I am not a robot: The value of human stories in an AI world

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are profoundly disrupting how audiences interact with brands. Marketers have an opportunity to complement technology with human stories to achieve unprecedented brand relevance and trust, writes Joanne Woo.

If you’ve ever lived in a share house, chances are you’ve experienced a variety of human compatibilities on the scale of harmonious to horrific. Now imagine sharing a house with someone who takes a little time to get to know you, to understand your habits and preferences, and who talks to you in a way that you really like.

This housemate just ‘gets’ you, to the point where you arrive home from work to find a few welcoming lights on, your favourite music playing and a top-up of your preferred groceries delivered to your door.

Real people may not have the selflessness to sustain such interest in and dedication to your needs, but voice-activated assistants informed by artificial intelligence (AI) do and they are already profoundly reshaping how people interact with brands.

If you can order a pizza using zero clicks, or have a playlist automatically curated to match your known tastes, your assessed mood, and even your stored memories … you will quickly come to expect convenience, immediacy and hyper personalisation in all your interactions as a customer.

The application of technology to people’s individual needs is redefining the role of marketing, and it presents huge opportunities if we embrace it.

By connecting with your customers on a deeper level, by enabling them to experience your brand through human stories that already circulate around your products and the people who create them, you can forge an emotional connection to your brand.

In the age of the intelligent hyper-connected consumer, brand experience becomes your product.

The impending house party (devices won’t forget the ice)

Not yet in the thrall of a perfect housemate? You will be. In the US, nearly one in five adults has access to a smart speaker; 47.3 million US adults have adopted voice-activated devices in the past two years.

In Australia, ownership of voice-activated devices will increase more than five times in 2018; that is, these hyper-attuned companions will move in with 23% of the population by year’s end, compared to 4% penetration last year.

And 72% of early adopters say they interact daily with their devices.

We are only just scratching the surface of AI. Very soon, it will encompass every single aspect of our lives.

On a personal level, this either gives you the heebies or elicits a sigh of relief that non-judgmental reinforcements are on the way to help you run your life.

As marketers and communicators we will be inspired by the sophistication of AI to reinvent creativity.

Artificial intelligence and human ingenuity combined have the potential to deliver that holy brand grail of achieving relevance and trust at scale.

So how do we get in step with AI, and harness it for better, more engaging communications?

Make data your powerhouse

You’ve heard it before, but brand communicators today have unprecedented access to massive amounts of customer data, insights and metrics. What you may not yet appreciate is that AI is helping us make sense of this once baffling avalanche of information and developing a powerhouse of value in the form of real-time insights.

For example, data interpreted by AI can now predict how a piece of marketing content or a campaign will perform, and automatically iterate or adjust that campaign on the fly.

Now here’s the thing — the more AI and its learned responses become integrated into our daily lives, the more we will crave the serendipitous, imaginative, intuitive, humorous and heartfelt responses of humans, because computers can’t think like that. They don’t experience life the way we do.

Enter the storyteller

Communicating through stories is now a brand imperative. People want companies and brands to be real with them. Through telling authentic, human-centred stories we can reach our audiences in a way that AI never will — we can connect with them on a deep, emotional level.

Instead of promoting your latest widget, technology or service, it’s become vital that customers can experience the impact your product has had on people’s lives.

Telling stories of how handheld-ultrasound imaging deployed in developing countries helps men and women connect with their unborn babies and prepare for a healthy birth, resonates with anyone who’s ever been an expectant parent concerned about their baby’s wellbeing.

Telling stories about how Australian farmers benefit from hosting wind turbines on their land because it diversifies their income and mitigates the risk of being wiped out by drought, puts a human-scale spin on the whole energy debate.

Human engagement doesn’t have to be constrained by feature-article or video formats. Technology gives us the slate and the means to experiment: a digital-industrial company might broadcast its human inventiveness to customers and future employees, with a competition that invites the world’s coders to dig through data to unravel a mystery. Any brand might release a limited-edition product that shows its human sense of humour — appealing to people’s appreciation of the wry, the sideways, the unexpected twist.

As much as AI can tailor products and delivery, we need to place customers inside the product experience, the real context and reason for a product’s existence.
It’s up to us as marketers and communicators to provide the relatable evidence that “I am not a robot”.

Joanne Woo is GE Australia’s VP for brand and communications. This piece was adapted from a presentation to the Corporate Communications Leadership Forum.


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