CPA Growth Trends, Martech

AI in Accounting Marketing: A Transformative Tool with Limits

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to reshape the professional world, including public accounting and accounting marketing.

Its transformative power cuts across a wide swath of professional functions, from data analysis to copy generation. Using AI can save time and reduce costs, but as with any new transformative tool, there are drawbacks. Only time will tell how professional service firms will use AI, but the conversation around its use is already buzzing with advice and cautionary tales.

Lucas LaChance is one of the accounting marketers exploring how AI can add value. He and his practice growth team at Lane Gorman Trubitt, LLC, where LaChance is a partner, tested ChatGPT while refreshing the firm’s proposal templates.

“We did a creative writing day where we broke the proposal into pieces and fed it through ChatGPT by paragraph,” he said.

His team recompiled the results and edited them to improve the copy and ensure a consistent voice. Based on his experience with the proposals and additional experimentation with marketing collateral, LaChance sees potential value in using AI to support marketing goals — with one caveat: he would not try the same experiment using proprietary or private data.

“Ultimately,” he said, “it is marketing’s responsibility to put together a rigorous quality control process that is attached to all AI-generated content. I think it is important to understand who has responsibility for the data and who has access to it.”

One potential solution? LaChance foresees firms with strong technology and IT talent beginning to create their own AI so they can control the data in-house.

Sandina Heckert, director of marketing at Abdo, said that ChatGPT is viewed by their marketing team as a valuable asset.

“There are great advantages with it as long as we proceed with caution and have rules in place for how it is used. We ask colleagues to be careful with what they put in, like no proprietary or client information because there are no guarantees where it’s going,” Heckert said.

AICPA’s Position on AI

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has similar concerns about privacy and security as well as enthusiasm for the versatility of the tool. AI is driving rapid change to audit processes, among other technical accounting areas, and auditors must understand the security risks inherent in reliance on AI algorithms to solve sensitive or complex problems.

When using AI for less sensitive purposes, however, these concerns aren’t as relevant. AICPA is keeping an eye on the ways member firms are using ChatGPT in their marketing, positioning, communications and reports as well as creative applications such as:

  • Developing mission statements
  • Generating ideas and drafting responses to client emails
  • Providing quick feedback to inform responses to questions during conference calls

AICPA fully recognizes the potential of AI and its enormous future impact on the profession. AICPA and its Canadian counterpart, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, address both topics in a foundational publication designed to educate members and provide context for the AI revolution accounting professionals are witnessing.

In addition, AICPA has established a working group under the Assurance Services Executive Committee to monitor regulatory activities related to AI bias. As part of their recommended best practices, the AICPA suggests marketers who use AI tools be aware of the variability of responses and adopt a bias-alert stance in all their AI-centered activities.

The Human Side of Marketing

In addition to questions of privacy and bias, using AI for content generation raises the question, “What happens to the human touch?” AI is rapidly becoming more human-like, but it has miles to go before it can generate prose that is graceful or satisfying on a psychological level. The subtleties of communication remain beyond its reach, and therein lies the magic of marketing.

“If we and someone else were using ChatGPT, it would wind up looking too similar,” LaChance said.

Heckert noted that while it’s beneficial as a research tool and helps get a baseline, marketers should avoid the temptation to let AI do all the writing.

“According to digital marketing experts, at least 70% to 80% of your content should be native and original — something that you wrote,” Heckert said. “With the advent of AI content creation tools like ChatGPT, you have to remember that use of those tools will become widespread. I imagine that unless we as marketers are augmenting what we generate, our content would look very similar to others. And from what I understand, Google Analytics will be able to discern what content is repetitious or is largely AI-generated and will rank those pieces lower.”

Complexity is another stumbling block. Accurately conveying the details of tax provisions and nuanced in-depth business advisory topics exceeds the abilities of current AI tools. AI often struggles to communicate complex topics clearly enough to replace human subject-matter experts who have specialized knowledge and skill. This limits the utility of AI as a content creation tool for knowledge-based businesses that build a reputation based on trust and being perceived as an authoritative source of information.

AI also lags at generating content based on novel or unfamiliar topics. Accounting firms that are committed to providing thought leadership cannot rely on AI to take on this task; its strength lies in gathering and regurgitating existing information.

“The AI platforms aren’t distinguishing between disinformation and legitimate information,” LaChance said. “So all content has to be very carefully reviewed — especially technical content.”

Gift of Time

AI can be valuable when used appropriately. Chief among its offerings is the gift of time.

“ChatGPT saved me from having to block out an additional day to do all that writing on my own,” LaChance said about his proposal content project. “It was a lot easier to have something boilerplate that I could then edit.”

AI is at its best taking on the time-consuming burdens of data analysis, preliminary campaign mapping, and similar tasks. AI often can whip through content creation tasks in just a few hours that might take a marketing team days to complete.

Eric Whittington, director of marketing at Sol Schwartz & Associates, argues that AI’s original content can be just as “original” as content ghostwriters create.

“I’m not the only one who ghostwrites content for other people and organizations to publish. That’s a way of life. ChatGPT probably goes to the same places I do for research, it just does it a lot faster. Using ChatGPT is no different than being a ghostwriter and someone reviewing it and paying me,” Whittington said.

As marketers, we already review and scrutinize any piece of content before it gets posted, and content generated by AI shouldn’t be treated differently. The difference, however, with AI generated content is the time we’re all getting back in our day.

Heckert advises open-mindedness when it comes to AI.

“When Excel came out, people thought it was going to put accountants out of business,” Heckert said. “AI is just another tool; it is helpful, it is timesaving, but you still have to have the expert using the tool and advising. I don’t see it as a threat to marketers. I see it as something that can help improve our capacity to be better content creators and innovators in our profession.”

 

Katie Funderburk, Senior Associate of Communications & PR, Mauldin & Jenkins. Contact Katie at [email protected]

Hannah Kubik, Marketing Supervisor, Herbein. Contact Hannah at [email protected]

 

We invite you to join us for Emerge – AAMs virtual conference that will be taking place online October 4, 2023. This year’s theme is Navigating the Future of Intelligent Technologies and is a great next step for anyone interested in learning more about the transformative tool of AI.

About Katie Funderburk


Senior Associate of Communications & PR, Mauldin & Jenkins

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