By 2030, 25% of all B2B and B2C purchases will be made by machines. What is the role of content marketing in this new world?
With all the news surrounding ChatGPT and generative AI, content marketers should be aware of a less-noticed trend that is set to have an equally significant effect on their work. While the focus of the last few months has been on how AI will impact content generation, another emerging application of AI and distributed computing systems is changing the purchasing behaviour of consumers and businesses.
Gartner predicts that by 2030, 25% of all B2B and B2C purchases will be substantially delegated to machines. In their 2023 book, When Machines Become Customers, Gartner analysts Don Scheibenreif and Mark Raskino describe a rapidly emerging landscape of automated purchasing that reduces and, in many cases, removes humans from making decisions at the point of purchase. The economics of this transformation make sense with AI-powered decision-making being faster and less prone to emotional misjudgements than often biased and expensive humans.
The foundations of this revolution are already in place with many consumers and businesses relying on the automated purchasing of items such as printer ink, toiletries, and other consumables. As AI systems become more reliable and pervasive, the trend will only continue to pick up pace. So, if human decision-making is being taken out of the equation, what does this mean for content marketing?
New technologies and new ways of working are facts of life. A fear of change is also inevitable, but we need to take a calm and balanced view of what is happening. Robert Rose said this well in his recent piece on the impact of AI on content creators. He points out that there may be some negative impacts on established working practices but there will also be innovative new ways of harnessing AI to improve our work,
“Using artificial intelligence for content creation is not innovative. It’s inevitable.”
The same is true for the emerging world of machine customers. Where there is an economic case for their deployment, they will be used. Following the established trend for better technologies at lower prices, the economic case will be ever-stronger.
Our job as content marketers is to understand this new landscape and adapt to it. We are at the early stages of this revolution so here are some thoughts on how content marketing might be optimized for machine customers.
Moving up the Sales Funnel
While the final purchase decision may be made by a machine, the software, assumptions, and algorithms powering those machines are written by humans. Finding ways to influence the design of these systems will become an increasingly important part of the marketing process. This may be done by targeting content at software designers to raise awareness of specific products and services. Human activities will be more important at the top of the sales funnel and marketers will need to put more resources up there than further down at the purchase decision stage.
Talk to the Robots
While machines are not swayed by the emotional triggers that we humans are, they do need data to make their decisions. Understanding where this data comes from and how it influences their decision-making, will be essential. Depending on the types of products or services being sold, this may be data about price, warranties, speed of delivery, customer ratings or environmental factors. Creating content that is machine-readable so that these variables can be ingested by algorithms will be a prerequisite.
In this sense, content creators that understand SEO and the factors that improve search ranking will be at an advantage. While the variables will differ in a world of machine customers, the ability to produce content that can influence an algorithm will be important.
Experiment Now, Profit Later
The good news for content marketers is that nobody knows exactly how the rise of machine customers will play out from a marketing perspective. It is like 2001, when the power of search engines, particularly Google, to surface content was coming to the fore. While the exact details of the Google search algorithm were and remain secret, it quickly became apparent to those willing to experiment how to get clients’ content to rank more highly than their competitors’.
The internet and WWW did not make marketers redundant but did change how they worked. The rise of paid search and algorithmic advertising created new opportunities for media planners and buyers. Machine customers will make some forms of content marketing redundant in certain sectors and supply chains but, for those who adapt to it, will open up new ways of working and serving clients.
About the author
Dr Martin De Saulles writes about and teaches on the subjects of data-driven innovation, AI and digital marketing. With more than 20 years experience as a technology analyst, marketing manager and university lecturer, he helps B2B companies create content that resonates with their customers.