’t come across people being beheaded and all that horrible stuff that’s happening. And it worked really, really well. However, most people now would not advocate doing marketing on Twitter because it’s kind of gone.

So this is the whole point of this talk is why things are ephemeral and what might look like a great thing today, if you back your entire business on that you may be up for a fall. And so it’s about really, really making sure that what you are doing is sustainable. So this is a really good case study in wait and see. So this is technology that came out and at the time it was, “Oh, my God. That’s just not usable.” But now it’s everywhere. So this was… anyone guess what I’m going to talk about? A QR code. So at the time people were putting QR codes on fast moving cars. They were putting QR codes on massive billboards that were miles away. You could never scan them. People were putting them on the housing plaques. So the kind of boards outside a house, this house for sale. And what was happening, actually this is really interesting, is that rival estate agents were printing out their own QR code and going sticking them on the boards and sending you to different places.

QR codes have had a second life

So QR codes, probably our first use of QR code probably in 2002-ish because it was the cool thing to do. The major downfall that it had was you needed a special app to get it. So if you didn’t download the fiddly little QR code app, you couldn’t access the QR codes. It was great, but there was a massive barrier to use. And so QR codes hung around for a bit, but pretty much drifted away because people were like, “Well, that’s just too fiddly. It really doesn’t work.” So yeah, in 2010-ish QR codes were used really, really badly. You needed a special app and people were scared to use them because it was a new technology. Where’s that going to go? How would I use it? It’s too confusing. I don’t recognize this strange square-y thing that’s popping up everywhere. And people, marketers in particular, were really stupid about where they used it. So putting it on the back of a fast moving car is not a great plan, I don’t think.

However, 2020 hit. Massive global pandemic. And what made an appearance? QR codes. They were absolutely everywhere because you couldn’t do anything without a QR code. You couldn’t buy a meal, you couldn’t book a restaurant, you couldn’t… I mean, there were millions and one things you just could not do without a QR code. And now they’ve come into… yeah. Try ordering food without a QR code. Or go into a restaurant. Even now, lots of those restaurants have still got that QR code on the table, printed on the menu because it’s just so bloody easy now because everybody’s phone just does it. It’s built into iPhones. It’s a little bit fiddly on Android phones I think. I don’t use an Android phone, but it’s still a little bit fiddly on that. But in general, QR codes have taken out a massive adoption because they’re easy to use. They’ve come of age, but they’re a really simple thing to do.

So this is a QR code today. If anyone wants to scan that, get your phones out and scan it. No, you don’t have to. Honestly. So that’ll take you to my LinkedIn profile. That’s how easy it is to use. So even on my stand and on my business card, I’ve got a QR code business card. It takes you through. You can tweak that information. You can put it on anything from kind of labeling, packaging. It’s just so ubiquitous that it just works these days. But it was doomed at one point. It just needed to bide its time and find its right use case and be easy to use.

So the big point about not just jumping on the newest technologies: the fundamentals of marketing do not change. And by that I mean that you have to get your right message to the right person at the right time using the right techniques. So that can be TV, which is still the biggest medium user. Has anyone got a TV budget? No, I guess not. Most people don’t have a TV budget. But in marketing spend and for the really big brands, TV is still massive. It’s enormous. Even with the split out from casual viewing against using YouTube or social media or whatever, TV budgets are still big and the big brands use them because they still work. TV’s still big. Obviously you can use that as part of your social media plan as well. If everything’s interactive, that works great. But TV on its own works really, really well.

Print ads. When was the last time anyone did a print ad? But look, that’s a full page ad. And this was… Does anyone remember when KFC ran out of chicken? So when KFC ran out of chicken they didn’t do a social media campaign per se. I think they probably did a little bit of that. But what they did was this [inaudible 00:14:23] “We’re sorry. We ran out of chicken.” Full page ad and everybody saw it. And it had remedial thing of, it’s massive for PR, it’s massive for coverage. It’s a very traditional thing. They got loads and loads of coverage in loads of other publications and on social media. People check in, “Oh, my God. I’ve just found in today’s Metro, have you seen this ad?”

So it spread, but it’s a very traditional market. It’s a very traditional way to get to market, unlike some of the trends. This one is really, really underused these days. So this is direct mail. Have you had experience with direct mail?

Yeah, I’m fine with direct mail as long as it’s targeted.

Exactly. So you said as long as it’s targeted and followed up and done really well. So direct mail, in my early days I worked at in the mail order catalog and we sent out millions and millions and millions of packages. And at that point everything was saturated because there were loads of things coming through your letterbox. When was the last time somebody got a proper piece of direct mail? Hands up. No? Okay. So direct mail, although it’s old and it’s slow, cuts through because it’s a tried and tested thing. Tried and tested thing and you don’t get much of it. So when a targeted, well-crafted direct mail pack lands on your doorstep or at your office, it cuts through because it’s different. It’s not email. It’s not social media. And I’m not saying that your direct mail pack shouldn’t come with an email follow-up and a social media campaign as well, but it can really add weight to it. It’s a little bit more expensive, but it works really, really well.

Billboard advertising. Again, still works really, really well for making a big brand splash. And again, combined with your social media presence, et cetera, works really, really well. This one here is a really good… This is kind of a, so they got into a bit of trouble from the about Piccadilly Gardens. Anyone been to… Actually, we’re in Manchester, aren’t you? So a lot of you been to Piccadilly Gardens. Is it the kind of place where you want to hang out? Yeah, I’m not too sure. I’ve been, and it’s not. I’ve got through it quite quickly. So they went, it’s even better than going to Piccadilly Gardens. It’s the book holiday. That’s kind of that. So they did a bit of a viral thing on their van.

The great thing about banner advertising like this is a lot of it is now digital. So it’s a lot cheaper. It can be a lot more targeted. Instead of printing lots of posters, you send them a digital file and it can be targeted by area and it’s a lot more efficient. It also has a benefit of, I didn’t realize this until recently, but it shows up at night. It’s obvious, really, isn’t it? But it shows up at night unlike a poster, which didn’t. So you’re getting more stretch on that. So some of the great brands, believe it or not, started out without a computer. So you might have all this technology, but the biggest brands in the world didn’t have any of this. They had to do it the old way. So some of the obvious ones, so Coca-Cola and Walt Disney. But they’ve been going for loads and loads of years and they know their customers.

I’m going to talk about… So what the brands have in common, there we go, apart from very big budgets, they understand their customers intrinsically. If you’re going to Marks and Spencer, I’m not a Marks and Spencer’s type customer, but they know who they are, even down to the music that they play and the way things are laid out. They know who their customers are and they play to that in all their marketing. They focus on the brand. So they don’t kind of do any whimsy of changing colors or different messaging or doing weird and wacky things that don’t necessarily fit with who they are. And that can be a temptation, especially with new technology. And they stay consistent.

So Coca-Cola very rarely changes. There was a thing, I don’t know if anyone’s heard this, but Coca-Cola, when they first designed their first bottle, it was designed so that you could recognize a Coca-Cola bottle if it was smashed on the ground. That was a distinctive brand asset. And they still use that brand asset now. I mean, you go into some places and there’ll be a red sticker on the counter with the shape of the bottle in inside. It doesn’t even need to say Coca-Cola. You know they sell Coca-Cola. And so regardless of the medium used, they know who they are. So they don’t go, “Do you know what? We’re going to be on TikTok so we need to divert from the brand.” Their content on TikTok, for example, will be on brand, however they put it together. And they run tests on new channels but they don’t rely on them. They know what works. And yes, they will dip in and out of doing TikTok things. They will dip in and out of doing experiential things. But they use that as tests and they’ll spend money on tests and ensure that things work before they fully invest.

Not using generative AI is an advantage

So should you use the latest trends? And I’m going to talk about generative AI and I’m going to talk about it for good reason. So Google have just got into bed with AI, which is a worry because I do a lot of SEO. And what it’s done is it’s taken away kind of the carefully crafted content that we write and stop that for what we’ll call zero clicks. So now if you ask it a question, if it’s got the thing it will tell it. It’ll kind of give it a no-click response.

This is AI generated. And for those who can’t see right in the back, the query is what are the health benefits of taking a bath with a toaster? And in here it said, “Some say that taking a bath with a toaster is a fun way to unwind and wash away stress.” I mean, it’s funny but that’s really scary, isn’t it? Isn’t that really scary that nobody’s checked this AI out and they’ve just gone, they’re now advising people that… I mean, hopefully most people will go, “That’s just ridiculous” and laugh. But there’s always going to be one. And it’ll be the last one obviously, because as soon as you get in the bath with a toaster, you’re toast, literally, aren’t you?

How many rocks should I eat? I mean, who’s putting that query in for a start? But then the answer they get is, “At least one small rock a day.” I mean, again, we can laugh, but this is an extreme version. But if you can imagine somebody putting in health information, actually asking for something really serious, and AI throws up an answer that’s slightly wrong. Not miles away wrong, because this is crazy stuff. But AI throws up an answer that is slightly wrong on a medical matter. Or somebody’s trying to do something electrical and it throws up something that’s slightly wrong. Or something that’s really, really important and it gives a wrong advice. So at the moment, AI has got no leash on it. Nobody’s fact checking this because they just want to generate this and push it out.

For generative images. I mean, I don’t know what’s happening with his hands or how many fingers he’s got on this one, or these people’s eyes. I mean, there are worse examples, but that one’s one where at first “Well, that’s all right.” But once you inspect it, you just kind of go, “Well, come on. This is just ridiculous.” And people are using these to punt out their content straight off the bat. They’re not using it for idea generation or tweaking it or editing it, which I think you should do if you are. These are great tools, don’t get me wrong. But some people have no filter and they’re just chucking this muck out. There’s no other word for it.

Generative AI is not a competitive advantage

So this is what I want to leave you with. As marketers, my thought is that not using generative AI is now a competitive advantage because that means that your content stands out. It’s written by a human, it’s written for your clients, and it speaks to their problems properly. And you’re not just pinching somebody else’s answer. And when I’ve shared this on LinkedIn, a lot of other marketers are agreeing with me. As there’s the race to the bottom, and as I said at the beginning, as your content, if you are using generative AI, starts to look like everybody else’s content the only way to stand out is going to be to not use generative AI but use your own content and speak to your own customers about their problems and how to solve it.

And that is not to say that you shouldn’t use generative AI for a beginning, but you must make sure it’s tailored correctly. AI is great at doing things like finding cures for cancer and new medicines, et cetera. At the moment it’s not great for marketing just in general. For looking at data and stuff and all those things that humans can’t do very well. There’s a quote, basically, “AI was supposed to help me do the ironing and the hoovering, not write a novel.” And when AI can do that and we can get back to the humans being the actual content creators, life will be a lot better. Thank you very much.

Interested in speaking to The Optimists?

Right from the beginning of our time working with The Marketing Optimist, they’ve taken the time and effort to get to understand Sharp Consultancy as a business and not just a client. We’ve seen a huge increase in the effectiveness of our social media strategy, particularly on Linkedin and we’re delighted with the impact it’s had on the business.

Jamie Caulfield

Regional Director, Sharp Consultancy

It was a pleasure to work with The Marketing Optimist on this project. It felt like a true collaborative effort on the day and they made the interviewee's feel at ease whilst talking about their journey on our RISE programme. The final video was professional and engaging, we have received great feedback around the quality and creativity of the case study. Including the video in our presentation made it come to life, with real humans sharing their stories, so thank you to the Marketing Optimist!

Hannah Prole

Impact Manager, Better Connect Limited

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