The Evolving Role of Text in a Visual World

A random fellow reading at the Reagan Building in Washington, DC.

Text gets a hard time in today’s digital media world. After all, it serves as a primary communications form, and it’s not dying anytime soon. When you look at the most popular forms of B2B content marketing, the number two corporate investment is written materials.

However, according to the Content Marketing Institute, only 1/3 of the top content forms are “text first” (let’s be honest a good video or photo gallery requires scripting and captions), but digital written content investments increased for 61 percent of brands.

So what’s happening with text in 2019? Here is what the Content Marketing Institute’s research says.

Content Marketing Institute Research

Two larger trends drive the above content trends. One is the much-discussed movement towards visual and audio media thanks to the increased use of smartphones and in-home smart speakers. The second is a general sense of distrust and fatigue when it comes to short frequent listicles and other forms of clickbait blogs/articles. Customers — both consumer and B2B — have grown wise to the short daily article as a content marketing tactic propagated by influencers and brands.

That doesn’t mean quality articles are dead. Far from it. Just look at the successes demonstrated by The Athletic and Medium (I maintain a Medium blog). You can still see demand for quality articles and writing.

The Decline of Short Blogs as a Content Marketing Form

This commuter seems to prefer longer forms of media.

If you are publishing a daily blog for the sake of publishing daily without impact and value then you are wasting your time. According to Social Media World’s content marketing trends to watch in 2019 article:

No more lazy marketers copying the hottest viral headlines and topics, and fooling themselves into thinking they’re “making it their own” or adding their own personality – when in reality, they’re almost word for word copying and pasting.

Consumers and decision makers are getting smart at avoiding clickbait, and they’re seeking for real content that can help solve their problems quickly and easily. They want you to earn their trust.

What can you do if you rely on written communications such as blogs? Write something better?

Yes, in many ways you can overcome lame content fatigue by writing more meaningful content. You can also go the opposite way, and try to make short high impact outreach an objective. For example, shorter punchier emails are easier because people don’t have to suffer through drivel.

Still if SEO is a primary objective for your content, data shows that longer form content achieves better performance if you are writing blog posts. That’s my personal experience, too, and one of the reasons why I publish marketing blogs less frequently, Instead, I focus on more in-depth articles here and on Medium with deeper discussions and more impact.

The research reaffirms this approach. It pays to invest in creating high-value content that does not waste people’s time with cheap click-bait drivel.

What Text Forms Work Now?

This gentleman is enjoying his lunch with a book.

Quality content with longer more expansive and well thought out information works. It’s not easy to one-off a thousand or two thousand word article with quality graphics, images, and videos. An article or blog of this nature requires thought. Creating it usually stretches over several days.

Further, if the content is valuable and unique, then readers stay on site. That creates an opportunity for Google-cookied browsers to recognize the content as a quality piece. While social shares can still serve as a validator, Google’s algorithm isn’t as easy to game as it was during Twitter’s heyday earlier in the decade. Now it rewards the best answer to search, not the most popular article of the day on a social network.

According to Search Engine Journal:

Google wants substance, evidence, and facts from authority entities on whatever the topic may be. Turns out, longer content typically has these elements baked into it. That’s a big reason why long-form content ranks better in organic search than short content.

Average content length for Page 1 results is around 1,900 words, according to a 2016 study. That’s a lot longer than the 200- or 500-word blog posts most writers or webmasters think is ideal.

So does that mean write 1900 word articles? No, it means focus on deep meaningful content. Mine tend to average about 1000 give or take. Quality remains the most important element, though.

If only 250 words are needed to convey a concept well, and in a manner that helps readers, then that should be the length. If I need 2500 words to articulate the article theory, then that is the correct length.

And as with all content today, it helps to have diverse media — pictures, charts, videos, graphs, audio podcasts — associated with the article.

Is Text Dying Then?

More people are moving beyond text towards alternative forms of media.

Many would argue that today’s customer doesn’t have the patience for a long article. Certainly, you do. You wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t, LOL!

Still, using long-form content as the only vehicle for communications is likely a death sentence for almost every consumer brand and most B2B brands. Some of this shift happened because of our declining literacy rates in the United States.

ADD inspired smartphone culture. But it would be unwise to ignore ” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>A recent Pearson article encapsulated this trend well:

The Pew Research Center reported last year that 23% of Americans surveyed said they hadn’t read a single book in 2013. In 2006, that statistic was 16%. The decline in overall reading coincides with statistics from last year’s National Association of Educational Progress report, which found that just 37% of high school seniors were at a proficient or higher level of reading.

My writing friend Marsha Weiner likes to say that the use of emoticons in our everyday social updates is a regression towards hieroglyphics. They certainly leave more to interpretation.

Whether it’s because of attention spans, media preference, or reading skills, more and more people prefer alternative media sources to the written word. I anticipate this trend will only continue as electronic media evolve to make our entertainment and learning experiences easier. This includes visual, audio, and video, or a combination of several or all forms. Marketers need to embrace other media trends to convey their message.

Moving Beyond Text

Marketers need to meet their customers in the media forms they prefer, or they will walk away.

Many marketers avoid talking about creating compelling visuals and how they perform without long. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then why don’t more brands use images to sell their story? And then there is creating podcasts, customer-centric events, and video. They know these media forms work, but don’t seem to adapt them.

Is it because marketers don’t know how to use these content forms? Or because justifying budget seems too scary? Or are they skeptical?

What was the personal best content marketing initiative was this past year? Not the announcement of a new book on marketing AI.

Though the announcement of Welcome to the Machine was very popular, a photo essay about federal workers suffering from the consequences of this year’s federal shutdown worked best. The Shutdown Stories photo essay generated more views, feedback, and deal flow than any other individual piece of content I published online in the past year.

Five years ago, I guarantee you it would have been the opposite. The medium has changed.

Account-based marketing company Triblio offers one of my favorite examples of the evolving nature of written content. The company offers guides to its potential customers about industry issues. These visual decks, much like the content you will find on SlideShare, serve as a replacement for the redundant white paper of yesteryear.

Text plays a critical role, working with graphics to deliver intelligence to the customer. Triblio’s content is very good and easy to understand, surpassing many of the boring articles about ABM I have read over the past five years.

Marketers need to evolve their playbook to incorporate the media forms that most compel their audiences. Yes, text will always have a place in the mix. But increasingly, the visual and audio media drive, with text offering a supporting role.

Welcome to the Machine to Be Released in 2019

A Primer on Artificial Intelligence for Marketers.

Welcome to 2019. This year will see the publication of my fourth business book, Welcome to the Machine: A primer on artificial intelligence for Marketers.

Artificial intelligence represents the biggest buzzword to come to the IT industry since big data and Web 2.0. However, it also carries the weight of dystopian science fiction and negative views of robots taking over the world and perhaps your job. Marketing strategists hear AI — or machine learning as it is known to data scientists — will change their business. What is real and what is fiction?

Readers will learn how to approach machine learning and improve their marketing efforts in Welcome to the Machine. Sign up below for updates.

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You can also read my latest articles on marketing artificial intelligence via my Medium blog.

Welcome to the Machine was drafted in 2018. The book is now in its first revision and editing stage. Expect the book to be released in the second or third quarter of 2019.

Why Write a Book on Marketing AI?

Ever notice how the tech industry positions AI as a heroic savior of efficiency? Yet most people are afraid of it.

Last spring I emerged from a two-year job as a CMO. In order to ensure that I was ready for the current marketplace committed myself to study the latest trends in digital and became increasingly concerned about the emerging AI wave that is spreading through every segment of the communications business.

At the same time, I took on an adjunct position at George Washington University to teach a graduate digital communications class. My research for both myself and the class revealed few texts on marketing and communications AI. The books that I found dealt with AI ethics and impacts on a society level. Two texts were extremely tactical and offered no overarching trend theory or how it would change communications.

So I started researching and writing Welcome to the Machine to fill this perceived need and explain how AI will transform my peers’ careers and their companies. I believe the book will be useful to today’s communicator offering important insights. The book augments digital marketing theory with pragmatic approaches on how to approach and implement marketing communications AI

In my mind, AI represents a sea change trend that will be as impactful on communications as social media was, if not more so. Every marketer and public relations professional needs to understand the impact that AI and data algorithms will make on all aspects of communications, from how they email their customers to qualifying influencers.

I hope you will find this book useful as your career continues into the next decade, and you encounter the certain AI-driven changes ahead.

Blogging About Marketing AI on Medium

I have some exciting news, which is that I am working on my fourth business book. The topic is marketing AI. To better integrate with the larger AI conversation, I have moved my regular publishing to Medium. Below find my most recent blogs on Medium.

No posts found!

Three Summer Articles on Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence was notoriously portrayed by Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith.

To develop a wider audience, I started publishing my artificial intelligence articles on marketing via Medium. Subscribe to get there articles as they are published. Here are three published between July and August.

Artificial Intelligence: The Most Unfortunate Buzzword.

Artificial Intelligence or AI the buzzword suffers from additional unfortunate baggage. Thanks to an overwhelming body of dystopian and hard science fiction, society already has negative notions of AI. Those preconceived notions vilify robotics and AI, recalling a malevolent sentient machine that’s going to wipe out the human race.

Given the current state of machine learning in the space, worries about marketing automation AI and its brethren taking over the world in the next decade seems utterly unfounded to me. However, try convincing the general public of the current benign nature of AI.

That’s what happens when you choose a very unfortunate buzzword to describe your trend.

Read the whole article here.

The Role of Trust in an Era of AI Bots

Permission marketing is not new. But the principles of opt-in marketing are often abused. AI will antagonize rising tensions about privacy and personal data usage.

While marketing as a profession do a great job of talking about ethics and best practices, most marketers do not or can not marshal the internal resources, buy-in, or knowledge to protect their companies from machine learning produced transgressions.
As a result, many brands will have what Brandon Purcell calls a “moral mirror” thrust upon them, showing them and their customers the unconscious biases of their businesses. Unfortunately, these challenges will be aired on the public stage, almost certainly creating a crisis in the worst instances.

Read the whole article here.

Talking About Lucy and Marketing AI

More advanced brands in the marketing segment like Marketo are already deploying their early AI solutions. However, their legacy implementations may prove a hindrance compared to next generation AI-based marketing systems that are rising to compete against them.

One such system is Lucy, a platform developed by a company called Equals 3. Now two years old, Lucy has advanced to become a powerful segmentation, advertising and content optimization tool that’s already developed industry recognized campaigns for brands like BMW.

I interviewed Equals3 Co-Founder and Managing Partner Scott Litman, one of the company’s founders and marketing technology veteran. Here are some of the key questions and answers from our conversation together.

Read the whole article here.

Waning Trust in the Era of Fake News

PODCAST: Conscious Marketing 2.6 – Consumer Trust in the Era of Fake News

Allyson Kapin on Trust

Episode 6 of The Conscious Marketing Podcast lowered the veil on consumer trust in the era of fake news and we ask ourselves, can we regain it? Tech Titan and Social Change Maker Allyson Kapin joins us to look at the state of consumer trust and learn how to mobilize audiences to drive social change.

We cover everything from data ethics to ranting CEOs in a wide look at how marketers and media professionals have dehumanized the customer base that supports us.

See the full show notes on the original Conscious Marketing Podcast page here.

Allyson Kapin on Fake News

The Conscious Marketing Podcast is available on iTunes.

Nichole Kelly on Trust

Geoff Livingston on Trust

You can find Nichole on Facebook here and LinkedIn here. You can find Geoff on LinkedIn here.

Joel Comm on Hustle - It Sucks

PODCAST: Conscious Marketing 2.5 – Getting Off the Hustle Wheel

Joel Comm on Hustle - It Sucks

Episode 5 of The Conscious Marketing Podcast: Getting Off the Hustle Wheel opens the can of worms wide open and takes a look at the power of language. New York Times best-selling author and futurist Joel Comm to take a deep look in the mirror at the hard work theme we keep selling in marketing and ask, “is there another formula for success?”

In one of the most personally revealing episodes to date, Joel discussed with Nichole Kelly and me a behind the curtain of his success and shares how his journey into the dark night of the soul led to the creation of his latest book The Fun Formula. And yeah, we really do talk a ton about work life balance. It was a super fun podcast with a ton of insights about how you can become a more productive and happier person.

See the full show notes on the Conscious Marketing Podcast page here.

Nichole on Hustle

The Conscious Marketing Podcast is available on iTunes.

Joel on Grand Slams

The Truth About Hustle

You can find Nichole on Facebook here and LinkedIn here. You can find Geoff on LinkedIn here.

Marketing bots are everywhere now.

Welcome to the Machine

Marketing learning bots are everywhere now.

Marketers should celebrate the Artificial Intelligence movement or “AI” as the industry calls it. Don’t worry. AI is an overhyped Silicon Valley term that represents more of a natural progression in technology — machine learning — than the birth of sentient beings.

In the marketing technology space, AI attempts to replace many menial marketing tasks. This empowers more creative minds and strategic thinkers to focus on the work they love, rather than the “vulcanesque” data rich tasks that drive them crazy.

The machine learning marketing evolution brings a couple of caveats, of course:

1) First, strategic marketers must comprehend machine learning on macro level and how to use those systems to inform strategy and lead day-to-day tactical exercises.
Second, some more tactical marketing roles will be either replaced or impacted by algorithmic bots.

2) The idea of tasks being performed by bots scares people. But it shouldn’t. Marketers are seeing some of the most time consuming tasks in their business automated, specifically those that revolve around data points. Almost every marketer I know complains about having to do 3x work in 1x space. This relieves much of the pressure.

Still, to not understand machine learning tools antiquates one’s skillset. To stay relevant, marketers need to embrace new technologies and see how they can be incorporated. Algorithms and bots are not sentient. They need guidance to successfully interact with human.

5 Marketing Functions Impacted by Machine Learning

Machine learning bots scare people.
Ever notice how the tech industry positions AI as a heroic savior of efficiency? Yet most people are afraid of it.

Here are the five marketing functions I believe will most likely get impacted by machine learning over the next three years:

1) Community Management

The inability to scale created the biggest knock on social media. Deploying teams of humans across the Internet to reply, engage, and build communities on various social networks remains the luxury of only the largest brands. Further early iterations of automation via Hootsuite and Buffer received low marks from conversation purists who found these offerings inhuman and unengaging.

Current iterations like Social Drift for Instagram level the playing field. New bots and algorithms are let community managers engage in real conversations while delegating mundane tasks of following, liking, and unfollowing fall to the wayside. Further, these new bots fulfill a critical role in identifying and targeting influencers, reducing hours of research.

Community managers should find their tasks to be more enjoyable and less frantic. They will have many tools to make their jobs more fruitful and successful if they adapt the latest tools. Community managers who fail to adapt will likely find themselves falling to the wayside based on performance.

2) Content Marketing

Content marketers will greatly benefit from machine learning. From finding competitive content and relevant source material to optimizing message and delivery preferences, algorithmic programs will greatly assist research and content creation.

Scoop.it is one content research example with its Internet scouring capability. While very helpful, Scoop.it results requires a lot of weeding. This is common with machine learning apps. The early results are not great. The better bots improve as their algorithm optimizes based on human input.

In the near term, AI is unlikely to replace content marketers, simply make them better and more efficient. However, like community managers, content marketers must stay up to date with the latest machine learning tools in order to stay relevant and functional in their jobs.

3) Customer Service

Machine learning bots take over customer service.
Will customer service bots make contacting companies a better or worse experience?

From chat bots and smart helpdesk sourcing of solutions to actual AI bots answering calls and of course, Alexa, Cortana, Google, and Siri-enabled applications. Yes, there will be a need for real live voices, but only for the most difficult problems.

Did you know companies can integrate Amazon Alexa into their app to answer questions and help you?

Unfortunately, this is one of those areas where machine learning will create significant job loss, particularly in call centers. Expect to see customer service costs and jobs reduced significantly over the next three years.

4) Data Analyst

The data analyst, the person who combs through reports to find prescient data points, and then spits out reports for management will likely see their task automated in the very near future. Increasingly, reports will be offered by algorithms, which when steered and customized to a unique business, will eliminate much of the weekly dashboard testing.

Strong machine learning will also identify emergent trends before a human can, too. Lead scoring system Infer offers a great example of superior data analysis, identifying SQL opportunities well before the human-induced lead scoring algorithm used by most marketing automation systems.

A need remains to steer machine learning to source the right quality data points and ensure that algorithms continue to evolve and meet customer and business model changes. The more strategic data scientist(s) will be required for larger enterprises.

In small businesses, the marketing lead will need a deeper understanding of data science to remain relevant and functional. In essence, someone needs to guide and ensure that data analyzing bots are on point and at a minimum providing useful predictive information.

5) Digital Advertising

Digital advertising is becoming a game of bots. It should be no surprise as this is where the money is at. Google leads the AI ad market with its increasingly complex machine learning-based Google Ads solution that cross pollinates multi-channels to reach customers, even on their smartphones.

As machine learning-based advertising platforms mesh with automation systems and CRM databases, marketer interactions with those systems will increasingly revolve around management. Advertising bots will take inputted spend, target audiences and initial creative and then offer machine learning suggestions. There is a great need for ethics here, as evidenced by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In many ways the digital advertising manager will simply approve or correct these suggestions, and then allocate resources as necessary to fulfill them. In the near term, digital advertising agencies can get a leg up on customers by mastering the latest bots and algorithms.

These are just a few of the marketing roles that AI will impact over the next few years. There’s a bot to assist almost every marketing function available now.

But is worrying about job or role replacement the best way to approach the issue? Or should we dive in and embrace the tools provided to us?

PODCAST: Conscious Marketing 2.4 – The Power of Language

Tamsen Webster on predefined meaning in language.

Episode 4 of The Conscious Marketing Podcast: The Power of Language opens the can of worms wide open and takes a look at the power of language. We are joined by marketing industry expert Tamsen Webster to take a deep look in the mirror and discuss the role of self-talk, brand messaging and how it all ties together to ask, “do our words really matter?”

We get personal as we reveal what the voices in our head say, how it finds it’s way into our work, what brands can do differently and the true impact our words have on society. Then we uncover solid strategies for brands to create brand messages that have integrity and consonance with who they truly are.

See the full show notes on the Conscious Marketing Podcast page here.

The Conscious Marketing Podcast is available on iTunes.

Nichole on Inspiration

Geoff on Warby Parker

Tamsen Webster on Congruence

You can find Nichole on Facebook here and LinkedIn here. You can find Geoff on LinkedIn here.