CT No.3: Our hacking days are over.

Can you actually hack creative work?

Here’s the first-ever Content Technologist audience survey. Fill it out, s’il vous plaît.

In this email:

  • Content Innovators Happy Hour recap

  • Thoughts on AI and writers

  • Review of interactive content tool Ceros

  • Newsy news news links


On Monday I was happy to host inaugural Content Innovators Happy Hour here in Minneapolis, with former colleagues and new friends gathering in a basement on a rainy summer evening. We heard from three incredibly innovative new services, two innovating with artificial intelligence and machine learning. The third emphasizes one-to-one connection and its magic lies in physical space. All of them radically change the way we produce and consider our content.

Check all three services out:

  • FashionBrain, produced by Runway Manhattan, an immensely cool piece of AI that automatically labels runway and event photos, potentially revolutionizing the fashion and celebrity publishing industries.

  • Lucy, produced by Equals3, which crawls a company’s internal unstructured data (slide decks, videos, subscription services, you name it) and answers the question “Where is that slide I made 6 months ago with the perfect info?” Every workplace I’ve ever been in could use Lucy.

  • Soona, a same-day custom content studio that produces photos and videos cheaper than stock, all while giving their customers an amazing personalized retail experience. Soona is currently located in Minneapolis and Denver, with some services available nationwide.

Thanks to Markus Müller, Scott Litman and Liz Giorgi for presenting and thanks to everyone who came out. There will be more Content Innovator happy hours in the fall, and they will be open to anyone in Minneapolis who considers themselves a content innovator. Stay tuned.


Last week I linked to a story about Chase is using AI technology Perado, which produced some ads that performed better than humans’. Mostly cool! One of my writing-focused Slack groups called out this statement from Perado’s CEO:

“To the creative community, the marketing community, this brings accountability and data-driven insight,” he says. “If you go to any marketing creative out there and you ask, ‘How did you come up with that, why did you use that word and not that word,’ they cannot actually answer.”

Hoo boy. That reminds me of the kid in high school English who argued that maybe Shakespeare really wasn’t intentionally putting his words and his stories together that way. Or the folks who insist that the green light in The Great Gatsby is definitely just an accidental choice. And the people who somehow read The Yellow Wallpaper and thought it was a story about interior decorating. As if great writers just happen upon brilliance. As if you can hack your way out of the work of writing.

Again, if I meet a writer who actually enjoys iterating on Google Ads copy ad nauseum, I’ll be shocked. We can all agree that in this instance, the AI-generated ad copy in the Chase example was better than the human-generated copy. My issue is the tech CEO thinking he can hack his way out of working with writers. What working writers can’t explain why they chose the words they did?

The answer: underpaid hacks.

Most of us have been an overworked, underpaid hack at some point. Writers who enjoy their creative work are happy to explain the nuances of every creative choice. Professional creators will bore you to tears with their explanations because they are so happy you finally asked.

Great content creators know why they chose every detail. So how do we change views of business leaders with the perception that we don’t know what we’re doing? As creators we have to foster these conversations about new technology, rather than dismissing them. Some suggestions for (understandably) reticent creatives:

  • Embrace innovations that help you do your job better. Give new tools and technologies a chance. Use data! All the time! The purpose of most AI is to take away the boring content stuff to allow you to be creative. Demonstrating that you’re knowledgable about new tech will cultivate better conversations in the future.

  • Be aware of how and when others hear the stories of your process. Put your creative process stories in front of leaders… and read their reactions. Throw some business value in your explanations. Make it clear you have a good reason for telling your story.

  • Open your work self to iteration and collaboration. There are no auteurs in the content mines. Your brain alone is likely not going to drive any results. If the work you’ve created is not usable, come up with more. Ask for help. Find ways to be creative that aren’t owning every sentence. Own the idea; collaborate on the craft.

Remember: It’s not a writers vs. AI argument. There’s a wide world of content out there for someone who is willing to try something new.

Seriously, let the robots do the boring stuff. Let them label photos. Let them make lists of words to incorporate in your copy — it’ll give you parameters to be more creative overall.

And if you’re in a leadership position: hire good writers. Pay them well. Good content pays dividends.


The gold standard in interactive content: Ceros

If I were an interactive designer, I would be gunning for Ceros. And if you work in the content industry, you’ve probably been targeted for a demo. Ceros is the George Clooney of interactive content. It’s ubiquitously good-looking and very likable.

Ceros creates beautiful interactive content marketing — without having to work with any code. It’s fantastic for graphic designers well-trained in complex software Photoshop and Illustrator who haven’t yet learned the intricacies of interactive code (because those are two wholly different skills).

At a glance: Ceros Studio

To keep reviews digestible, The Content Technologist uses an icon-based review system. Find the full legend here.

Ceros Studio is a tool for creating experiences, rather than a creative service. Whereas many code-free creative presentation tools still require you to think with the logic of a programmer, Ceros is analogous to a Photoshop in its complexity, learning curve and friendliness to traditionally trained designers. Users who want the best and most creative results you should be comfortable with making something from a blank page.

Tools with a broad range of creative options require time to learn and implement. Ceros has account managers and training available, and for immediate results, they have their own creative team that builds really cool experiences. And recently they’ve added:

The biggest drawback: If you’re designing for desktop and mobile, designers are strongly advised to create and tweak device-specific experiences. And I’ve yet to see a low-code but creatively powerful tool that understands responsive design without a lot of tweaking… but if you know of one, give a shout!

You should still plan your Ceros content. You should still brief and wireframe. But you can make cool stories that are different and engaging and interactive.

Ceros is an investment. But the thing is, years in… Ceros experiences still feel new. It’s a rare interactive tool and service that doesn’t get old to a content pro. So… maybe instead of George Clooney, it’s the Kate Bush of interactive tools.


This week in content tech news

Housekeeping notes live here now.

Another link to the reader survey! I’d love to know what you think.

If you like this newsletter, tell a friend. Tell your colleagues. Press the little heart at the beginning or the end of the email.


Free strategic advice for the week

Make sure you’re taking service into account when hiring agencies, tools, vendors, etc. You always get what you pay for.