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How AI Can Transform You Into a Master Storyteller

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Credit: istockphoto.com/Erikona

In 2012, Disney invested $350 million in a movie that seemed to have all the elements of a box office success. It was action packed and had stunning visual effects. It was helmed by a star writer and the director of “Finding Nemo.”

When things looked very optimistic, they roped in Black Swan, a UK-based artificial intelligence (AI) firm, to predict whether the movie would be a hit. The firm’s AI algorithm warned that the movie would flop. Disney ignored it and went ahead with their release plans.

The movie, “John Carter,” tanked at the box office with estimated losses of $80–$120 million.

Today, many movie studios are turning to data and AI to improve the science quotient in an artistic field like moviemaking. For instance, Warner Brothers uses the Cynelitic engine, an AI-driven solution that recommends improvements to the script, predicts movie earnings and shares how the movie will perform if it gets streamed online.

When the arts are finally turning to AI, shouldn’t enterprises also adopt AI-driven storytelling to improve their business communication and excite their internal and external stakeholders?

What Are the Keys to Effective Communication?

According to a survey of 400 global corporations, poor communication costs organizations a whopping $37 billion. The same report found that companies with leaders who possess effective communication skills produced a 47% higher return to shareholders over five years.

So how does one improve business communications? You need stories. They are emotional, memorable, and actionable. Storytelling is the key to powerful business communication. According to psychologist Jerome Bruner, “Messages delivered as stories are up to 22 times more memorable than just facts.”

For business communication professionals to excel at storytelling, they must focus on three points:

  • Understanding what the audience really wants
  • Presenting exciting content
  • Stitching together an engaging narrative

Today, AI can help you address each of these challenges. With the help of examples, let’s look at how you can tap into the power of artificial intelligence to tell great business stories.

1. Get Deeper Insights About Your Audience

Every great story starts with a strong understanding of the audience. You must understand what motivates your customers and how they make their decisions.

There are three ways to listen to your audience. The first one is gaining direct feedback by asking them through voice of customers (VoC) surveys and direct interviews.

Let’s say your client responded to your VoC survey with this feedback:

“I loved the product features and super quick onboarding, but the great experience did not continue while using your product. Your support teams have been helpful, but I’m not sure whether I’ll buy again.

At first glance, this seems like mixed feedback with an above-average sentiment. However, AI algorithms can extract deeper signals. They can identify what journey step the customer is talking about, whether that’s the “need identification” stage or “dealing with product issues.” AI can then identify the sentiment of the journey step and recommend specific areas to improve, as illustrated below.

The customer feedback is split by the AI solution into five customer journey steps with a corresponding sentiment for each (green means positive, orange is neutral, and red is negative).

The other two ways to understand your audience are through indirect feedback (reviews on third-party websites or social media posts) and inferred feedback (web page interactions and clickstream data). For example, a next-generation car rental company used advanced analytics on its database of car trips to infer and group customers into 10 archetypes.

The car company used data gathered through indirect means to build upon their customer archetypes. By rolling out tailored offers and communications, within one year, the company grew its customer base by more than 10% and increased its revenues by almost 20%.

Not all stories appeal to everyone. That’s why it’s essential to first understand who you’re catering to before you craft your story.

2. Create Exciting Content in a Jiffy

Once you understand the audience, the next challenge is creating exciting content tailored for them. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. The content needs to be customized for your audience according to the buyer persona and based on their stage in the journey.

Let’s say you are planning a marketing campaign. Can AI write the first draft for you?

Editors at The Guardian experimented with a latest AI tool from OpenAI, called GPT-3. They prompted the AI with a set of instructions, asking it to “focus on why humans have nothing to fear from AI.” The AI came up with engaging arguments in eight different essays.

These essays were edited into a single op-ed and published with the title, “A Robot Wrote This Entire Article. Are You Scared Yet, Human?” The editors say that editing GPT-3’s op-ed was no different than editing a human op-ed, just that it took them much less time.

The AI field is making stellar advances every single day. Today, algorithms can write articles, create pictures, synthesize videos, mash up content and even generate alternate realities.

For your marketing campaign, AI does not just draft the first copy, but it can create videos by letting you choose “actors” generated by AI. It can then synthesize human speech and help you package it all together.

3. Craft a Narrative That Stands Out

Once you have exciting content for your target audience, what should you do next to build a great narrative? Ensure that your story is not flat.

Every story must have an emotional arc.

The emotional arc is also called the “shape of the story.” It is the series of emotional ups and downs that hook the audience until the end, like a rollercoaster ride.

Can we prove the relevance of an emotional arc for audience engagement? MIT’s Lab for Social Machines and the McKinsey Consumer Tech team studied thousands of Vimeo videos to investigate how emotional arcs prop up stories.

Algorithms that use computer vision and audio analytics scored emotions for every scene by the second. With the emotional arc for each story sketched out, they used machine learning to club them into eight families.

Above graphic from McKinsey, “How do emotional arcs improve audience engagement?”

The final part of this analysis was to bring in the outcomes — user engagement metrics such as “likes” and “comments.” The researchers found that the emotional arc of a story, generated by the AI algorithm, could predict whether or not audiences would like it.

Now that we have the evidence, how do you weave the emotional arc into your business story?

Let’s say you’re presenting your quarterly earnings. You could start on a slightly negative note by calling out the historical challenges. Then, move on to some small wins, like things that worked well in the last quarter.

Now, introduce a setback, such as a successful competitor campaign that took away some of your market share. Finally, present the actions you took to recover and score your victory.

In the above narrative, we have conflict. We have emotions when competitors take away the market share. At the end, the conflict is resolved by your actions, leaving the audience with a warm glow of positivity.

You don’t always need dramatic setbacks or spectacular victories for your story. Every situation has some positives and negatives. Contrast them on the right arc and layer them in a way that elicits emotion and action.

How Can You Use AI for Your Next Communication Project?

You might be pitching to an investor with a PowerPoint deck, releasing a new product on your website or making a big announcement to your employees through email.

Whoever the audience is and whatever the mode of communication, the above takeaways apply to every scenario. Start by analyzing who your audience is and what they really want. Leverage the tools to create exciting content, and craft it into an emotionally appealing narrative.

While you go through this process, think of AI as an assistant that helps you simplify things and aids you in speeding up activities. AI delivers its best results when a human is involved in the loop, constantly providing inputs and reviewing the outcomes. This is called augmented intelligence, and it helps you get the most out of artificial intelligence.

Creatively apply these principles in your next business communication.

At the 2020 Virtual World Conference, Ganes presented “How AI Can Help You Make Your Audience Sit Up and Take Notice.” Review recorded sessions by purchasing one or more of the conference recording packages. View all available recording packages here.

Ganes Kesari

Ganes Kesari is the co-founder and chief decision scientist at Gramener, a data science company that helps organizations present data insights as stories. He advises executives on data-driven leadership and helps organizations adopt a culture of data for decision-making. Ganes is a TEDx speaker and Forbes Contributor. Find his latest work here.

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