Written by: Austin McNair and Karl Feldman
Content is still king… but is that reign coming to an end?
With the arrival of AI tools like ChatGPT and its competitors, generic content will be increasingly less impressionable—and professional services marketers are going to be challenged more than ever to differentiate their firm’s brand as a service provider and employer.
For years now, professionals have been inundated with an overwhelming amount of unsolicited and unhelpful content. From unrelenting sales pitches filling up email inboxes to random weekly LinkedIn connection requests, the average professional is constantly bombarded with content they have no interest in. However, the situation is only intensifying as these AI tools become more prominently used by marketers.
Here’s the concern for professional services marketers… the pretenders are coming. With the barriers to entry for basic content creation lowered, it is easier for individuals and businesses to portray themselves as qualified service providers, even if they lack the necessary experience and capabilities. This situation rewards those who are larger and louder while possibly putting true experts who are more qualified at risk of being overlooked—and none of us can afford to be overlooked.
Tools like ChatGPT, and those who will inevitably misuse them, are here to stay—so all of us need to at least understand them, and perhaps even use them for our benefit. In the hands of competent experts and content marketers, they present an excellent opportunity to accelerate marketing programs and streamline time-consuming workflows. But there are risks too!
So what should be our top content marketing considerations as we move forward into this new era of AI tools? In this article, we will reflect on these tools’ risks and rewards and outline some strategies to make sure your business stays competitive in this brave new world. Let’s begin by identifying some of the risks associated with these tools.
Risks of Using ChatGPT in Professional Services
There’s no denying the power of ChatGPT can provide marketers for the kinds of work they do day-in and day-out for their businesses. Need to generate some quick social media copy? No problem. Want it to completely rewrite an older blog post? Just plug and play. The simple use cases are endless—not to mention the more advanced automation integrations that are rapidly being introduced to the marketplace.
We recommend taking a good look at your marketing system and identify any places that ChatGPT might simplify or streamline your workflow. Just keep in mind that AI is still far from perfect and comes with real risks. Let’s consider two of them.
Lack of Originality and Depth
The highway to mediocrity is wide—and it just got an express lane.
ChatGPT can generate a lot of content quickly, but since it is trained on an existing body of content, it could produce results that lack originality, personality, and creativity. And the longer your content, the more likely you’ll encounter these issues.
As AI-generated content continues to become more prevalent in our daily lives, readers are likely to be less interested in content that lacks an original perspective or style. Users themselves will have access to these tools, so they’ll have little patience for basic AI-generated content when they’re expecting something more fulsome. If they want a simple answer, they’ll use the tool themselves.
Of course, this won’t stop (and indeed, has not stopped) many from attempting to game the system by pumping out as much AI-generated content as they can on their websites or social media channels. Some will even masquerade as authorities on topics they know little about.
To stand out from all this noise, experts will need to focus on the “leadership” part in thought leadership content. People will gravitate toward those who have unique points of view and are pushing their industries forward. They will look for experts who communicate in a way that authentically represents their perspective as an expert. Marketing teams or experts who rely solely on content from AI-generated output will be left behind.
Inaccurate or Inconsistent Information
Another criticism of ChatGPT is its occasional tendency to deliver inaccurate information. Publishing false information can pose a serious risk for a brand’s reputation. And the risks are particularly acute in the professional services where reputations are built upon trust.
Author and entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa brought this shortcoming of ChatGPT to life in a recent article. Wadhwa asked his son to use ChatGPT to search for “interesting details about [him] and his family.” While the output seemed credible it included troubling inaccuracies, the most staggering being that he was married to a woman named Ritu, an executive at Microsoft. In reality, not only had Wadhwa never met this woman before, his real wife Tavinder had lost her battle to cancer three years before.
Wadhwa and his son repeated the experiment a number of times and continued to get different inaccurate results, including another false marriage report. Wadha reflected, “[Deep learning systems] are often referred to as a ‘black box,’ meaning that the processes and reasoning behind their outputs are not transparent or easily understood. Once a neural network is trained, not even its designer knows exactly how it is doing what it does. This makes it difficult to reverse engineer or understand how the AI system learned what it did.” While ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for coming up with ideas and even producing content, be prepared to fact check its results.
It is worth considering that AI tools’ accuracy will improve quickly, much like the chess-bots that made headlines in the past. At the same time, the law is trying to catch up. Legal cases are exploring the strange new world of copyright protection for content that involves AI, and where such hybrid work crosses a line. AI is one of the harbingers of the fourth industrial revolution, so we can expect many behavioral and institutional disruptions in the coming years.
Professional Services Marketing Strategies for the ChatGPT World
The risks of relying on AI tools are real. But their potential to dramatically improve your marketing efficiency can’t be ignored. We need to consider how these tools will transform the practice of marketing professional services and set some strategies to guide us forward.
Here we propose four strategies that professional services marketers should follow as we continue to step into an AI-saturated marketplace.
1. Thought Leadership Is King Now
Just creating a large amount of content won’t cut it anymore… Anyone can do it now. What will matter moving forward is how you position yourself as a thought leader.
At Hinge we’ve coined the term for thought leaders who are visible for their subject matter expertise—Visible Experts®. We define a Visible Expert as a firm or individual who has attained high visibility and a reputation for expertise in their industry niche. While Visible Experts come from many backgrounds and specializations, at the core of their professional life is a body of knowledge and a perspective that makes them stand out as subject matter experts. And it just so happens that professional services buyers value working with these experts the most.
In the latest edition of Hinge’s research on the changing behavior of professional services buyers, Inside the Buyer’s Brain, we saw that buyers continue to value subject matter expertise and industry knowledge above all other things when they evaluate a potential service provider.
What does this mean for professional services marketers? Well, it means we need to organize our marketing system in a way that showcases the unique knowledge of an expert. In the past, basic content creation could be serviceable—but now it’s time to take it to the next level of sophistication.
Let’s provide an example of what positioning yourself or your firm’s experts as thought leaders should look like. The classic situation might include an expert who writes blog posts and articles for industry publications, has a couple speaking engagements per year, and is a key team member delivering value to your clients. How might you position this expert on your firm’s website?
When Hinge builds websites for our clients, we recommend a strong cross linking strategy between experts and the thought leadership content they produce. Here’s what that looks like:
Blog posts should include the following:
- Blog posts are clearly attributed to the expert
- Users can easily navigate to the author’s expert bio page
- Users can easily find a way to read more by the author
Experts’ bio pages can include the following:
- Professional photography
- A bio that showcases their expertise and experience with the organization
- Links to completed projects/case stories they are responsible for
- Links to services they deliver for the organization
- Links to thought leadership content they’ve produced
- List of certification and awards they’ve received
- Videos of them speaking
Do you see the possibilities? Experts who are positioned as thought leaders will be the ones most likely to break through in the future.
A full Visible Expert strategy extends beyond your website and blog. It includes a strategy that takes into account each expert’s industry, niche, and skill set. Professional services marketers of the future will need to develop the right approach and strategy to help increase the visibility of their experts.
2. Differentiation Will Matter More Than Ever
There are two factors at play in the marketplace today. First, is the rise of more and more competitors engaging in an increased volume of content marketing. Second, is the fact that larger firms are engaging in mergers and acquisitions at record rates. How do we address these factors? With clear differentiators and a strong brand positioning.
Can you answer the following questions?
- Does your business or service line focus on a specific target market?
- Does your messaging clarify how you’re different from your competitors?
- Does your business development team have prepared responses to critical questions?
- Does the aesthetic of your brand reinforce or detract from your positioning?
In an AI-saturated world, it will be more important than ever to set your business apart from your competitors in a way that builds preference for you among your target audience. Are your key messages relevant to your buyers? Are they true? Do you have proof points to support them? Strengthening your brand positioning can make a huge difference.
Not convinced? Well the fastest growing firms in your industry are. When we surveyed hundreds of professional services leaders and marketers at the end of last year, the best performing firms identified content creation and brand differentiation as their top priorities in 2023. Now is the time to take steps towards differentiating your brand.
Another way to improve brand differentiation is to develop a visual identity that both supports your firm’s positioning and differentiators and takes a different direction from your competitors. And look out for cognitive dissonance. There’s nothing more confusing than brands that use words like “innovative” on their out-of-date websites and marketing collateral. Your marketing materials should present your brand in the very best light.
Your brand design can make an impact on the way your business is perceived by your buyers and potential job recruits. A modern, well-designed website, logo, and marketing materials can create an immediate impression that your business as a professional and reputable brand.
3. Less Content, Higher-Quality Campaigns
When searching for answers to their top business challenges, your buyers can struggle to find the clearly articulated, specific information they are looking for. Expert thought leadership delivered as part of a content marketing program can address this need.
In fact, the need for high-quality content has never been greater. However, with so much noise in the marketplace, it can be challenging for marketers to create content that stands out.
One effective solution is to incorporate research-based content into your marketing strategy. Research adds empirical evidence and credibility to your insights and advice. And many buyers are looking for exactly this kind of fact-based information. In addition, since most of your competitors do not use research in their content, it provides yet another way to differentiate your firm’s expertise.
In the image above, you can see how a large, high-quality piece of content like a research report can be repurposed into a number of pieces of marketing collateral. It can be part of an interconnected campaign that can be integrated into many areas of your marketing strategy. These signature pieces of content open up a lot of marketing possibilities for your team and experts.
4. Humanize Your Brand With an Integrated Marketing Strategy
AI and content aren’t the be-all end-all. You can include real-world experiences into your integrated marketing strategy to stand out from automated fodder.
This means leveraging techniques that humanize your firm and experts. These additional techniques should be integrated with the primary cross-channel goals of your firm’s go-to-market strategy. We have five recommendations here:
Speak and Network at In-Person Events
In-person events are back! Attending events allows you to connect with your target audience on a more personal level and build relationships. Prioritize events where you have an opportunity to speak or where your business is operating campaigns like sponsorships and partnerships. If you struggle to find and secure speaking engagements, you may want to work with a public relations specialist.
Write for Recognizable Publications
Reach a wider audience by contributing thought leadership articles to publications read by your target clients. By writing for outside publications, you increase the credibility of your expertise and demonstrate to your network that you are in demand as an expert. Again, you may want to consider working with a PR specialist with a track record of pitching articles to top publications.
Pursue Awards and Certifications
Businesses and experts can differentiate themselves from their competitors when they achieve awards and certifications that demonstrate their commitment to excellence. By showcasing their achievements, firms can increase their credibility and visibility within their industry.
Publishing Social Media Videos
Sharing your thought leadership using video on LinkedIn can be very effective for several reasons. To start, video is more engaging and captures the attention of your audience more effectively than text or image posts alone. Videos of you speaking on a helpful topic can convey your message more effectively and increase the chances that your audience will engage with your content.
Feature Detailed Case Stories and Projects
Storytelling is an essential part of what it means to be human. Case stories and project summaries provide the real-world impact of your work and help you further differentiate your business. Making these stories accessible on your website and well-organized for use by your business development and marketing teams is essential. Don’t make it difficult for your audience or internal team to understand the impact of your work.
ChatGPT and its ilk introduce new opportunities and challenges for professional services marketers. These technologies will not replace conventional content marketing but they are likely to increase the level of noise that is coming from competitors and pretenders. Mediocre doesn’t cut it anymore. You need to be great, not good.
The journey from good to great begins with differentiating your brand and positioning your firm’s experts as thought leaders. Of course, these are no easy tasks. You need to be strategic, grounded in a solid understanding of your audience, and equipped with the right marketing tools and resources.
Our recommended approach of an integrated marketing strategy may require more resources than your firm is currently able to handle in-house. In our decade-long research of high-growth professional services firms, we’ve learned that these high-performers outsource the critical services they can’t handle themselves. If your firm’s differentiation, brand or content marketing don’t meet the highest standards, it might be time to look for a partner like Hinge who knows your industry to take your business to a new level of sophistication and visibility.