Insights and Observations

AI Might Change How We Buy. Will it Kill Brand Storytelling?


Whether we like it or not AI is on its way to change our world. While it’s impossible to predict how AI will change our world, lately I’ve been wondering how it’ll affect brand storytelling. Branded storytelling has been proven to be an effective form of marketing to build customer loyalty, retention, and grow an audience but where does it fit in the future with AI? Will it become obsolete or paramount? 

I should first mention that none of the following predictions about AI are my own. Liz Esche, who joined me on the Backcountry Marketing Podcast, recently opened my eyes to what the AI revolution could hold. (Liz’s episode will be published later this month) As the Head of Marketing at youai, she had some great insight and bold predictions but it was this excerpt that got me thinking about AI and brand storytelling:

Liz pictures a world where everyone has their personal AI. This AI is capable of scraping the internet to pull data and information specifically for you as an individual. It’ll understand your preferences, geographic location, activities, and the foods you like. With this context, your personal AI bot will navigate the internet and bring information to you that’s specific to your needs and lifestyle. No longer will you have to search through countless Google pages to find the right article on how to fix your washing machine, your AI will find it and maybe even call the technician.

Let’s look at an example relevant to our industry. Consider how people buy trail running shoes today. Here are the steps someone might take if they’re shopping around:

  1. Google “Best trail running shoe”
  2. Read a few best-of-gear reviews
  3. Watch a few YouTube review videos
  4. Visit a brand’s website to learn more about the specs, color, and price
  5. Visit a competitor's website to compare the specs, color, and price
  6. Head to a specialty retailer to get fitted then walk out with a pair of shoes they might or might not have been considering from the beginning.

This is a time-consuming process that is bedridden with pitfalls and uncertainty that we as consumers often don’t realize.

  1. How does the customer know that the claim the brand makes about their shoe “being the lightest trail shoe” is true?
  2. How does the customer know that the reviews they’re reading are true and not just created by a bot?
  3. How does the customer know that the brand’s “flash sale” is a limited-time offer vs an ongoing sale year-round?

None of these questions would matter if every brand, gear reviewer, and specialty shop was on the up and up but in a world with affiliate links everywhere we’d be naive to believe that everyone is telling the truth 100% of the time.  Let’s now imagine this same scenario in the future but now I have a personal AI to assist me.

The year is 2026 and I want to buy a new pair of trail shoes. I pull up my personal AI and enter a prompt: “Find me three pairs of trail shoes that are sustainably made, made for running in the Pacific Northwest, fit my wide toe box, and cost between $100-200 dollars.” After I hit enter the AI scrapes the internet, reads reviews, compares brands, and presents three legitimate options that I know are based on fact. There’s no funny business behind the scenes. As I review the three shoes I realize that if my options are equal, the only thing that determines what I’ll buy are based on fit, color, availability, and the brand.

The impending sweep of AI in consumer decision-making processes marks a pivotal turning point for brand strategy. AI technology has the potential to level the playing field in product quality and performance by enabling consumers to identify the "best" products more easily, thus diminishing the impact of marketing gloss on consumer choices. In this AI-driven future, no subpar product will be able to hide behind a veneer of attractive marketing or false advertising.

If this prediction proves to be reality then this shift necessitates a renewed focus on authentic brand storytelling and content creation. Brands must craft narratives that resonate on a deeper level with their audiences, transcending mere product features to highlight core values, mission-driven initiatives, and the unique experiences they offer. At the end of the day, with the details aside, consumers could be choosing a product based purely on how that brand makes them feel.

The successful brands of the future will be those that leverage AI not just to optimize their operations and product offerings but also to enhance their storytelling and audience engagement strategies. By doing so, they can build a loyal community of customers who are invested in the brand's success not just for what it sells but for the story it tells and the values it represents. In an AI-enhanced market, the true differentiator becomes a brand's ability to foster genuine connections and embody a purpose that resonates with its audience, ensuring not only survival but thriving in the face of evolving technological landscapes. The difference between brands that see the next decade and those that don’t are those that invest in the long game of brand building, reputation, and storytelling. 

Cole Heilborn, Creative Director

(Since the AI revolution is on its way, I decided I ought to try it out. Part of this article was written using Chat GPT but the ideas and thoughts are mine) The banner image was taken in Zion National Park for a product shoot for Mammut