Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
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AI’s role in content strategy: Insights from Cedar Communications

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Brand-based publishers have a reputation for taking a lead in harnessing innovations to garner insights for their clients. So it is not surprising then that content marketers have embraced a whole new wave of machine learning-driven tools that crunch data to deliver insights about everything from content performance to readers’ preferences.

Rebekah Billingsley is Global Innovation Director, Cedar Communications a UK based company that has innovated in the use of the new generation of data tools. At DIS2020 she will focus on AI’s role in the development of content strategy. Here she talks about how Cedar are using AI based tools as well as offering her views on which technologies will shape the future of publishing.

Tell me about your journey to Cedar? And what is your role at the company? What does your average day look like?

It’s been quite an adventure getting to Cedar. Briefly, I started as a Graduate Trainee in TV, thought the internet looked like it might be quite interesting in 1999, moved to Times Online as one of the founding members and learnt more than should be allowed making things up as I went along. I then spent the next 10 years helping some of the UK’s biggest publishers realise their digital destinies, got into mobile and apps and then made my way into brand marketing which has the best of both worlds – amazing content without the pressure of newsstand sales.

There is now a large selection of AI based tools for marketers. Can you explain what problems they solve and whether companies are using them? What tools are commonplace in content marketing?

I think the obvious place for marketeers to start is with the data tools. We’ve been using data to help us understand user intent for ages. But with AI, we can start to predict user intent and that’s very powerful, especially in the world of branded content where we want them to engage in something beyond the content such as a purchase or a registration. AI is also helping us reduce the mundane and repetitive tasks such as how sort our content. I don’t think the tools are commonplace yet, but they are getting there and the advance of Natural Language Processing via voice and so on is really increasing the odds of it becoming mainstream in the industry.

Your talk at DIS will focus specifically on how AI can shape strategy. What specifically do you mean by this?

Strategy is driven by data and insight. Traditionally, the data provides the human who provides the insight. Thanks to AI, we see much more of the insight also coming with the data because the processing of trends and patterns is faster and broader than we might typically analyse now. For example, I currently review data and use my knowledge and experience to make it into something meaningful. AI will help us go beyond that, using predictive data, broader cultural themes, third party data and so on to ramp up understanding. We’ll be looking much more at what content makes people do or feel beyond spending time with us.

Cedar is ostensibly a brand based publisher – how do you sell the benefits of AI based tools to your clients? Is there often a technological knowledge gap between client and agency?

It’s really easy to because it’s so powerful. When you are able to illustrate what personalised user experiences look like, show how you can position the most relevant products contextually and show what data you can pass back to their business, it generates huge excitement. The technology isn’t the thing we focus on, we focus on the art of the possible. Plus our clients are all very data led.

There is a lot of experimentation with AI based automated content for news companies. Do you think we will see this happening in branded content soon?

Yes I do. I think there is room for this in a lot of utility content and we are looking at this at the moment, though we would have to manually layer our tone and subbing on it. But I don’t think we’re about to see a lot of bot journalists running our editorial teams. Now or ever.

Beyond AI, what other technologies do you think will shape the future of content generally and branded content in particular.

I’m really interested in asset management and how we might start to create really personalised stories on the fly, using different images and headlines depending on what we know about you. I think chatbot’s voice is going to be interesting for us as we are tasked with creating personalities and differentiators. I’m really loving interactive video right now too.

Republished with kind permission of DIS, which brings together media businesses, technology innovators, social platforms and solution providers to share ideas, discuss emerging trends and showcase future products.