Startup storytelling with a human touch in the age of AI
Published on February 13, 2024
Having a simple and impactful company story, with a clear line of communication, plays an important role in helping your brand stand out from competitors. It can also be the difference between startups that raise follow-on funding and those that can’t. In 2024, AI has become part of the strategic comms conversation at large — one that can no longer be ignored by career practitioners.
On a recent episode of Indonesia Digital Deconstructed, Leighton Cosseboom of AC Ventures discussed the future of storytelling with two seasoned communication professionals: Mike Amour, Founding Advisor and Director at Salamander Advisory, and Harumi Supit, Principal at Alur Communications.
Mike stressed that the discipline and art of storytelling are different from marketing in the sense that a brand’s core story creates a strategic leadership message. This message explains the company’s purposes, the value it brings, and what is unique about the product or service.
The human element
Since the boom of ChatGPT and the subsequent tsunami of LLM tools in its wake, storytellers have been integrating AI into their routines in various ways. “Something that would have taken two or three days to research you can do now in ten minutes or a couple of hours,” said Mike, noting that AI is undeniably transforming the way we approach creative work.
However, without talking to people in the company, understanding their inspirations, and seeing the product in action, coming up with a catchy and insightful storyline is barely possible. Mike explained, “That is going to be difficult, at least in the short term, if ever, to replicate through AI. That’s the human brain element, the right side.”
Harumi agreed that, while AI helps do behind-the-scenes work, a higher-value human contact is difficult to replace. “Sitting with the founder or the CEO of a billion-dollar corporation and discussing with them, serving as a sounding board for their ideas, is a process that involves experience, judgment, and human connection,” she said, adding that even a Zoom call cannot replace an in-person interaction, let alone “getting the pulse of the employees.”
The crisis management
A communication strategy can either save the company’s reputation in times of crisis or deepen the damage — especially if the tone is wrong or messages are inconsistent. Answering Leighton’s question about a case where thoughtful communication can help resolve a problem the company accidentally created for itself, Harumi recalled working with an Indonesian payment service OVO about five years ago.
“We had a lot of crises because there were a lot of issues with digital payments in Indonesia, including regulatory and compliance,” she said, adding that although every critical situation is different, a general principle is to have a clear communication line and ensure you know what the story is.
She added that internal communication is often overlooked, while it’s one of the most important aspects to get right. Harumi explained that while taking care of the customer is crucial, it is equally important that people who do business with you understand what’s going on and why. Moreover, when employees are not informed properly, it can spread rumors and undermine the company’s credibility.
Ensuring consistency between the company’s actual behavior and its publicly stated values is another key to successful communication. Mike pointed out that while some years ago corporations could have acted differently from their brand’s public messaging, social media has made this much more difficult to do.
He said, “The company’s ethics and culture are very exposed now and must be reflected in how the brand behaves.”
“It can take 30 years to build a brand and 30 minutes to destroy it online through social media,” Mike added, highlighting the importance of an effective strategic leadership narrative.
The sustainability era
When a strategic message is right, it sets the proper direction for a company. Mike believes we are undergoing a paradigm change. Following the industrial and tech eras, we are now entering the sustainability era, when rational use of resources plays a primary role.
He stressed that companies failing to craft an authentic narrative risk being perceived as engaging in greenwashing. Conversely, with a clear and comprehensive narrative, it becomes easier to seize emerging opportunities.
As a starting point, he recommended crafting a compelling elevator pitch, presenting the company’s purpose. “If each person in your company can say the same thing, then you’re in good shape,” he said.
Harumi advised making sure that people understand what you say, regardless of their background. She suggested simplifying the message to the extent that even children can understand it, indicating that if they grasp it, you are on the right track.