Generative AI tools for startup marketing: A practical guide

Published on May 30, 2024

Generative AI tools for startup marketing: A practical guide

You know you should be using Generative AI (GenAI) for marketing. But how do you actually get to faster content production, more engaging social distribution, and better personalized sales outreach? What tools can help? And how do you avoid embarrassing public mistakes?

During a recent SignalFire Mastery Series talk with 35-person content agency Foundation’s CEO Ross Simmonds, we discussed how startups can get the most out of GenAI for marketing. Ross points out that AI isn’t a replacement for marketing departments (at least, not yet) but a force that augments and optimizes existing talent. 

In this guide, we’ll discuss how to get the most out of the latest GenAI tools to reduce manual, rote, and mundane tasks so you can free up you and your marketers to focus on telling compelling human stories that attract customers.

Augmenting the content marketing workflow with GenAI

According to The state of AI in 2023 report, 40% of organizations will increase their investment in AI, and marketing and sales departments are the biggest users. So how do you use GenAI in marketing without damaging your brand or getting shot down by Google for low-value content?

Ross believes the path to success is returning to marketing fundamentals: “We all must put the marketing back into content marketing.”

Base your content workflow on the four pillars of content marketing: research, creation, distribution, and optimization. Here are the best ways to use GenAI for each.

Foundation GenAI Content Marketing Workflow

Research

Collecting extensive information on your audience, competitors, and the current market—not to mention tracking SERP and keyword data—is time-intensive and time-sensitive.

Here’s how you can use generative AI to speed up the research phase:

  • Audience research: Your CRM, sales enablement, and customer data platforms contain a wealth of information, but it’s a pain to sort through. Luckily, the incumbents have adapted quickly, with Salesforce, HubSpot, and Gong embedding AI to quickly analyze and summarize key takeaways. 
  • Topic research: Perplexity, Gemini, You.com, and Poe combine generative AI and web search capabilities to give you in-depth and referenced answers during the research process. Thanks to the citations they include, you can be more confident that answers aren’t just AI hallucinations (though you should still double-check). 
  • SEO research: Frase, Moz, and Ahrefs combine traditional SEO software with new generative AI approaches to provide custom recommendations to optimize your most important content and landing pages for search. They analyze keyword usage, content structure, backlinks, and more to identify opportunities to improve your content's relevance and ranking potential. 
  • Transcription: AI-powered transcription tools from Zoom, Avoma, and Otter make it easy to action insights from meetings, calls, and presentations. To enrich your content, you can quickly scan transcripts and GenAI-written summaries to identify key quotes, anecdotes, and data points.

Create

Content creation is the bread and butter of frontier large language models (LLMs) from OpenAI, Anthropic, Google, and Meta. With multiple methods for training and fine-tuning LLMs, the market is flooded with point solutions and general-purpose GenAIs.

You can now augment your marketing and GTM teams with artificial assistants to streamline all aspects of the creative process.  

  • Brief and draft development: Generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Claude transform the initial stages of content creation. These tools quickly structure notes and scattered thoughts into a rough narrative that you can bring to life.
  • Personalized messaging: ChatGPT and Jasper let you use your brand guidelines, messaging docs, and enablement materials to create custom writing assistants. The content they produce adheres to your specific voice and messaging style. 
  • Workflow optimization: Copy.ai and Jasper have workflows for creating specific assets. You enter information on keywords, audiences, and tone, and the tools automatically create your particular output. They’re great for short-form social posts, emails, and ad copy. 
  • Image, video, and voice generation: Tools like Midjourney, Canva, HeyGen, and ElevenLabs move AI beyond text generation. They take prompts and inputs to create custom images, videos, and sound bites.
  • Copy editing: You can’t replace writers with AI; the same goes for editors. But you can make their life easier using generative tools like Hemingway and SignalFire portfolio company Grammarly to suggest edits to grammar, punctuation, and phrasing.  

Distribute

Use content distribution to increase the reach of marketing assets. Promoting your content on social media, email, PR, and forums is the perfect way to meet your audience where they live. Here’s how GenAI can help you distribute your content more effectively: 

  • Derivative assets: Tools like Jasper, Copy.ai, and HubSpot Remix have dedicated workflows for repurposing webinars, whitepapers, and other long-form assets. They extract insights and turn them into bite-sized pieces of content for social. You can also prompt frontier models like ChatGPT and Claude to break down larger assets.

Hyperpersonalized campaigns: AI tools like Koala and SignalFire portfolio company Tofu tailor messaging and content delivery to individual preferences and behaviors. This technology lets you deliver personalized emails, landing pages, and PDFs for every single customer.

  • Social media management: Predis, BrandBastion, and Letterdrop apply generative AI to social media. They automate content creation, optimize posts for each platform, and streamline scheduling and publishing. They even provide competitor analysis to inform strategy and offer unified inboxes to manage audience engagement.
  • Backlink outreach: Smartwriter, an AI-powered tool that automates and optimizes backlink outreach, analyzes blog content to understand the context. It then generates highly personalized email requests to improve your chances of acquiring valuable backlinks. 

Optimize

Too many companies let their content “gather dust.” You can optimize existing assets like blog posts and landing pages by incorporating rich imagery, updating the copy for conversions, and making on- and off-site SEO improvements. 

  • SEO optimization: Frase.io is also ideal at the optimization stage. Specifically, it compares your assets to SERP competitors and suggests relevant keywords and content structures to boost search engine rankings.
  • Messaging optimization: MarketMuse, SparkToro, and BuzzSumo analyze your web content to identify gaps and opportunities. You can then use GenAI to provide personalized suggestions for improving relevance, comprehensiveness, and audience alignment.
  • Campaign optimization: In addition to helping you manage social media campaigns, Letterdrop automates personalized email content generation and provides AI-powered insights to improve open rates, click-through rates, and conversions. 

Remember that the generative AI space is moving fast, and the title of “best-in-class tool” for each use case is liable to change. Take ChatGPT plugins, for example. This feature allowed users to modify the generative AI with different features, including everything from link reading and SEO to complex mathematical calculations. It was all the rage in early 2023—now it’s gone

Now, let’s examine how these tools can (and do) help companies scale content with fewer resources.

How to reap the benefits of AI in marketing

Major brands like CNET have embraced generative AI content creation. This approach stirred some controversy, but it’s driven impressive organic results so far. CNET still has a policy of using AI, but it’s one of augmentation, not complete replacement.

CNET AI content marketing stats

The beauty of GenAI is that it isn’t reserved for companies with deep pockets and large teams. Ross argues that GenAI tools are perfect for founders and go-to-market (GTM) specialists to create high-quality content assets at a faster clip. Leaders should empower their teams to experiment with GenAI tools to find which work best for their use case and then share the newfound best practices with the whole company.

To keep branding and quality consistent while using these tools, build a set of editorial guidelines to ensure accuracy isn’t compromised by AI-augmented workflows. You can access Foundation’s full 21-item editorial checklist here.

Foundations of strong AI content

As an AI-powered venture fund, SignalFire is embracing AI workflows for our own content processes.

For example, we use tools like Otter to speed up the research stage when creating content assets from our Mastery Series and Mentor Program discussions. Offloading transcription to GenAI gives our writers more time to focus on distilling insights and crafting compelling stories.

We also experiment with text-to-image tools like DALL-E and Midjourney for our graphics. However, standardizing the use of these more general tools is a complex process (and may result in a few extra fingers). One of our portfolio companies, Invoke AI, aims to solve this challenge by letting companies train image generators with their brand guidelines and intellectual property.

Stay up-to-date on the best GenAI content tools

SignalFire is building, funding, and using AI every day. We’ve spent the past 10 years refining our own Beacon AI platform to assist us with sourcing investments and supporting our portfolio companies. We’re currently applying the latest LLM technology in safe and siloed ways to quickly summarize and route investment leads to the right Partners on our team. Generative AI is also allowing us to better recruit talent for our portfolio by instantly assessing a candidate’s expertise despite fragmented job titles.

If you’re looking for a venture capital firm that can help you apply AI to marketing, we offer portfolio companies assistance from our full-time in-house experts like the former CMO of Stripe, former Editor-At-Large of TechCrunch, and several Mentors with deep expertise across GTM. And if you’re building the next critical piece of the AI-powered marketing stack, we’d like to talk to you.

With billions of VC dollars flowing into AI startups and giants, improvements in generative AI happen incredibly fast. What works well today may not work tomorrow—or, in the case of ChatGPT plugins, may vanish entirely. Generative AI gives you an edge at every stage of content marketing: research, creation, distribution, and optimization. The key is to embrace experimentation, try all the new tools, and learn by doing so you’re not left behind.

*Portfolio company founders listed above have not received any compensation for this feedback and did not invest in a SignalFire fund. Please refer to our disclosures page for additional disclosures.

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