In the wonderful movie The Magic of Belle Isle, Morgan Freeman plays a novelist who has lost his passion for writing.
On a visit to the small town of Belle Isle, he begrudgingly befriends a single mother and her three daughters. Each helps him find the inspiration to write again. When Finnegan, the middle daughter, asks him to teach her to be a writer, he repeatedly asks her, “What’s out there you don’t see?”
At first, she answers the obvious: “A cowboy and a horse.” But the novelist explains he’s asking her to “look for your own things.” He wants her to use her imagination to build her stories around the important things and ideas not immediately evident when looking at something.
What’s out there you don’t see? @morgan_freeman asks the question of an aspiring writer in The Magic of Belle Isle. Now, @Robert_Rose asks the question of content marketers via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
I’m struck by that concept as two recent things related to generative AI have me thinking about what’s not being seen.
AI doesn’t make things up
During Google’s recent announcement about the inclusion of generative AI into its search results, it used a poor example to demonstrate it. As explained in CMI’s weekly news update, the search question was whether a family with young children and a dog would prefer Arches National Park or Bryce Canyon.
The AI-infused answer was impressive, but a closer look reveals it doesn’t thoroughly answer the searcher’s question. In this case, the AI-driven engine looked at the available content (primarily the parks’ websites), “saw” what was there, and reported on it.
Now, the bland answer isn’t solely the fault of Google’s new search engine. After all, it can’t make up reasons why one park works better for that family than the other. The lackluster answer, however, points to an intriguing opportunity for content marketers.
What should be in your content that’s not?
In the Google example, the two national parks built their dog-related content with one goal: Explain all the things dogs can’t do. They answer just about any question someone could have about how to stay within the rules.
What’s not in that dog-related content? A page (or even a paragraph) of all the wonderful things visitors can do at the park with their wonderful mutt in tow.
You can ask the same question about your product pages, blog articles, content hubs, and resource centers. What don’t you talk about on those pages? Google’s AI search result demonstration vividly shows how important that currently ignored or missing content will be.
That brings me to my second thing – how AI might help you see what’s not there.
Can AI help us make things up?
Recently, I played around with AutoGPT and AgentGPT, and variants of ChatGPT. When you input a goal, these tools perform tasks to help accomplish that goal. For example, I asked it to read my book Killing Marketing. Then I listed five authors and asked the AI tool to tell me what I should have written about in my book. Put simply: I asked it to tell me what wasn’t there.
Note: It couldn’t read all the books of the authors I asked about because most are not available in ChatGPT’s large language model. Given the results, it based the response on synopses, reviews, and other publicly available material.
ChatGPT and its variants simply predict the logical sequence of words by looking at data. So, while you might argue it answered more generally than my original query, the responses still told me a lot about what wasn’t there, including style and editorial differences among the authors. It also gave many topics and details that weren’t in my book. Some were interesting, such as lacking “step-by-step” topics and oversimplifying “killing marketing.” Other parts of the answer identified popular concepts, such as SEO.
Of course, the AI tool couldn’t – and can’t – judge whether those missing items are truly important. Did I not include that information because I chose not to write about them? Or did I truly miss something that would be important to include in a future edition?
AI, however, provided a unique lens through which I can better see the content that’s not there.
Don’t mistake unanswered questions for what’s not there
It’s easy to mistake “seeing what’s not there” as a question that just hasn’t been answered yet. For example, let’s say you are the content marketer for an educationally focused working farm. You need to attract students, teachers, and families to visit, so you plan an FAQ page about the experience.
You look out the window and see the farmhouse, a field, horses, and chickens. As you make the FAQ, you list some questions: when do the animals get fed, how often do the chickens lay eggs, and what crops are planted in the field?
However, that list of questions doesn’t get into what’s not there. Why don’t cows live on this farm? Why doesn’t the farm grow corn? Explaining what’s missing can sometimes be as important as explaining what exists.
In your role, think about the last month of blog articles. Instead of assessing if they fully answer the questions your target personas might have, ask this question: What doesn’t the target audience ask about that they should understand after reading this content?
Stretch your imagination and use your priority lens to identify what’s important that’s not immediately evident after consuming your content.
Use as fuel for distinction
You fuel your brand’s distinction by seeing – and creating content – for what’s not there. The content may not be a primary part of the buyer’s journey, but it can differentiate your content from others telling similar stories. For example, you might write an entire article about what customers aren’t a good fit for your brand. Or, if you market a park, the distinct article might be things to do with your pet while you’re here.
No doubt, AI’s evolution shifts the search process. Whether it fully transforms search engines or applies personal content filters that answer only what the person wants to know or presents new experiences to become informed, your content will mash up and co-mingle with other content on the same topic.
In any of those cases, the way forward necessitates distinction, and to create that, you can observe and write about what you can and can’t see.
It’s your story. Tell it well.
All tools mentioned in the article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please feel free to add it in the comments.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute