AI Storytelling

This week’s Axios AI newsletter does a good job highlighting the pitfalls in communicating about AI. Problems arise when advancements in technology outpace the ability of technology companies to effectively communicate their value. Given the speed of AI-driven innovation, it’s clear that tech companies of all sizes are having a tough time getting their AI stories to resonate with buyers.  

Here are some recent examples we’ve seen: 

  • The start-up promises AI-driven supply chain optimization, but they can’t get buyers to understand how the AI-optimization differs from what their ERP systems already do. 
  • The established cloud company trumpets AI solutions for new marketing efficiencies, yet their clients can’t quite grasp how these efficiencies will be captured. 
  • The global advertising company seeks increased client spending for their AI platform, but their account managers and product people can’t explain how the AI  platform works.

In all of these scenarios, we see leading-edge technology solutions being undermined by lagging stories. This is certainly not the first time a transformative technology has been hard to explain. Few initially understood the totality of the cloud. But the challenge of AI storytelling for technology companies is different in a few fundamental ways.

Buyers expect to be wowed. ChaptGPT, Dall-E, Bard, AlphaGo – many now associate AI with computational magic, so any AI story that lacks the wow factor is in danger of disappointing listeners. The good news is that clients’ imaginations are waiting to be captured.

Buyers are afraid. Magic, yes. Dark magic, no! When companies first considered migrating data and processes to the cloud, few feared that the cloud might eliminate their jobs as a prelude to destroying humanity. AI stories need to navigate fear, both implicitly and explicitly.

AI is hard to explain. There’s no way around it: AI encompasses such a wide range of phenomena and concepts that make it difficult to understand – which only feeds the fear. Steering the narrative toward simplification and concreteness must be step #1 in developing a truly sticky AI story.

AI is ushering in an era of untold innovation. All innovation – conceptual, technological, and everything in between – is ultimately a function of imagination. In the military, it is said that generals always fight the last war because they haven’t trained their imaginations to picture the next one. AI communications face a similar obstacle – relying on yesterday’s messaging to tell the stories of tomorrow. While the strategic imagination can run wild, the greatest danger is to not run it at all.

Stoking the strategic imagination in unexpected ways, getting listeners to understand and remember a set of core messages that override fear –  stories that buyers can agree with, believe in, care about, and act upon – this is how communications will help companies clear marketplace hurdles and carry the promise of AI forward. 

It’s been said that the biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. Right now, many AI companies are lost in this illusion. Einstein said that “if you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old then you don’t understand it yourself.” If this is the yardstick to measure by, it’s time for AI companies to get generative about simplicity and stickiness in the stories they’re telling.

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