When many of us hear how AI will change the world – particularly digital marketing – our thoughts (and occasionally fears) drift towards how big organizations will use machines to do the work of legions of copywriters, designers, and other content creators.
Large corporations with equally large customer bases and competitively driven content needs are looking to sophisticated AI systems to generate content, and process and analyze data to stay ahead.
But the opportunities presented by AI are not just for the big guys.
In fact, small local businesses with fewer resources and often less time can certainly benefit from some of the innovative time and cost savings AI solutions offer.
One particularly challenging aspect of running a small business these days is keeping up with the often overwhelming demands of digital marketing, which can be a full-time job on its own.
Maintaining a rich, current, relevant digital presence and enabling increasingly savvy customers to engage with your business via multiple channels is expected and required for businesses hoping to grow.
Again, how does a small business owner keep up with increasing demands in an area they may not be comfortable with?
Enter AI as the virtual digital marketing assistant.
How Can AI Support Small Business Marketing?
AI can take many forms, but when it comes to marketing applications, the current popular application is generative AI.
AI engines, like ChatGPT, are called large language models, which are effectively AI algorithms that have been trained on massive sets of data or content to understand, summarize, and generate new content when prompted.
As such, AI can quickly and effectively produce content on virtually any topic covered in the data set it’s been trained on.
Website, Blog, And Social Content
The first natural application of AI writing tools for small businesses is creating educational, informative, or otherwise helpful content your website visitors, social followers, and search engines can consume.
Content is still king in terms of establishing online authority, and one way to stand out from your competition is to create more, better content your audience wants to read, like, and share.
We’ve established AI can generate content on any topic you desire, and for most small local businesses, their customer’s needs are relatively consistent.
The key to obtaining quality, compelling AI-generated content is the quality of the prompt it is provided.
A well-structured request can produce a blog post, how-to article, FAQ section, web page, or social media post, which may only require small changes and personalization to be ready for your audience.
If not, you can re-prompt the AI for a better version, and over time, it will continue to learn and produce better, more appropriate content.
However, to be clear, the step of reviewing and editing the content to ensure it is unique should not be skipped.
AI is known for “hallucinating,” which is a fancy way of saying AI has a habit of being inaccurate on occasion, and so all work must be checked for accuracy.
It’s also vitally important to ensure the end product is humanized, as sometimes the text can sound awkward or formal. You should also make sure the content both reflects your brand, and is your own by adding your unique signature – whether by inserting your anecdotal viewpoint, tone, or links to other relevant content you’ve produced or curated.
Direct Customer Communications
In addition to the content businesses create to share en mass via sites or social, there are direct-to-consumer campaigns designed to promote, educate or inform.
While these may be short, in the form of emails or SMS messages, there is still time required to develop campaign ideas and deliver the resulting content to the target audience. AI can help with both stages of the process.
First, AI can be asked to provide a list of topics or ideas upon which a campaign may be based.
For example, I asked ChatGPT to “Provide me with a list of promotions a small local plumbing company might run to grow revenue…”
To which the AI virtual marketing assistant quickly replied with this abridged list of suggestions:
“Certainly! Here are some promotions that a small local plumbing company can run to grow revenue:
- Seasonal Maintenance Package: Offer a discounted package for seasonal plumbing maintenance services, such as drain cleaning, water heater inspection, or leak detection. Promote this package during specific times of the year when homeowners typically focus on home maintenance.
- New Customer Discount
- Loyalty Rewards Program
- Bundle Packages
- Refer-a-Friend Program
- Limited-Time Offers
- Social Media Exclusive Deals
- Senior Citizen or Military Discounts
- Maintenance Plan Subscriptions
- Partner Discounts
Remember to advertise your promotions through various channels, including your website, social media, local advertising, and direct mail, to ensure maximum visibility and reach. Monitor the effectiveness of each promotion and adjust your strategies based on customer response and revenue growth.”
Then AI can be called upon again to suggest the messaging itself. A well-structured prompt for a marketing message can take any one or all of the following into account:
- Message type: Promotion, announcement, invite, greeting, thank you, educational, informational, etc.
- Services or Products to be mentioned: For appropriate message types.
- Specific words to be included: Highlighted offers, discounts, specials, etc.
- Specific words to exclude: Competitors’ names, unwanted alternative product references.
- Demographic targeting information: Gender, age, marital status, etc.
- Writing tone: Conversational, friendly, informative, professional, welcoming, witty, etc.
- Writing perspective: First or third person.
As noted, the more detailed the prompt provided to the AI, the more accurate and effective the generated response.
SEO And Paid Search
AI is at the heart of SEO, in so far as AI algorithms have been powering Google and other search engines for years.
So, why not leverage the same technology to save a few steps in creating the structured content the search engines are looking for?
For those small business owners or employees with the time and knowledge to take website matters into their own hands, generative AI for SEO can be used to do keyword and content research, create page titles, meta descriptions, or more advanced aspects of on-site optimization.
Not surprisingly, AI is already built into many paid ad platforms and is foundational to services like Google Ads, with content automatically being recommended or created based on existing content and/or past performance.
Advertisers, big and small, benefit from the combined knowledge of each other’s campaigns.
Website chatbots have been commonplace for some time now. Still, AI is opening the door to a new level of chatbot, which will be able to more seamlessly interact with your website visitors and, more precisely, extract the information they are seeking.
Just as AI LLMs are trained to scour and interpret large volumes of content across the web, they can likewise be trained to catalog your small corner, which is your website containing all the important details about your products, services, and business practices.
If site visitors run into roadblocks or ask questions the bot has not been trained on or does not have the necessary content to provide an answer for, smart systems will enable customers to forward their questions by other channels like SMS or email.
AI-generated text-based content is just the tip of the iceberg, as we are already similarly seeing photo-realistic images being produced by systems like DALL-E2 and Midjourney based on plain language prompts, while full-scale video isn’t far behind.
Here too, the potential to create compelling business content is real.
Beyond content, AI offers the promise of automating the personalization and optimization of content – so the right content is provided to the right people at the right time, which has long been Google’s modus operandi.
Except now, it won’t just be Google and the search engines that can deliver this level of customized content. Open-source AI solutions are opening this door for everyone.
Solutions like predictive analytics will enable small business marketers to stay ahead of the game, building on and automating those tactics which have worked before and disregarding those which have not.
But… AI Is Just A Tool
Now, as much potential as AI has to offer in terms of saving time in content creation, it should by no means be seen as a full replacement for human writers or editors.
Because AI-generated content is based on content which has already been created, there is certainly the risk of a great deal of sameness being produced as some creators publish this content verbatim.
A recent article in the Washington Post rightly points out:
“Experts say that even advanced AI doesn’t match the writing skills of a human: It lacks personal voice and style, and it often churns out wrong, nonsensical or biased answers. But for many companies, the cost-cutting is worth a drop in quality.”
This is not what your audience or Google wants to hear. It will be increasingly important to take what AI offers and build upon it, adding your own unique voice, perspective, and anecdotal spin.
Google remains committed to its E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) principles as primary content ranking factors. E-E-A-T is what small business owners need to add to what AI can provide as a starting point.
AI-powered digital marketing offers tremendous opportunities for small local businesses to improve their online presence by producing rich, relevant content, enhancing customer experience, and generating more leads.
However, to reap the benefits of this revolutionary technology, businesses need to understand their challenges, set measurable goals, develop strategies, and continuously monitor and optimize their performance.
Featured Image: Gearstd/Shutterstock