AI’s Marketing Impact? Unpredictable. Building Marketing Strategy for Humans: Essential.

Person holding a healthy green plant in the midst of a garbage dump. Banner image for my 2024 blog post on building marketing strategy in the age of AI.
AI and digital marketing are in flux. The internet is in decay. Building marketing strategy in this unpredictable time requires a focus on humanization.

Humanization is the key to building marketing strategy that resonates while AI disrupts.

In 2008 Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures introduced us to an endearing little robot named WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class). Tasked with cleaning up overwhelming mountains of garbage on Planet Earth by himself, WALL-E works tirelessly while the dystopian world’s remaining humans float around in a spacecraft, placated with endless amounts of food and screen time. Those familiar with the animated movie will remember everything changes when WALL-E discovers a solitary pea plant shoot. Suddenly, there’s hope for Earth and its ability to once again support life.

I was struck recently by how relevant Wall-E remains, and not only because Americans generate nearly three million tons of municipal solid waste annually.  I’m also thinking about the estimated 328.77 million terabytes of data humans across the globe create every day. Of that amount, about 50 percent is video content and 13 percent is social; it includes 333 billion emails, 24 billion texts, and 8.5 billion Google searches, as well.

Like WALL-E, we are surrounded by mountains…of digital waste. If we’re honest with ourselves, much of what’s easily findable online it isn’t very good, meaningful, or helpful. In his recent interview with The Verge’s Nilay Patel, journalist and podcast host Ezra Klein describes the internet as a place of decay filled with “slapdash content contorted just to rank highly in the algorithm.”

And what has come barreling into this rapidly rotting digital landscape? AI, of course—which isn’t nearly as cute as WALL-E.

Today's Marketing Strategy Dilemma

Navigating the digital junkyard

As a marketing strategy consultant who works with a lot of small and mid-size businesses, I must be honest: it’s a sprawling junkyard out there. The situation creates both practical and existential questions around consumer behavior and building marketing strategy during this unpredictable time:

  • Will AI change digital marketing for better or worse, and will marketing experts be replaced by a robot?
  • How can businesses rise above the clutter to promote genuinely good products and services?
  • How will people navigate through online clutter to unearth authentic, valuable content (those elusive pea plant shoots, if you will)?

Amid the uncertainly, I believe good marketers must make sure the real value of the products and services they represent shines through. We need a strategy that’s not just about adapting to AI tools but also setting new standards for quality and integrity in marketing. No matter the tactics we choose, the core must center on being as human as possible, recognizing that true engagement—including engagement between brands and consumers—stems from authentic human connections.

This quote from the recent Success magazine article, Is Grassroots Marketing Still Relevant? Exploring Community Marketing in the Digital Age, gets right to the heart of what I’m talking about:

In marketing, the last decade was about personalization; the next decade will be about humanization.

In this article, I will:

Want just the bullet-point summary? See my TL;DR section at the bottom.

Construction machinery in the midst of piles of garbage. Used to illustrate the decay of the internet in my 2024 blog post about AI and digital marketing.

2024 State of the Internet: in Decay

The internet today is a vast landfill, piled high with an overwhelming amount of content, much of which is garbage. This content over-saturation has made it increasingly difficult for users to find genuine, high-quality information. What’s more, this glut is often tainted with rampant misinformation, which erodes trust and undermines the credibility of online sources.

Adding to the clutter, aggressive advertising tactics and Made for Advertising (MFA) sites have become all too common, severely compromising both the user experience and privacy. Advertisers track every click, and pop-ups disrupt even the most basic browsing. It’s not just the annoyance factor—these practices also pose significant privacy risks as personal data is frequently mishandled or misused.

Practices like programmatic SEO have also contributed to the decay. (Yet another great example of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”) In the rush to climb search rankings, content quality often takes a backseat to keyword stuffing and algorithm manipulation. The result? A landscape where the value of content is frequently overshadowed by the need to generate traffic.

Lastly, data privacy concerns loom large. Every day, vast amounts of personal information are exploited under the guise of customization and convenience, leaving users vulnerable and often, unknowingly, at risk. Bad privacy experiences can significantly damage a brand’s reputation.

The possible impacts of AI: a 'spork' in the road

In the WALL-E “spork” scene—one of my favorites—the diligent, endearing little waste collector discovers a spork during his daily trash compacting. Fascinated and confounded by a utensil that is both a spoon and a fork, Wall-E takes the spork back to his transport-vehicle home for categorization. His mechanical arm hovers indecisively and humorously between neatly organized collections of forks and spoons, unsure of where the spork belongs. What a great metaphor for this moment.

Experimenting with AI is like holding a spork. It has the potential to be great, terrible, or even neither, offering us a very uncertain future. Maybe AI will elevate the internet. Maybe it will degrade it more. Most likely, it will do both in some way. In the midst of it, businesses prepare for a range of possibilities while building marketing strategies that still deliver good outcomes. 

Graphic: spork in the road for AI and digital marketing and building marketing strategy

Better search accuracy and content quality control vs. exponential increase of low-quality content

AI-driven algorithms could significantly enhance search accuracy, making it easier for users to find high-quality, relevant content. These advancements have the potential to filter out low-quality material, emphasizing well-researched and authoritative sources, improving search results and increasing user satisfaction and trust in online information.

Recent articles by Matteo Wong in The Atlantic and Nico Grant in The New York Times shed light on Google’s approach to integrating generative AI into its search engine. Both authors highlight how Google is leveraging AI-powered features, such as AI Overviews and educational aids, to enhance the user experience and adapt to the growing trend of conversational search.

While Wong suggests that Google is positioning these features as learning companions rather than definitive answer providers, acknowledging the limitations of generative AI, Grant reports on the company’s aggressive push to incorporate AI deeper into its products as it competes with rivals like Microsoft and OpenAI. (This push may also harm publishers and creatives already struggling for revenue as well as produce untrustworthy and just plain strange results.)

Unfortunately, despite its potential to filter out poor-quality content, AI might only exacerbate the problem if algorithms prioritize clickbait or sensationalism over substance. This could lead to an increased volume of superficial or misleading information, continuing to undermine the quality of online content.

In What to Do About the Junkification of the Internet, Nathaniel Lubin, also with The Atlantic, seems to lean toward the latter scenario, highlighting the growing responsibility of social media platforms as gatekeepers in the era of generative AI (the US Supreme Court may reinforce this responsibility in their upcoming rulings). As the volume of synthetic content increases, these platforms’ algorithms will play an even more critical role in determining what billions of people see online, potentially amplifying the spread of low-quality or misleading information if not properly managed.

Improved user experience vs. personalization overload

AI could tailor user experiences through sophisticated personalization, offering content, products, and services that align closely with individual preferences and behaviors. This enhanced personalization could lead to increased user engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty.

However, excessive personalization might overwhelm users with too much targeted content, resulting in a sense of invasion of privacy. If users feel constantly monitored and analyzed, it could decrease their trust and lead to a negative user experience. Additionally, the isolation within echo chambers can stunt personal growth and societal progress, as individuals become less likely to encounter and engage with novel ideas or constructive debates.

Combatting misinformation vs. deepfake propagation

AI technologies, such as natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning, may be able to identify and mitigate misinformation. Advanced algorithms can detect false information patterns, flag or remove content that doesn’t meet credibility standards, and preserve the integrity of information shared online.

On the other hand, AI’s ability to create hyper-realistic fake content poses a significant threat to authenticity. These technologies can be used maliciously to spread false information, manipulate public opinion, and damage reputations. To get a sense of how this is happening already in a very frightening way, listen to Real Teenagers, Fake Nudes: the Rise of Deepfakes in American Schools from The Daily at the New York Times. 

Enhanced accessibility vs. amplified bias

Maybe AI will improve accessibility by providing tools that help users with disabilities engage more easily with digital content. For example, AI-powered speech recognition, text-to-speech, and image recognition technologies could make the internet more inclusive.

Or AI systems could inadvertently perpetuate and amplify existing biases present in their training data. This can result in discriminatory practices and unfair treatment of certain groups, further entrenching societal inequalities.

I believe embracing change, prioritizing human-centric approaches, and committing to ethical practices will be the key to being both a successful marketer and a good human at this critical spork in the road.

Navigate AI and Digital Marketing with Humanization

Person holding plant in their hands. Used to illustrate navigating ai and digital marketing and building marketing strategy in my 2024 blog post.

My marketing strategy consulting mantra has always been quality content is a must-have for success. That hasn’t changed with AI and digital marketing. In fact, given the decaying state of the internet, it’s more important than ever, and humanization will be a hallmark of quality.

Here’s how to emphasize humanization in your marketing efforts: 

Transparency is the cornerstone of building trust with your audience. In an era where data privacy concerns are paramount, being clear about how you collect, use, and protect consumer data is essential. Transparency involves openly communicating your business practices (including how, when, and where you incorporate AI), the reasons behind your marketing strategies, and the impact of your actions on customers and the environment. This approach helps to foster a relationship of trust and loyalty, as consumers are more likely to support brands that are honest and forthcoming about their operations.

Empathy in marketing means understanding and addressing the needs, desires, and pain points of your audience. It involves creating content and campaigns that resonate on a personal level. By putting yourself in your customers’ shoes, you can develop more meaningful and relatable messaging. This human touch can make a significant difference in how your brand is perceived, fostering deeper connections and loyalty.

Community Focus
Building a sense of community around your brand can enhance customer engagement and loyalty. Encourage interactions between your brand and your customers, as well as among customers themselves. This can be achieved through social media groups, community forums, and events that bring people together. A strong community not only provides valuable feedback but also amplifies your brand message through word-of-mouth and shared experiences.

Real-Life Engagement
While digital interactions are vital, real-life engagement remains powerful. Hosting workshops or meetups allow customers to experience your brand in a tangible way. These interactions can create lasting impressions and build stronger emotional connections. Real-life engagement shows that your brand values personal interactions and is willing to invest in creating memorable experiences for its audience.

Storytelling is a powerful tool for humanizing your brand. Sharing stories about your company’s journey, the people behind your products, and the impact your business has on customers and the community can make your brand more relatable and memorable. Authentic stories can evoke emotions and create a narrative that customers want to be a part of. This approach helps to differentiate your brand in a crowded market and fosters a deeper emotional connection with your audience.

Value-Driven Content
Content that provides genuine value to your audience is key to building trust and loyalty. This means creating informative, educational, or entertaining content that meets the needs and interests of your customers. Value-driven content demonstrates that your brand is not just focused on selling but is also committed to enriching the lives of its audience. This strategy can help establish your brand as a trusted authority in your industry.

Social Responsibility
Incorporating social responsibility into your marketing strategy can resonate deeply with consumers who prioritize ethical and sustainable practices. Highlighting your commitment to social and environmental causes can differentiate your brand and attract like-minded customers. Whether it’s through sustainable sourcing, charitable initiatives, or community support, demonstrating social responsibility shows that your brand is committed to making a positive impact beyond profit.

By emphasizing humanization in your marketing efforts, you can create more authentic and meaningful connections with your audience. This approach not only enhances customer loyalty but also builds a positive brand reputation in an increasingly AI-driven world.

Flexible, Forward-thinking SEO Practices for AI

I haven’t yet mentioned EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), the sleek, mission-focused robot in WALL-E who searches the universe for signs of life. She takes the movie’s anthropomorphism to the next level, culminating in her heartfelt efforts to save WALL-E aboard the spaceship Axiom. To some extent, I hope EVE is what AI will become: a relentless ally for people trying to find content that’s of value to them.

Once you’ve prioritized humanization, you need to ensure existing algorithms and rapidly evolving AI chatbots can find and deliver up your quality content to the searchers who want it. I’ve already written articles about the following eight flexible, forward-thinking SEO (or CSO, conversational search optimization) practices, but I think they deserve another mention in this context.

Learn about your audience(s)

Understanding your audience is crucial for effective SEO / CSO, and I’m going to take a moment to commit marketing heresy. I am not a fan of personas. (GASP!) They rely on generalized assumptions not actionable insights.

Instead, I’ve shared the “jobs to be done” (JTBD) theory with many of my marketing strategy consulting clients because the approach focuses on the specific challenges and goals driving customer behavior. By understanding what your audience aims to achieve (as opposed to demographic and psychographic traits that often overlook the motivations and situational contexts driving individual behavior), you can tailor your content to meet their needs more precisely. This depth of understanding helps ensure your content is relevant and valuable, improving its chances of being discovered and engaged with by your target audience.

Sales and customer service teams can provide invaluable insights into your customers’ challenges and JTBD. These teams interact with customers daily and can share firsthand knowledge about FAQs and typical objections. By incorporating these insights into your SEO strategy, you can create content that truly resonates with your audience, improving both search rankings and user engagement.

Invest time and energy in messaging

What you learn about your audience(s) should then be channeled into messaging. As a marketing strategy consultant, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of investing in clear, compelling messaging that speaks directly to your audience’s needs and motivations.

A well-defined messaging framework—especially when it’s developed in close collaboration with sales and customer teams—ensures consistency across all communication channels, enhancing your brand’s credibility and trustworthiness. This framework should include a value proposition, key messaging pillars, and competitive differentiators.

As a strategic guide for all content creation efforts, the framework ensures every piece of content aligns with your overall brand strategy and effectively addresses your audience’s needs. Plus, it can also be used to create sales and customer service tools with clear, persuasive language for use in direct interactions with customers. It’s a win-win!

Optimize content for natural language

To optimize content for natural language in the age of conversational search, it’s essential to focus on user intent rather than just targeting specific keywords. Content should be structured to address the underlying needs of searchers through comprehensive, in-depth narratives. This involves creating substantial resources that include detailed explanations, clarifying examples, and varied phrasing to ensure that AI can interpret the content meaningfully. Additionally, adopting a conversational tone that mimics natural human dialogue enhances the content’s readability and relatability, making it easier for both AI and users to understand.

Plus, leveraging best practices in content organization is crucial. This includes using headings, concise highlight lists, and schema markup to help AI interpret the content’s structure and context. Balancing text- and voice-search optimization ensures that content is accessible for both typed and spoken queries, which often differ in form and length. By focusing on the quality and utility of the content, understanding search query trends, and prioritizing personalization and localization, businesses can create engaging, effective content that meets the evolving demands of conversational AI and search engines.

Enhance content for featured snippets

As conversational AI becomes more prevalent in search, featured snippets will likely play an even bigger role in delivering concise, direct answers to user questions.

To optimize for featured snippets, focus on creating clear, well-structured content that directly addresses common questions related to your topic. Use headers, bullet points, and numbered lists to make your content easy for AI to parse and extract key information. Additionally, ensure your content provides comprehensive, authoritative answers to the questions users are asking to increase the likelihood of being selected for a featured snippet.

Incorporate structured data

Structured data, also known as schema markup, helps search engines better understand the context and relationships within your content. By adding structured data to your pages, you provide clear signals to AI about the key entities, properties, and connections covered in your content. This can:

  • Enhance your visibility in rich results
  • Improve your chances of appearing in voice search results
  • Provide valuable context for conversational AI interactions.

Focus on implementing relevant schema types, such as an FAQ page or how-to articles, to help AI deliver more accurate, informative responses to user queries.

Create a knowledge hub

As users increasingly rely on conversational AI for information discovery, creating comprehensive knowledge hubs can help establish your brand as a go-to resource in your industry. A knowledge hub is a centralized repository of informative content related to a specific topic or theme, designed to provide users with in-depth insights and answers to their questions.

By organizing your content into interconnected knowledge hubs, you make it easier for AI to surface relevant information from your site in response to user queries. This not only enhances your visibility in search results but also positions your brand as a trusted authority in your field.

Focus on user experience (UX)

In the age of conversational search, user experience (UX) is more critical than ever. As AI becomes better at understanding user intent and delivering personalized results, your content needs to provide a seamless, engaging experience that keeps users on your site.

Prioritize factors like page load speed, mobile responsiveness, and intuitive navigation to ensure users can easily find and consume your content. Additionally, carefully consider incorporating interactive elements, such as chatbots or virtual assistants, to provide users with more conversational, guided experiences tailored to their needs. (Choosing a poorly designed chatbot, however, can have the opposite effect!) By putting user experience at the forefront of your SEO strategy, you can create content that not only ranks well but also delights and retains your audience.

Diversity traffic sources

While optimizing for conversational search is crucial, it’s equally important to diversify your traffic sources to build a resilient, sustainable online presence. In addition to organic search, focus on other channels like social media, email marketing, and paid advertising to attract and engage your target audience.

By creating a multi-channel approach, you can drive traffic to your site from a variety of sources, reducing your reliance on any single platform or algorithm change. Moreover, by engaging with your audience across multiple touchpoints, you can gather valuable insights into their needs, preferences, and behaviors, which can inform your content strategy and help you create more targeted, effective content for conversational search.

list of 8 flexible, forward thinking practices for SEO as part of building marketing strategy for AI and digital marketing

Embrace Humanization, Adaptability in Marketing's Uncertain Future

At the end of WALL-E, the humans are brought back to earth by the ship’s autopilot, thanks to the plant discovery. Together with the robots, the humans clean up Earth and begin rebuilding civilization, enjoying physical activity, fresh air, and the beauty of nature in the process. 

Will this be a metaphor for how people, AI, and the internet evolve? Hard to say. Any marketing strategy consultant who says they’ve got it all figured out is lying.

One thing I am betting on heavily: organizations both commercial and non-profit will need to prioritize humanization and authenticity to rise above all the junk we’re surrounded by and forge meaningful connections with their audiences.

As I make my way through yet another time of upheaval and change in my career journey, I will be:

  1. Building marketing strategy around fundamental elements of communication and humanity that have always resonated: transparency, empathy, community, real-life engagement, storytelling, value-driven content, and social responsibility.
  2. Implementing SEO and CSO tactics ideal for robots, ensuring content is as discoverable and relevant as possible even though I don’t know exactly how AI will  transform the landscape of search and content discovery.

As we build for the future, marketers must remain flexible and committed to ethical practices. Stay informed. Continuously learn. Prioritize people. Hopefully, we will not only survive but thrive in the world of AI and digital marketing. 


  1. The internet is currently in a state of decay, characterized by content oversaturation, misinformation, and privacy concerns.

  2. The impact of AI on these issues is uncertain, presenting both opportunities and challenges for marketers.

  3. AI-driven algorithms could enhance search accuracy and content quality control, but they might also lead to an exponential increase in low-quality content.

  4. Personalization could improve user experiences, but excessive personalization may lead to privacy concerns and echo chambers.

  5. While AI can combat misinformation, it can also be used to create deepfakes and propagate false information.

  6. To navigate this complex landscape successfully, marketers must embrace change and prioritize humanization in their strategies. This involves emphasizing transparency, empathy, community focus, real-life engagement, storytelling, value-driven content, and social responsibility.

  7. By creating authentic, human-centric content, businesses can rise above the digital clutter and forge meaningful connections with their audiences.

  8. Implementing robust SEO and CSO tactics is crucial to ensure content is discoverable and relevant in an AI-dominated era. This includes learning about target audiences, investing in messaging, optimizing content for natural language, enhancing content for featured snippets, incorporating structured data, creating knowledge hubs, focusing on user experience, and diversifying traffic sources.

  9. As marketers build for the future, they must remain flexible and committed to ethical practices while staying informed about new digital marketing strategies.

  10. By focusing on quality, integrity, and the human element in their marketing efforts, businesses can thrive in the age of conversational AI and search.