Storytelling has always been an integral part of business—from the first sales pitch in ancient open-air markets to the era of Madison Avenue advertising behemoths to today. In business, it is stories that drive sales, company brands, and marketing campaigns. Today, stories dominate online content creation: from consumer reviews to company blogs. And in the era of authenticity and transparency, storytelling is also helping to build and sustain people-centered business culture.
We are now entering a new era of corporate storytelling—AI storytelling in business. While hardly new and yet still evolving, this is a moment when the influence of AI on business and business storytelling is exploding. Understanding where we are at this moment may be the key to understanding how AI storytelling will influence business going forward.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- The differences between predictive AI and generative AI.
- How businesses have predominately relied on predictive AI and data storytelling up to this point.
- The next phase of business storytelling via generative AI.
- The top advantages of AI storytelling in business.
- Plus, the ethical concerns and considerations.
Predictive AI vs generative AI
There are two primary forms of AI storytelling in business: predictive AI, which is used for data storytelling, and generative AI, which creates content.
Predictive AI has been in our everyday lives for the longest period of time. Examples of predictive AI include customer service chatbots, personalized advertising from our web searches, and of course, “predictive text” in emails, messaging, and web searches. In a digital world run on data, predictive AI has become the backbone of business. It collects data in order to track patterns and make predictions regarding business trends, consumer habits, and even employee performance and needs.
Generative AI, on the other hand, creates—or generates—content. Its entrance into the mainstream consciousness as a “storyteller” came in 2016. In the last 6-7 years it has seen huge advances, and in November 2022, it exploded on the scene with the launch of ChatGPT. This has led to much fascination but also concern in the business world: If generative AI is now able to carry out creative job functions, would it render humans unnecessary in divisions of business previously considered safe?
If generative AI is now able to carry out creative job functions, would it render humans unnecessary in divisions of business previously considered safe?
The answer thus far—and for the foreseeable future—is no, according to many experts. While ChatGPT and other similar apps have amazing capabilities and can certainly assist us, we are a long way from when generative AI doesn’t require human collaboration. The role of storytelling in business is to create connections—often through the use of metaphor. But AI cannot understand or create metaphors; it doesn’t have poetic license installed just yet. And most importantly, it is missing the humanizing elements of empathy and emotion. AI can think, but it cannot feel.
Predictive AI: How businesses have historically used data storytelling
Data storytelling has been the primary example of AI storytelling to date—most often a collaboration between AI and humans, and has been part of business strategy and culture for years. Data is collected through predictive AI and used by research and data analysts to create narratives that can be easily understood by stakeholders. Given the increasing importance of data and data storytelling, some companies have even created data storytelling positions or included data storytelling skills as a requirement for research and data analyst positions. Human collaboration is not only necessary to create data stories but to provide data oversight because the algorithms that gather and assess data are subject to the same biases and foibles as the humans that create them.
Predictive AI with data storytelling is crucial to almost all facets of business, including:
- Sales: Storytelling grounded in data helps sales teams cultivate stronger connections with customers. Today’s predictive AI can help create personalized and targeted profiles of ever smaller groups of, and even individual, consumers. This helps sales teams develop stories that evoke empathy and build trust on an increasingly personal level for each customer.
- Marketing: Like with sales, predictive AI helps create marketing campaigns that address larger business trends, but also identify and address the particular needs of different markets.
- Business growth: Data and data storytelling are the keys to business growth. The data helps to effectively and efficiently identify trends, areas for improvement, and business performance in different markets—not only the what but the why.
- HR and HCM technology: Predictive AI and data storytelling are crucial to HR teams and HCM platforms. HCM software, with the help of predictive AI, is evolving to be able to recognize patterns in employee performance and feedback on HCM dashboards. It is able to sketch a basic story regarding individual employee needs. Predictive AI helps HR teams identify talent to be developed, and employees that are thinking of leaving the company, recognize signs of depression and burnout and assess feelings regarding inclusivity and belonging. HR professionals can use this data to create stories that help build connections and empathy one-on-one and within culture as a whole.
Generative AI: The next phase of AI storytelling in business
The greatest benefit of easily accessible generative AI for business is its potential to create more time for collaboration and innovation, by assisting in the completion of everyday content creation. We know storytelling is crucial to business as the most effective means of communicating information, building culture, and connecting with stakeholders; but creating stories can be daunting and time-consuming for some and stories are not always used to their full potential. Generative AI apps could be the key to expanding and standardizing usage. While we all have the ability to tell stories, we are not all trained at a professional level. And even seasoned storytellers often need help to begin a tale. Generative AI can provide guidance to novices and break through writer’s block when the experts get stuck. But storytelling cannot be left entirely to applications. Stories must be completed by the employee, ensuring the “humanizing” elements that create empathy and connection with the listeners.
Businesses that shirk AI may eventually fall behind.
AI storytelling in business is also not limited to ChatGPT or other similar written content creation apps. In her blog for Ukrainian-based company, Blue Carrot, Christina Khomyn writes about new apps that are emerging that can be easily used to assist with internal video production, generate images and animation, and create presentations.
Many of these new applications can also translate (Synthesia), subtitle (Descript), and generate voiceover (Lovo) content. This can be an invaluable tool for disseminating information in global companies and certain customer service situations. The image creation and animation capabilities can allow team members to create visual stories. These apps still have creative limitations but can be playfully used as tools with human oversight.
Information disseminated in story form—especially when combined with visual storytelling—is more engaging and therefore more memorable and better retained. This is storytelling 101.
Examples of internal content that can be created using new generative AI include internal company promotional videos and materials; HR information dissemination; team building; and sales and marketing strategy pitches.
The top 10 advantages of AI storytelling in business
So what are the benefits of incorporating AI storytelling into your business strategy? Here are 10 ideas to consider.
- Predictive analysis and forecasting for business growth.
- Streamlined production and content creation.
- More time for collaboration and innovation.
- Assisting marketing and advertising to create the strongest content and strategies and more targeted campaigns.
- Breaking down language barriers for everyday business and storytelling (internally and externally) for HR, customer service, and global companies.
- Enhancing and improving the customer-centric approach to service and sales by creating more personalized connections and boosting sales.
- Stronger cybersecurity and fraud prevention.
- HR assistance in talent and recruitment sourcing.
- Personalization of employee evaluations by creating opportunities for connection and the ability to gauge emotional states/needs.
- Storytelling assistance by creating a foundation or outline for stories when you don’t know where to start.
The ethical concerns of AI storytelling in business
Despite its many advantages, there are ethical concerns to consider when incorporating generative AI into your business strategy.
The privacy and data security issues around collecting data that were already under consideration with predictive AI grew exponentially almost overnight when generative AI went mainstream. Generative AI could potentially expose information—or use proprietary information—while creating content.
Humans are also needed to counteract another primary concern when using generative AI to create content. Our world, and the internet, is rife with conscious and unconscious bias. AI cannot evaluate and recognize bias. Therefore, all content—especially business-related storytelling—must be created in tandem with humans to ensure that bias and inappropriate information are removed.
While the content created with apps like ChatGPT and DALL-E2 are amazingly advanced, they still need human interaction for the foreseeable future. Therefore, businesses must ensure that employees never rely completely on AI to create new content. Businesses and their employees must be especially diligent around the ethical concerns regarding AI-created content including removal of inappropriate information; avoiding the bias inherent to information gathered online; and privacy and data security concerns.
The time is now to embrace AI storytelling in business
Clearly, using generative AI to help create stories or spark inspiration is advantageous. Businesses that shirk AI may eventually fall behind, so business leaders should encourage all employees to use it. It will increase productivity and output and quell conflict and resentment between employees who use AI and those who do not.
Generative AI can be an invaluable asset to businesses, their teams, and employees, especially when it comes to storytelling—whether in branding, consumer sales, or building business culture. It shouldn’t be feared as a storytelling assistant. People will always be needed to work in tandem with generative AI to ensure accuracy and polish and to be the vigilant ethical watchdogs that safeguard against bias and inappropriate information.
And most importantly, people will always be needed to preserve the aspects of storytelling that make it invaluable to business—the “humanizing” influences that ensure vulnerability, empathy, and connection.