By Jay Acunzo published June 25, 2015

The Future of Content Creation Requires Humans Not Robots

A version of this article appeared in the June 2015 Chief Content Officer magazine in an exploration of the debate between machined and handcrafted content. The questions were supplied by Clare McDermott, CCO’s managing editor. My argument for handcrafted content is in these answers below. Want to hear the machined-content side? Read Ann Rockley’s response at our blog.

What’s the future of content creation?

The future of content creation is a powerful blend of technology and technique. Most organizations embrace the former, so the latter will become a bigger priority in the coming years. Marketers will realize the days of being first and/or loudest are over, and stop seeking shortcuts and efficiencies that hurt quality; instead they will hire, train, and promote individuals capable of being creatively brilliant and prolific.

You’ve talked about the craft of content creation. What do you mean?

I’ve used the term craft  when describing the one painfully obvious part of content marketing that brands and marketers bizarrely overlook or shy away from – the more creative the humans behind the content, the better the piece. Or said in a more pithy way: The robots haven’t replaced the writers, no matter how much brands wish this was a technology problem, not a hiring problem.

And just like any endeavor in which giving a damn is a separating factor, there’s a certain level of craftsmanship behind this style of content marketing. Unfortunately, because we want to automate everything and because we don’t understand (or perhaps don’t care to understand) fluffy notions like creativity, we wind up hurting our own causes.

So instead of blaming the technology or the tactic when things go wrong, I’d like to see us invest more in better-trained, more creative human beings capable of producing truly great content. Those organizations that over-invest in distribution and under-invest in production wind up trying to make dud missiles fly, and when that doesn’t work, they slather more paint on the hull. The great content marketers, however, will revisit the actual circuitry — they start by creating something that can really take off in the first place. They’re better equipped to examine the circuitry of what makes content great.

Does scale and automation kill craft?

It depends on what you mean by scale since that’s a relative term. Does content marketing scale like PPC can scale? Absolutely not! You can’t rip out the human component to content and automate the core competency, which is producing media and telling stories.

But can technology and good process and training help you scale content beyond what you’re likely doing today? Yes, a million times, yes. On the tools side alone, we’re already seeing more companies and resources emerge to help with the physical content creation, which supplements all the tools already available for workflow, distribution, and analytics. Some of my favorite content creation tools and resources include Canva and for design, Directr for video, Unsplash for photography, and Grammarly, Byword, and Hemingwrite for writing.

But without the right mentality, marketers equate scaling content marketing with taking shortcuts and producing more volume at the expense of quality. For these organizations, scale essentially means shoveling more coal into the engine of a crappy content factory. With the SEED approach, scale is about consistency, quality, experimentation and testing, and better, deeper connections to more of their audiences. If they increase volume, it’s because they’ve mastered quality output and have goals to achieve both in serving an audience and in converting them.

These four elements – something I call the SEED approach – are essential elements of great content creation.


Do you understand the actual, practical approaches to creating great content? Are you trained to write, design, shoot video, and produce audio from a creative and technical standpoint? Have you practiced? Have you mastered the right tools and the right techniques?


Are you finding and stealing from – yes, stealing from – enough inspirational sources? Do you read 100% industry blogs or are you expanding your repertoire with your content and experiential intake throughout your week?

The very best way to stay well-rounded with your intake is to learn and borrow from all kinds of sources. Creativity is about idea generation, which is a learned skill, but starts with the ability to connect multiple, seemingly disparate things.


Is this a chore or do you find actual enjoyment in the process of creating content? Great content marketers naturally love to produce, but great leadership can help motivate a team to improve its production process regardless of its natural outlook, whether by celebrating creative risks and quality work or by communicating workflow tips and providing training. This is all in the name of both quality and quantity, both creativity and metrics. When you feel you’re doing meaningful work and actually enjoy producing content, your extrinsic goals – whether calculating the total output, hitting metrics, or growing your career – are also better served.


This is all about the desire to keep learning and experimenting. Are you in constant acquisition mode with your own skills or do you master one medium and stop? You’ll get steamrolled by the wave of innovation constantly moving our industry forward. Do you hack away at side projects or take creative risks for your job or do you constantly look backward at what worked and merely try to replicate and play it safe? To succeed in this industry, you need to constantly reinvent yourself and your output.

If the answer to any of the above was, “No, we don’t have that on our team,” you should seek training, install processes, or hire to fill those gaps. And while technology can certainly help and support that, the core is still very much the domain of living, breathing humans who create great work.

Ready to create the machined-content side of the debate? Read Ann Rockley’s response in the Intelligent Content blog. Want to learn more about intelligent content? Sign up for the weekly email newsletter with exclusive content from CMI Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Please note:  All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team.  No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

Author: Jay Acunzo

Jay Acunzo is obsessed with the stuff INSIDE the content we create. He’s the founder/host of Unthinkable, an audio documentary series for create-first content marketers. Each week, he delivers a new hypothesis about what it takes to create exceptional content, packaged as irresistible stories. He’s a former digital media strategist at Google, head of content at HubSpot, and PR writer at ESPN. He speaks, writes, leads workshops, and hosts/produces shows for brands. Say hi on Twitter & Snapchat @jayacunzo.

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  • Adam P. Newton

    Thanks for this article, Jay. It’s exactly what I needed to read today. Your words challenge, inspire, and provoke me to create better content. I especially enjoy SEED.

  • Noz Urbina

    I find this debate to be a false dichotomy.

    It drums up excitement and I can see how the topic needs addressing, but having two different authors give two opposing sides I think is actually misleading and counter-productive. No offence to either author involved or their skills of course. Both articles are good work in their own right. I’m talking about the over-arching concept of pitting them in contrast.

    No one (that I’ve ever heard of) endorses the automatic distribution and facilitated reuse of crap.

    Intelligent content strategies are still content strategies, and if your content marketing material is bad, then it’s not going to meet strategic goals or delight users. That is always step one. In Ann’s article, she talks about all the great things you can do with a webinar if you put some intelligence in it and then automation around it. Does she really need to specify, “By the way, make sure it isn’t a bad webinar to begin with!”?

    I think that when people talk about automation, this topic of “human v machine” always comes up. It’s a red herring. We switched at one point from typewriters to these computer thingies that had ‘automagical’ formatting and edit control – even colours! – right in creation tool. At the time, there were those that bemoaned the distraction from the true creative art and craft of writing which resides in the words, not the tools.

    Yeah, sure. But the millisecond that all that great creative output is recorded in some audience-consumable way, you’re going to need a strategy, methodology, tactics and platform in place to circulate your message around an extremely fast-paced and more-competitive-than-ever world.

    To be more concrete: If you words are trapped in the wrong format, then no matter how great they are, you’re impeding people from enjoying them. Just like we can no longer launch a content marketing campaign in the medium of fax machines – no matter how stellar the copy – we can no longer afford for brands to assume that everything will work out great in the governance, curation, syndication, distribution and surfacing parts of the process provided they’ve poured enough heart and soul into the creative process.

    You said it yourself:

    “But without the right mentality, marketers equate scaling content marketing with taking shortcuts and producing more volume at the expense of quality.”

    That would definitely be the wrong mentality. We need to help the creatives get their great work ready for the modern automation-driven world. No one is implying that we can focus on automation at the expense or in the absence of good source material. Teaching someone new skills doesn’t demote their old ones.

    You need both sides of the coin: great content, properly prepared for modern distribution. Fail on either, and you’re sunk. Let’s not pick sides, let’s bridge the gap and work together.

    • Michele Linn

      Hi Noz,
      As you likely know, I agree that you need both sides of the coin. Perhaps debate was a misleading word for these complementary articles, but our intention is to help people see that you need handcrafted content with an approach to scale. Too many people we talk to are focusing on one side on the other. At CMI, we’re all for helping people bridge the gap. Thanks for your perspective!

      • Noz Urbina

        I do know. Frankly, CMI are a world leader (dare I say, *the* world leader) in doing exactly that bridging. I don’t mean to sound negative about what really are two complementary and excellent bits of work with lots of lessons in them. It’s more a case, as I mentioned, that the idea of making these alternatives routes, as opposed to parts of the same overall process, is something of a common pitfall in discussions. It’s emotionally and intuitively natural to wonder about what we loose when technology is added. I only want to add to the dialogue that one point: this isn’t reconciliation of opposing viewpoints, it’s unification of parallel skills that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. I am thankful to the contributors for their input and to CMI for the (and this isn’t hyperbole) pivotal role it’s playing in uniting these disciplines and encouraging the kind of collaborative work the market will demand of us all going forward.

        • Michele Linn

          Thanks for the kind words, Noz. We are doing our best to help bridge the gap, and it’s no small part because of your efforts and those like you who bring these worlds together.

          BTW, I really like this sentiment: “This isn’t reconciliation of opposing viewpoints, it’s unification of parallel skills that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.”

          • Jay Acunzo

            Hear hear! It’s really hard to balance both. As a result, you could build a successful team with people that CAN balance both, as individuals. Or you can build a successful team with a nice mix of people who are writers/creators at their cores along with people who are marketers/technologists/analytically driven folks at their core. But among the many reasons CM is tough is because the very best are able to move between both halves of the brain, if you will, and not every profession requires that.

          • Noz Urbina

            Definitely. That’s core to our strength and our challenge.

          • Noz Urbina

            Thanks and it’s my pleasure to participate.

            And that’s a phrase I’m using a lot these days actually! It applies to so much of what we do.

        • Jay Acunzo

          Hey @nozurbina:disqus – I actually agree with your sentiment, which I hopefully hinted at in my very first sentence about technology AND technique. Can’t be simply writers writing for its own sake, nor can you be automation-happy and forget what you put through those pipes or whether it’s worthy of people’s time.

          But as I say, the technique part (the understanding of how to create content well, not just market well) needs a bigger seat at the table. I think our industry spills too far to one side in my view, and that side is typically to cut corners on production and creative and put budget towards other things. In being so loud about the other side, I’m not trying to say people should drop the intelligent content stuff or the tech. I’m simply hoping to balance the scales a little bit. There’s (still, sadly) too much advice trending AWAY from good content and good marketing. I think people – myself included – struggle with the gray but like the black and white.

          Oh … and that black-vs-white makes for a good debate on blogs, too 😉

          • Noz Urbina

            A little friction does fire things up, I can’t agree more. We just need to be careful with how much fuel we pour on which fires. : )

            Even though I come more from the side of helping automation and scalability, I’d agree with your take on the problem. I am often asking “Have you quality checked this stuff? Is it on message? Is it audience-appropriate? Context-and-channel appropriate?” and getting poorer answers than I should.

            I am out there to help organisations leverage modern processes to get their messages out, but the good content bit comes first! It’s concerning and disappointing when I’m invited in to help get a message out all over the globe and the brand isn’t even clear if it’s the right one.

            What I do NOT want my specialism to become is the black magic SEO techniques of days gone by. Helping brands “game the system” by tricking or relying on machines is maybe low-hanging fruit – but it’s a totally short-term game plan (I feel like I’m speaking in buzzword bingo now… sorry). Scalable isn’t really scalable if it collapses once either the machines get smarter or the competition adopts the same cheap tricks as your brand.

  • Philip Green

    The key for content marketing nowadays is that either be the first and loudest or first or loudest are well gone, You cannot give deadlines and create a new thing. Manifestation has no time limit, it gets done or it won’t. Using the tools will enhance the vocabulory but will reduce a human touch, which is what the people are searching for today. Content marketing is one evergreen field that will be beneficial for all, the one who create, the one who distributes and the ones who consumes.

  • Jay Acunzo

    Hmm this “cool tool I found” appears to be your company. Why not just say so?

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  • Tap Analytic

    I don’t think Automated tools are best for creating content even Content Spinning tools are waste(They are the cheapest examples of Bad Tools for content) Whenever i used the Tools for spinning or filling up the content They made horrible mistakes for using synonyms they were terribly trained for that purpose.

    • Noz Urbina

      Hi TA,

      See the discussion between Jay, Michelle and I below. The kind of ‘automation’ we’re talking about is *not* for replacing human creation of content. It’s about the automation of gathering content into collections, helping human authors find content, and allowing content written by people to be automatically filtered and transformed for more personalised display. Any automation applied should never be at the expense of output quality. Machines don’t create (except for things that require little-to-no creativity, like stating sports scores) and they don’t create great, readable content for human consumption. Machines are excellent, however, at assisting human authors do their job by syndicating, finding and reusing their content across a wide variety of channels, formats and audience personas.

      Quality is job one, as they say.

      • kaylyred

        Or, “Quality is job one,” as Ford Motor Company says. 😉

        • Noz Urbina

          I didn’t want to seem affiliated. ; ) They’re not a client.