June 9, 2021 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice. Your mind. Your story. Your vision. So write and draw and build and play and live as only you can.” – Neil Gaiman
Just this week a customer asked me the same question so many have asked me in the last few years:
“What are your thoughts on writing done by AI (artificial intelligence)?”
My response is the same every time.
Current AI has the ability to spit out pretty strong content based around a set of facts. I think it is undeniable that within the next 10 years a lot of product copy, stock trading updates, and even straight news may be created by future iterations of products like OpenAI’s GPT-3.
Today, the tools that are working on the problem of automating copy are limited by the need for cleaned/fact-checked data and training models. But even as these components become easier to construct, AI models will be lacking the one thing that makes truly special content; a voice.
We use the term voice a lot in writing, but it is no different than the word “style” in art. These are the concepts that signify a piece of art or content is wholly unique to that person. Artists and creators can imitate the work of others, but true masters of their craft hone a style and voice that is unique to them.
A great example is John Carpenter. His movies are masterpieces of suspense, and a lot of that is predicated on his use of synth-based scores. Carpenter crafted these scores himself, with a knowledge of how they helped bring another layer to his movies. It is an example of an artist taking every step needed to bring his vision and style to life.
AI can write a screenplay today.
AI can write and produce a movie score today.
AI can’t create a voice or style.
It must be fed training examples of style to replicate. To me, the voice and style of a piece of art or content is its soul.
Much can be made of the meaning of a specific book, movie, or painting, but the voice of art gives us the clearest vision of the person behind the creation. Perhaps this is why I find it unlikely we will ever see a day that AI is creating groundbreaking literature. AI can’t have a soul, and so while it may be able to learn how to craft an amazing story by digesting every book ever written, it has no human experiences to rely on to bring a unique perspective to its written words.
The voice of copy is its soul.
Maybe content generated by AI is then the perfect solution to the heavy content needs of today’s online companies. Soulless content currently exists online and has existed since the creation of article spinners. Google doesn’t care about the soul of the content, why should we?
Because Google doesn’t buy your product.
Marketing and Advertising are based on psychology. As marketers, we are trying to ignite emotions in potential customers and use those emotional triggers to elicit a response. You can tell AI what words convey emotions and when to use those words, but you can’t tell AI how it feels to have those emotions. Lines of code will never understand the unease of a mom trying to find out what their baby’s rash is, or their need to be reassured while buying the ointment that will take away their child’s suffering.
But a brand isn’t a person, and so perhaps we should create soulless content for a soulless entity?
While a brand isn’t a person, it does represent an idea, and often even emotions. Everyone has that one restaurant whose sign brings you immediate nostalgia as you drive by at 45 miles per hour. A split second interaction with a brand can trigger emotions. Those emotions are the cultivation of the brand and company. A brand and a company built by people.
Apple without its focus on design is not apple.
Costco without its free samples is not Costco.
I would argue a brand has a collective soul of the employees that make up its company and the buyers that consume its product. If this is so, then identifying the brands voice and style is a critical concept that cannot simply be stopped once it begins. The voice of a brand needs to live in everything they do, and everything they produce.
So whether a company is looking at AI or human solutions for content first, it has to find a voice.
No, they need to develop it.
Building and adhering to a brand voice is difficult. Specifically it becomes difficult at scale. Unifying a voice among a large group of creators who have their own voice can seem like an almost impossible task.
We discussed John Carpenter as a great modern example of voice and style in movies. Another example we can look at in the context of the building of voice within a brand are the Marvel movies made by Marvel Studios. Movies throughout the Marvel cinematic universe are written and directed by different people. Each individual brings their own flavor to their project, and each product has a different value. However, the MCU remains unified in its overall voice and vision. They are able to weave these movies together regardless of who the creative team is.
They achieve this through an organizational structure within Marvel Studios that sets the basic blueprint for the MCU and allows the creative team for each move to color however they want within those lines.
The same strategy goes for brand content. A style guide is specifically created for this task. It gives the guardrails to scale content across any creative. The creative will bring their own voice into play, but the guardrails of the style guide will assure that the brand voice shines through regardless of who is steering it.
The idea that anyone can “find” their voice is a lie. This lie contradicts the reality that cultivating a voice takes real work.
I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote heavily in high school, keeping multiple journals with hundreds of unfinished poems and short stories. In college, I studied creative writing, emphasizing in poetry. At 20 I collected my poetry in a volume. I put it away and forgot about it. Then, when we were recently moving, my wife found it. She also had a good laugh at my expense. The poetry in the volume was horrible. They were the words of a self-involved, whiney 20-year-old. There was no voice, no substance, no reason for the words to exist.
But they do show the long road to where I am today and where it began. I do not believe I am a great writer, but I do know my voice is more genuine today. The unique perspective has been honed from years of writing and living. Failing and trying.
I don’t think CopyPress has even found its unique voice yet. We have been so busy for 10 years just trying to stay alive as the market changed their perspective on content marketing, we have rarely done for ourselves what we have done for so many customers. However, I do believe our brand voice is clearer today. We know who we are better than we did 10 years ago when our marketing material had no voice, no substance, no reason for the words to exist.
As a brand you need to cultivate your voice. It needs to develop. You do this by just starting and then iterating as you go. Pull your sales people and ask them about the pain points and values customers see in what you do. Ask your customer service reps how people talk about your product. Ask them who your customers are. Ask your management what your core values are. All of these things make up the soul of your brand. All of these concepts need to be addressed in your style guide.
I get concerned when people bring up the concept of AI driven content with me. It is not due to the implications it has on CopyPress’s business. I think there will be a need for companies like CopyPress to tie AI content solutions to humans that help train and edit such content. I get concerned because I know why they are asking the question. They want an easier, softer way to generate content at scale. They aren’t thinking about “why” they need to generate content, just the “how.”
If they were thinking about the “why,” I would get more questions like:
“Do you think AI content could connect emotionally with my customers?”
“Do you think AI content can effectively scale my brand voice?”
However, even when customers approach the content creation process internally or through contractors, they often still focus on the “how.” The number of companies that we work with that have no internal style guide is always surprising.
Regardless of what resources you use to create content tomorrow, the starting point for today is taking the first steps in your journey to cultivate your voice. The next step is to take that formed voice and put it within the guide rails of a style guide. Content creation that begins with a focus on voice is content with a soul.
And while you’re at it grab a copy of our PDF on creating a style guide and taming the branding bear here.
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