Live reaction: Can ChatGPT write your B2B copy?

Follow B2B copywriter David McGuire as he tries ChatGPT for the first time, to see if it’s ready to write B2B content.

Right at the end of 2022, all the copywriters stopped typing for a moment, and listened. Beneath their feet, a low, seismic rumbling heralded a shift in the landscape. Tectonic plates realigning. Open AI’s ChatGPT had arrived – and it was coming for their jobs.

For as long as I’ve been a B2B copywriter, people have been talking about the day we’ll all be replaced by generative AI. Consensus said there was nothing to worry about: computers might take the grunt work out of writing subject lines or social posts, but longer formats were safe; AI can’t read, so it can’t write in a way that feels authentic or meaningful.

Oh, my sweet summer child…

Now, there’s talk of AI writing entire blogs. Ebooks. Scripts. In seconds, for free. And – most shocking of all – they might not actually be terrible, or even awkward. You’d still need a copywriter to edit and polish the results, but a job that once took hours might just be minutes now.

Can it live up to the hype? As a professional copywriter – with a 13-strong writing team to feed – I need to know, so I’m about to open ChatGPT for the first time. If you like, you can follow along to get my honest, unfiltered thoughts.

Before logging in

That intro was a bit much, wasn’t it? The tectonic plates and stuff. Perhaps I was subconsciously trying to write the kind of blog an AI couldn’t. Maybe I feel like I have a point to prove.

For the most part, though, I’m not worried. AI needs source data to feed on so, in one sense, it’s very skillful plagiarism. Useful for playing catchup, but if you want to create content that’s genuinely new – for example, thought leadership that contains (gasp) actual leading thoughts – somebody needs to talk to a subject matter expert, spot the angle, and tell the story. That’s a job for a human.

Still, if AI handles the simple stuff, how are we going to train new copywriters? There are lots of industries where automation has created a training gap – because the easier jobs are where people practice. These skills could get rarer in future.

Meanwhile, I guess other skills – like writing an AI prompt that delivers good results, and knowing where to spot the weaknesses in AI-generated copy – will be things we’ll all need to learn.

I feel for the SEO industry, though. What happens to search engine marketing if (as the inventor of Gmail predicts) people stop using search engines altogether, and ask the AI for answers instead? Come to think of it, what will it mean for websites, if Google becomes obsolete? That’s real disruption.

(Could “AIO” even become a mainstream marketing discipline? You heard it here first…)

Logging in

ChatGPT comes with a warning that “the system may occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information and produce offensive or biased content”. So at some level, the AI needs a human handler at the very least. (How long until the first scandal where a time-pressured marketer pumped out AI-written content without checking it first?) 

But that’s obvious, common sense stuff. Let’s see what this new toy can actually do

After two minutes…

Oh, OK. So this is what the fuss is about. Already, I have 596 words of reasonable (if a bit bland and uninspiring) blog content.

I decided not to ask the AI to write about AI writing; it feels like everyone does that. So instead, something that involves a bit of technical knowledge, without being unfair…

“Write an 800-word blog post introducing the five most important content formats for B2B marketing”

The first few attempts generate an error message (which I’d say was a victory for the human copywriters if I’d never had to line manage one). Then, right before my eyes, it starts writing. Fast.

To be honest, the intro is repetitive and so-so:

“When it comes to B2B marketing, one size does not fit all. Different content formats can be more effective at different stages of the sales cycle, and for different types of audiences. In this blog post, we'll introduce you to the five most important content formats for B2B marketing, and provide tips for how to use them effectively.”

It’s not wrong, exactly – and the point about the sales cycle and audiences is spot on – but it opens with a cliché, and that repeated “different” doesn’t really work. I’ve definitely read worse from real blogs, though.

But when it gets into the meat of the content, it’s clear, focused, and accurate. Top of the format list, it picks blog posts (I would too). 

“Blog posts are a staple of B2B content marketing. They allow you to showcase your expertise and provide value to your target audience, whether it's through industry insights, thought leadership, or practical tips and advice. When writing a blog post, it's important to keep in mind that B2B buyers are often looking for information to help them solve a specific problem or challenge. Therefore, your blog post should be focused, well-researched, and informative.”

It's direct and relatively easy to read (a couple of long sentences, but the Flesch Reading Ease score is 53; way ahead of a lot of B2B content). Most importantly, it’s good advice. And it’s backed up with four bullet-pointed tips on how to make your blog post effective and engaging. Nice touch.

After ten minutes…

Reading on, the AI repeats the same feat for the next two items on the list: case studies, and ebooks and whitepapers. Well-chosen formats, with reasonable advice about how and why you’d use them. Not necessarily the most important or groundbreaking tips, but plausible enough.

I’m beginning to sweat a little, but then a couple of odd things happen.

“4. Webinars

Webinars are a great way to engage with your target audience in real-time and provide value through educational or informative content…”

Leave aside the minor issue about hyphenating “real-time”; in 2023, choosing webinars as the fourth most important B2B content format is flat-out weird. Clearly, the AI has read the sales pitches amid the content, and can’t tell fact from (possibly biased) opinion.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with webinars per se. But they’re a strange choice ahead of, say, videos, infographics, native social content, email, or research reports. What’s more, the advice is beyond obvious:

“Choose a topic that is relevant and valuable to your target audience”

“Invite industry experts or thought leaders to speak as panelists”

“Promote the webinar in advance through email marketing, social media, and other”

Well, thanks for that. Would never have guessed.

And then, weirder still, the content just… ends. No fifth item, no conclusion, and 204 words short of the length I’d asked it for. 596 words is, apparently, your lot.

(Also, despite advising blog writers to “Use internal and external links to provide additional context and credibility”, it included no links to sources.)

Let’s not miss the bigger picture, of course. A computer just wrote three-quarters of a readable, plausible-looking blog post on a specialist topic, in two minutes flat. That’s pretty damned impressive, and this is only the beginning.

But honestly? It wasn’t an especially valuable piece of content – for obvious reasons, it lacked originality, judgement, and thought. I don’t see how AI can bridge that gap.

After an hour…

I’ve heard ChatGPT prompts get better with iteration, so I’ve been trying to force the AI out of its usual writing style, and seeing if I can get it to come up with something more original and maybe even usable. So far, I’ve tried…

Prompt: “Write edgy B2B marketing thought leadership”

Result: “Are you looking to shake things up and try something new? If so, it's time to embrace your inner rebel and think outside the box...”

I wonder if the fact it’s resorting to cliché is a failure of the system, or actually a really good impression of what most so-called “edgy” B2B thought leadership is actually like?

Prompt: “Make it bolder” 

Result: “If you really want to make your B2B marketing stand out, you need to go above and beyond the usual tactics. That means being bold and daring, and not afraid to take risks…”

The copy itself isn’t really any different from before. But once again, I’ve read these words – or words very like them – a thousand times since working in this industry. Perhaps it’s not the AI’s fault.

Prompt: “Write in an informal, chatty style about B2B thought leadership”

Result: “Hey there! Are you tired of the same old B2B thought leadership? Do you want to mix things up and try something different? If so, you're in the right place...”

Yikes; that’s pretty cringesome. Weirdly, it then reverts to the same old “Gone are the days when a white paper or case study was enough to showcase your company's expertise. In today's attention economy, you need to be bold and daring to stand out from the competition.”

OK; it’s time to bring out the big guns…

Prompt: “Include swearing”

Result: “I’m sorry, but using swear words in your B2B marketing is considered a bad idea and can make you appear unprofessional. Instead of using swear words, there are plenty of other ways to make your marketing content edgy and attention-grabbing without resorting to offensive language.”

Apologies, Doug Kessler and Maureen Blandford; the AI has spoken. Let’s see if suggesting a writer can make it change its style…

Prompt: “Write about B2B content marketing in the style of Caitlin Moran”

Result: “B2B content marketing is like a good bra – it's essential, it can make or break your day, and you don't really appreciate it until it's not there…”

It’s a decent impression, but look beyond the surface and it’s pretty meaningless. Yes it’s funny and oversharey like Caitlin, but actually none of those three things are true of B2B content marketing at all. Ironically, the analogy does not hold up at all.

Also, I notice the information being shared in each article is strikingly similar, and expressed the same way over and over. At first, I was impressed that it could offer a small handful of B2B content tips – but there’s not enough to sustain more than a single article.

In conclusion? AI is impressive – but good content still needs a writer

When I think about my own writing team, and the work we do for B2B tech firms, I haven’t seen much here that will save us much time. Yet. But these are only the first steps.

Right now, ChatGPT feels like a parrot, repeating learned phrases without understanding what they mean. It's an undeniably impressive trick, but it’s not writing. It just has the appearance of writing.

If your B2B brand wants content that summarises other content without getting too specific, AI can do that in a clear, informative way – but it feels a long way from writing content that cuts through. And, now beige, identikit content has just effectively become free to produce, it could be that standout content is about to be more important than ever.

Writing that still takes skill, thought, and – above all – empathy. Until a computer can replicate that, there’s a place for time, training, and humans.

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