What will AI mean for growth and marketing?
Introducing an offshoot newsletter from Heads of Growth called Startup Growth AI.
This is an introduction to a newsletter I'm launching next week: Startup Growth AI.
It features AI tools and growth hacks that startup leaders are currently using to grow.
Subscribe to get the first addition next week!
The most fascinating thing to come out of recent AI developments, like ChatGPT and DALLE 2, is not the outputs. It is not the things it creates or the information it provides. The most fascinating thing to me, is that some people are good at AI, and some people are bad at AI.
By this, I do not mean that some people are better at developing AI than others (although this is most certainly the case). When I say that some people are better at AI than others, I’m saying that some people are better at creating with AI than others.
Growth and marketing, when done well, is creation. We create content, messages, channels and campaigns. It’s a creative endeavor. AI does not replace creation, it opens up new possibilities within creation. AI is an entirely new environment that we can create in. And this creates limitless new opportunities for growing startups.
AI is the new internet
The internet transformed marketing in truly unpredictable ways. In the 1990’s, one might have (reasonably) predicted that the internet would destroy the need for marketing. If you can type anything into a search box and find your product or solution, why would you need advertising?
This is, of course, foolish to think now. The internet expanded the need for marketing by making choices essentially infinite. There’s an infinite number of available products, and an infinite number of messages about those products. It in fact expanded the possibilities of finding potential customers. The internet also created new ways of accepting payment, managing inventory and serving customers, exponentially multiplying sales possibilities.
I’m not saying that AI will replace the internet or serve the same function. I merely use the example to emphasize that we are currently in such a transition between a “before” and an “after”. In that transition, some companies will transform, some will be made possible, and some will be rendered obsolete. You must fall into one of those categories, but you have control over which one.
Don’t get scared into inaction
Major news outlets and media sources aren’t telling a very pleasant story about AI right now. Searching for AI articles on the New York Times gives you a list filled with ambiguous fear, moral uncertainty and general discomfort. It seems that in a tech downturn, pessimism gets more clicks.
Fortunately for the world, it’s quite likely that these sentiments are, like so many past predictions from the NYT, baseless. Still, it's reasonable that people might get startled by something which is evolving so rapidly. Perhaps what's truly unsettling is that for the first time, technology is threatening to replace high-skill knowledge work. And the progress has been swift.
Every day new tools pop up. AI's that generate copy for your ads, graphics for your content and landing pages for your products. It's fixing our code, analyzing our data and writing our content. On that last point, I recently did an experiment where I gave chatGPT the same prompt I had a freelance writer. The result wasn't necessarily better than the human's, but it was just as good. And free.
If you're reading this starting to sweat, let me pause. That's not my intent. In fact, I'm here to make the case that, particularly when it comes to growing startups, we should be ecstatic about the direction AI is going. Growth people who apply their creativity to AI will be deeply rewarded. We should be getting excited when an AI tool comes out that does something better than we do.
Be on the right side of new technology
We’ve been here before
Imagine you are back in the early 2000’s running a business. Maybe you’re a local toy shop, or more generally just a store selling something. You hear rumors that this “World Wide Web” is disrupting everything. People will be ordering all of their children’s toys and personal things online from mysterious retailers, not coming into stores. Hell, kids might not even use toys soon! (both things which, for the record, turned out to be at least somewhat true).
What would you do? Panic? Shut down the business? Complain and lobby against online retailers? Of course not! Knowing what you do now, you’d create an online presence. Maybe starting with a listing on Google so people can find you online. When Paypal becomes available, you’d let people purchase online. When Google Adwords launched, you’d throw a little money at targeted ads for people in your local area. You’d create online Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Soon you’d maybe even realize that you can expand your margins by getting rid of that expensive store space no one seems to need anymore.
In summary, you wouldn’t shy away or fight the internet. That would be impossible. But you also wouldn’t fear it. It would excite you.
This feels like new territory, but it's not. Evolving industries is, in fact, one of mankind's favorite pastimes. But note: it's an evolution, not an extinction. And it's important to remember that with evolution there are, by definition, winners and losers. You can call it survival of the fittest, but it's really who can adapt fast enough to thrive.
Let's take a look at some historical examples:
The printing press: more or less killed the need for hand-written scribes, but produced a significantly grander publication industry, educating multitudes more.
The automobile: largely eliminated horse-drawn carriages for primary transportation, but revolutionized how humans can move around the world.
E-books: people feared e-books would kill the book publishing industry, but in fact they increased people's access to books. It not only greatly expanded the potential market, but made DIY book publishing available to the masses.
The Internet: did not destroy shopping, it merely shifted (and increased) how people shop. It didn’t eliminate “phone calls”, it just added video. It didn’t eradicate offices, it turned any space with a WIFI connection into an office.
This last example I'd like to pause on for a bit and go back to my first thought exercise. If you ever get scared by the progress of AI, pretend it's the internet several decades ago. Do you want to be a Netflix, who evolves into a new technology and invents a new industry? Or a Blockbuster, who refuses and becomes a meme.
Every new technology has winners and losers
Part of the reason new technology gets a bad rap by the media is that trade-offs are not one-to-one. If we were to hypothetically solve limitless nuclear fusion tomorrow, most people working in fossil fuel energy would soon lose their jobs. It’s possible that some individuals will make the direct switch (and to be clear, they’d become winners for it), but most will lose their existing jobs. For these people, this shift will not be positive. But for the vast majority of the world, it will be.
With every previous technology breakthrough, it took years (often many) for the industry to substantially evolve. Look at the music industry. It took decades for audio mediums to complete their lifecycle.
RIAA and statista
That will obviously not be the case with AI. New applications are moving at lightning speed. Keeping up will be a defining feature of the field.
Unlike the Web3 movement, moving fast doesn’t have to be scary when it comes to AI (at least for us consumers). It won’t ask you to invest large amounts of your life savings. It won’t ask you to reshape your personal identity or company mission. Instead, AI says, "let me help you be a better version of you". Your company doesn't need to become "an AI company". You don’t need to become “an AI person”. You just need to figure out how to leverage it to accomplish your goals faster (and perhaps on a greater scale).
The people and companies who are able to do this quickly will be the winners.
How to think about AI for startup growth
If you're a growth marketer or startup founder, now is the time to get ahead of the curve. Most tools are still in the "fun" stage (avatar creators, experimental chat bots, etc.), but this is quickly changing. Already, there are very functional tools out there that will be an absolute game changer for your startup's growth.
When it comes to startup growth, it is perhaps helpful to think of AI as less of a tool and more of new material that is creating a whole new class of tools. This is important to understand.
Imagine you are living in the Iron age, and steel comes along. You do not need to know how to mine steel. Nor do you need to know how to form or shape it into something. Unless you are a miner or blacksmith, you just need to know how to use steel for your craft. If you are a knight, it would mean learning how to fight with a steel sword (ideally before most do). If a builder, you must learn how to build better and more resilient structures, and perhaps build them faster.
So do not worry about knowing more about AI than anyone else, or understanding its mechanics. What you must pay attention to in order to reap the first-mover advantages of AI is to keep a pulse on the new tools, so you can find and master them before anyone else.
Time is of the essence, act fast! The world of AI is now changing at a rate that’s difficult to comprehend, so there is no luxurious "wait and see" period. Not if you want the first mover advantage.
Ask yourself, what is your place in this technological evolution?
The miner - Engineers developing the “material” of AI that tools can be made out of.
The blacksmith - Developers forging the materials into actual tools that can be used.
The carpenter - Craftsmen who have mastered the expertise of individual tools, and can do wonderful things with them.
The populous - people who benefit from things the miners, blacksmiths and carpenters have created and built with the tools.
If you’re reading this, you are almost certainly a carpenter. A very small number of people are miners. There are quite a few blacksmiths, but even more carpenters. And the vast majority of people sit in the populous, hoping to gain some benefit from new things carpenters create. These people typically do not read AI startup growth newsletters, so I’ll assume I’m not speaking to them.
Your job, as a carpenter, is to learn how to discover and master the use of new tools created before others.
How to use AI for startup growth
Be the first to find out about AI growth tools and tactics Real “growth hacks”, almost by definition, benefit early adopters the most. The hard part is finding out about new things early on. That's exactly why I created this newsletter. It's a selfish way for me to find out about new AI growth and marketing tools. I’m sharing them in hopes of finding out about others. Subscribe now
Get better at asking questions and narration If you haven't started messing around with AI tools, start! It's not as simple as asking a question and getting a magical result. You have to ask the right questions in the right way, and be able to tell an AI exactly what to create or generate. This will be a fundamental skill of the early AI movement.
Come up with more ideas Creativity has always been an asset, but the value of it just compounded. You need to spend more time thinking, but also doing activities that encourage creative thinking. Read and write more. Spend time in nature. Start new hobbies and creative endeavors. Get out of your comfort zone. Learn something new. Have discussions with friends.
Experiment regularly Finding the best tools to use has traditionally been a critical part of a growth leader’s role. Traditionally, for the most part, the answers have been rather obvious. No longer! Don't make the mistake of thinking all AI tools are good. They are most certainly not. Your job is to try all of the interesting ones so that your company knows exactly which ones to use.
What are some early applications we are seeing?
Personalization: AI can be used to personalize marketing messages and content to individual customers, increasing the likelihood of conversion.
Customer segmentation: AI can analyze customer data and identify patterns to help growth marketers segment their audience and create targeted marketing campaigns.
Predictive analytics: AI can be used to analyze customer data and predict future behavior, allowing growth marketers to anticipate customer needs and tailor their marketing efforts accordingly.
Content creation: AI can be used to generate personalized content, such as emails, social media posts, and website copy, saving time and increasing efficiency.
Chatbots: AI-powered chatbots can engage with customers in real-time, answering questions and providing support.
Optimization: AI can analyze data from marketing campaigns and make recommendations for optimization, helping growth marketers improve the effectiveness of their campaigns.
👆 (by the way, that whole last section was written by ChatGPT. Not bad for a beta release!)