11
February
2024
|
20:16
Europe/Amsterdam

AI beginners guide for content marketing, improve your game right now

From novice to expert: how to unlock the AI power and not over-rely on technology

This is your starter guide on how to work with AI for content and marketing. From the very basics to your first content piece, created with the help of AI.

Honestly, if you still don’t use AI to create your content, you’re falling behind. I get it that changing your processes is hard and challenging.

Why change your way of working if it still works?

Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken. Right?

If that’s your mantra, keep in mind that AI grows exponentially, and the gap between the AI-savvy marketers and the not-using-AI marketers widens by the day. The best time to start was yesterday; the next best time is now.

In this guide, we tackle 4 things

  1. Prepare: what you need before you even start: authenticity, tool, and tone of voice
  2. Use  AI to create content: 6 steps and how not to use AI to create content:
    • Ideation use pen and paper plus AI
    • AI as a writing assistant
    • AI for Proofreading on structure and clarity
    • Writing headlines with AI 
    • The human touch for visuals [DIY]
    • Designing your copy's visual appeal [DIY] 
  3. Prevent failure: the pitfalls of over-reliance on AI
  4. What if you work with an agency?

 

For the sake of the guide, I presume you don't know anything about AI and haven't experimented with it at all, a totally blank slate. 

Let’s go.

 

1. Prepare before diving in 

These are the 3 things you need to do or have before you even start creating content with AI as your little helper: authenticity, tool of choice, and tone of voice. 

 

Authenticity matters

These days, it’s never been easier to create content; with just a push of the AI button, the sky and your imagination are the limit. 

With so much content already out there and even more to come, it’s becoming more cluttered. How do you distinguish the great from the good and the bad?

First and foremost, it’s good to realize that people still want to connect to people; that's our human nature. And that’s where authenticity comes in. 

Your brand voice, your personality, your passion for your product, and your expertise and craftsmanship. You do you, dare to stand out and make your mark.

Share your vision, your expertise, your knowledge, and position yourself in your customer’s shoes. How does your product make their lives easier by solving their problems? And what are the benefits if they select your brand over your competitors?

With the rise of AI-generated content that echoes what is already there, we’ll seek a new balance: the more non-personal AI-generated content there is, the more important authenticity and realness become.

 

Choosing your AI tool  

Before you start, select your AI tool. I work with ChatGPT-4; you can apply the same steps to CoPilot, Gemini, or any other AI assistant. It’s a way of thinking and working, not a specific tool.

Just be aware, if you use a free tool like ChatGPT, that you don’t use any business-critical information in your prompts. This is quite a no-brainer, yet often forgotten.

 

Creating your tone of voice

Next, you need to define your tone of voice. How do you want ChatGPT to answer you? In a few easy steps, you can get an excellent description of your brand voice that you can use in your prompts or in Custom Instructions.

  • Step 1: collect examples of your brand voice
  • Step 2: use this prompt to get the description of your tone of voice in the examples from step 1. 
  • Step 3: refine with more examples if needed
  • Step 4: create the prompt you can use  

Now you have your basics in place, let’s get to work with the 6 steps

 

 

2. Create content with AI: 6 steps

These are the 6 steps I use time and time again to create my content. Before, during, and after the writing. 

  1. Ideation
  2. AI as a writing assistant
  3. AI for Proofreading on structure and clarity
  4. Writing headlines with AI 
  5. The human touch for visuals [DIY]
  6. The visual appeal of your copy [DIY as well]

 

Step 1. Ideation

Before I even jump to ChatGPT, I draft the structure of my content piece with old -school pen and paper. First, I write down the problem, the solution, and the benefit, all from a customer's perspective: why should they care? Followed by a ‘what they need to know,’ ‘why it matters to them,’ and ‘what to do’ to make it actionable.

Starting with offline scribbling, scratching, and doodling sparks my creativity and forces me to think strategically and deeply about how my message is relevant to my reader. 

Then open ChatGPT and use AI for new ideas and insights, or perhaps discover any open doors you’ve forgotten even existed. You can start your ideation with a simple prompt like ‘What are the top 10 questions about xyz asked by [your audience] ?’ or a ‘Brainstorm with me on xyz, can you give me xx ideas on [your topic].’ 

After your initial prompt, the real work starts. Refine the AI output by using your old-school structure to dive into the details. Add your prompt-on-prompt to enhance, elaborate, and find what makes you tick, is surprising, and most of all, is valuable for your reader.

Now, you go back to your structure on paper and write down those ideas to fit them into your storyline. Open Word, and start writing with AI as your assistant.

 

Step 2. AI as a writing assistant

During my writing process, I jump back and forth between Word and ChatGPT. In the meantime, I also use AI tools like DeepL and Grammarly Pro to sharpen and finetune my writing. 

  • I ask ChatGPT for alternative words, synonyms, translations, or different ways of writing something. As a non-native English writer, I sometimes struggle with the right words or ways of saying things. Use simple prompts like ‘hi, what’s a different way of saying …’ or ‘what’s a synonym for…
  • ChatGPT is also great for inspiration if you’re stuck for words or feel awkward. Bluntly prompt what you want to know, followed by a ‘can you rewrite this in an informal tone of voice’. The output is the input for your writing.  

 

Please note that I don't ask ChatGPT to do the writing for me. I’m not a hack writer; I don’t prompt and go. From experience, if I do that, it takes me so much more time to get a clear structure in, find the right tonality, play with words, and make it sound authentically me than starting from scratch with pen and paper and asking AI to be my assistant.

Sure, you can prompt and publish. Yet, realize that will not bring the authenticity that makes the difference, and that makes your content relevant, pop, and stand out to your customers.

 

Step 3. AI for Proofreading on structure and clarity

Being a seasoned writer, proofreading used to be quite an easy and fun job. Now, I upgraded to the new and updated paid version ChatGPT-4; the proofreading really improves my structure and writing in the tiniest details. 

Sometimes, AI gives quite harsh feedback, and it's an ego check. I don't follow all suggestions blindly; I pick and adjust what I think makes sense, which is about 80% of the feedback. 

On the other hand, if you did a great job, ChatGPT will also tell you and is generous with its compliments. Time and time again, ChatGPT gave me suggestions that improved my copy instantly. 

I highly recommend doing this, it's worth the effort and got my content to the next level. 

You can use a prompt like ‘Can you proofread without rewriting? Please give suggestions on the clarity, structure, subheaders, and a new header. Please use this tone of voice: inspirational and informative, with a casual, friendly undertone.

The reason why I ask ChatGPT not to rewrite but to give suggestions is that I like to stay in control of my own content. I notice the result is much better and faster if ChatGPT gives me suggestions and alternatives instead of rewriting the entire piece. No matter how well my brand voice is described, the copy I write myself is always much more me.

 

Step 4. Writing headlines with AI 

Headlines matter. They are the first thing people read after checking out the visual. And it’s one of the hardest things to write. 

My best tip is to write your headline last. Sure, you can start with a draft headline for your content, yet the final headline deserves your full attention. It can only be written when the content is as good as finished because only then you know your full story and what the headline should cover.

You can jump to ChatGPT to get headlines, and in the proofreading, it probably suggests a few. My preference is to write the headline myself and use AI to improve.

Two reasons why AI-generated headlines are the worst 

  1. The headlines written by AI are a bit over-complicated and typically recognizable as AI-generated. No matter your prompt and tone of voice, time and time again, the headlines feel too much AI and too little me
  2. I, like nobody else, can capture the essence of my message in a few words. And honestly, if I can’t, I don’t understand my own content well enough. And it’s also only me who can play with the headline, subheadline, and visual to capture the first attention of my reader.

 

Trust this process. First, you list your keywords, key takeaway, and the objective of what you want your reader to do. Then you write 10 headlines: even if you think you already got it. Followed by 15 or more, even if you think you’re there. Next, you cross out 15 and select your favorite 5.

Now, you go to Headline Studio and play with your top 5. What’s the ranking and score? How can you improve your scoring?

In the last step, you check your headline with your visual. Does it make sense and look sexy? If not, go back to the process.

Again, don’t ask AI to write the headline for you. It will be too obviously AI-generated and make you look like a hack writer who cuts corners and lacks personality. Of course, there are exceptions and people who absolutely nail it, yet they are probably seasoned AI writers who made writing with AI their daily job and tune and tweak their prompts on a daily basis.

 

Step 5. The human touch for visuals [DIY]

Maybe the most important thing is the first impression—the visual. It’s not only the men who think visually; we all do. If you want to stand out, you have to dare to be different.

And for now, don’t use AI unless you’re creating visuals with AI on a daily basis. It really takes expertise, time, and effort to create something awesome that captures the attention.

For me, it's a DIY job. I choose to be different, with no stock businesslike visuals; I prefer something unexpected. And as the saying goes, ‘sex sells; I always choose something with a similar vibe. You can almost feel the excitement, the tension of something fun that’s going to happen.I also go for something edgy. A bit rough and raw. Different, unlike others. 

There’s only one rule: you have to love the visual yourself.

I use Pexels and edit the image in Canva into my brand visual guidelines. Crispy, clear, fresh, exciting, and always apply the rule of thirds. Because I have all my templates set up in Canva and built a huge database with my favorites in Pexels, it takes me about one to two hours to find, edit, and create all visuals and animations for all channels in different sizes in place. 

As I'm a control freak and I know the value of the first visual impression, I create all visuals myself and never rely on automatic cropping by a channel or platform: it's about 2 to 4 visuals for .com, 1 bespoke header visual for the LinkedIn newsletter, 1 LinkedIn carousel post with 8 to 12 slides, 1 visual for LinkedIn text post, 2 visuals for Medium, and 1 animation for Instagram stories and 1 visual for the feed.

 

Step 6. The visual appeal of your copy [DIY as well]

I know the ‘visual design of your copy’ sounds a bit weird. Bear with me on this one. 

The output of ChatGPT is plain text, with maybe an H1 and or H2 headline and a bullet list here or there. 

If you copy-paste that into your CMS and hit publish, for sure your copy will look awful on mobile. What is lacking is the visual design of your copy and optimization for mobile-first reading, as 80% or more of your readers probably will be on mobile and not desktop.

In general, the width of the lines on a mobile screen is -30%, which means the length of your paragraph is +30%. And no one likes big, chunky, heavy-looking blocks of text. Therefore, you need to play with the whitespace to make it look airy and sexy. Shorten your paragraphs to about 3 to 5 lines and group them by using sub-headers, bullets, or lists.

I review my content in exactly the same way my audience sees it: on mobile. 

This means I write, upload, and check it on my laptop, toggle the mobile view in the browser, and hit publish to be able to see the content live. Then I grab my iPhone and open the page; with the phone in my hand, I start editing, tuning, and tweaking my content to be appealing, looking light, airy, and accessible. 

A last piece of advice: I always hit publish and let my content rest overnight before sharing it on socials. A good night's sleep enables me to make copy and visual tweaks to make what's already good even better. 

 

3. Prevent failure: the pitfalls of over-reliance on AI 

As mentioned between the lines in the text above, this is so important that I repeat it here. Don't entirely rely on AI for content creation. 

I know how luring it is to have AI generate all of your content and do all the work for you; however, this is setting you up for failure. 

Your audience is not stupid and will notice that fully AI-generated content lacks personality and authenticity and echoes what's already there. 

This means that if you use AI to generate the content for you, your content will not be that different from what is already there. If your content objective is to spread the word and bring your message across, the worst thing you can do is copy what others already did. 

Get to work, find your voice, and give your content the love and attention it deserves. If you can't make the effort to do that, why the F should your audience care? 

And next to all of the above, if you over-rely on AI and technology to do the work for you, it dulls you, and you'll stop thinking for yourself. You become lazy, a hack-markter or hack-writer, and the quality of your work will absolutely suffer.

Sure, also, here, there are exceptions that confirm this rule. The nerdy ones who create amazing content that's totally generated by AI. Good to keep in mind that this is their daily job and business.  It is the same as relying on AI to create your visual; also, for copy, it really takes expertise, time, and effort to create something awesome that captures the attention.

 

4. When you work with a content agency

If you’re a marketer who works with an agency to create content for you, this guide still applies. The better and more detailed your brief, the better the output. 

Sure, you can ask an agency to do the ideation for you and come back with a concept. That’ll cost you somewhere between € 5 and € 10k. You can also do the ideation yourself in 5 minutes and include that in your brief.

That doesn’t only give you more value for money, as the agency can skip the ideation phase and back and forth discussing with you to get to the final big idea, it also saves you valuable time as the agency can hit the ground running because you did most of the thinking and strategy work already.

 

Wrapping it up

This is my guide on how to work with AI for content and marketing. From the very basics to your first content piece, created with the help of AI.

I hope it’s clear that if you want to make a difference, you don’t just prompt and go. Great content takes effort. You can do the strategic thinking and put yourself in your customers’ shoes while AI takes care of the rest.

These are the 6 steps on how to create content with some AI help. 

  1. Ideation
  2. AI as a writing assistant
  3. AI for Proofreading on structure and clarity
  4. Writing headlines with AI 
  5. The human touch for visuals [DIY]
  6. The visual appeal of your copy [DIY as well]

 

Two more things

  • Don't entirely rely on AI for content creation. That will not move any needle for you and only add to the content clutter
  • If you work with a content agency, get more value for your money with a better and more detailed brief, resulting in better output. 

 

And by the way, don't forget to have fun along the AI-way. You can't break AI, so start experimenting and create something magical. 

 

Further reading and doing

These are interesting reads if you really want to get started, AI and content overview page.

 

Need help to start with AI today?

If you need any help setting up this new process and getting your team started while hitting the ground running, don’t hesitate to drop me a DM on LinkedIn. 

If I'm not your designated person, I can certainly recommend someone in my network who can help you.