Alright, here goes. I've been avoiding talking about the topic of AI but with the recent insurgence of the infamous ChatGPT, I feel I have no choice but to address it. In this article, I want to share my thoughts as a brand strategist on using AI to build your brand. Does it work? Can it replace humans? How will it evolve? Let's find out.
It feels strange that I even have to write a title like "How branding is done by humans" but with the number of new AI tools popping up nowadays, I feel like we have to make the distinction. To date, brands have always been strategised and built by humans. This goes way back to the days when farmers burned marks into their livestock. Since then, the purpose of branding hasn't really changed; to create a distinguishable identity for a business or product. The goal of effective branding is more sales, improved brand recognition, increased lifetime customer value, and more effective marketing. Nothing new here. What has changed and will continue to change is how we build brands, and this is dependent on the continuing evolution of technology.
Unlike most other aspects of business development, branding combines the magic of creativity with the logic of strategy. In other words, metrics do come into play, but building a brand has a degree of creativity and emotional injection. It's about understanding people, their behaviours, how they make buying decisions, and how you can position yourself to address their needs and struggles. Branding isn't a problem that has a single answer nor is there a formula that can be devised to make it so.
So how do people build brands today? Well, the top agencies around the world have different frameworks but they all agree that brand strategy is the golden key. Brand strategy is the essential glue that holds everything together, it acts as a guide for all business decisions, helps build strong company culture, and helps attract the right customers and employees.
But the framework itself doesn't really matter so long as it goes through the proper steps. The important thing is that brands are built by people for people.
If brands are built by people for people, then where does AI come into play? Here's where things get interesting...
If you scour the internet for AI branding you'll find a plethora of tools come up including Looka, Brandmark, Designs.ai and Mindspeller. They all promise to do key branding tasks from brand strategy through to brand identity design in a fraction of the time. In fact, some of the most searched queries on Google are "AI brand name generator", "AI brand guidelines", and "AI brand colour generator", so it seems like the demand for AI branding is certainly there.
So how does it work? Well, AI relies on input from the user and access to existing information. That means that the quality of the assets created by these tools is only as good as the prompts you give them and the existing assets that exist in the world. This is a bit of a catch-22 because if you knew what you needed to build your perfect brand you'd have done it already! Also, the whole point of effective branding is NOT to copy your competitors.
Imagine if AI existed in the 1900s. Let's say you wanted to improve logistics and you asked an AI tool "How can I increase the speed of my product deliveries?" It would give you an answer like "buy faster horses" or "buy more horses". What it wouldn't give you is "create tarmac roads" or "invent cars" because AI draws on existing information. Therefore, it's not very good at coming up with innovative and original concepts, nor is it good at understanding the emotional needs of human beings.
Earlier I listed some of the existing AI branding tools on the market. Let's take Looka as an example. From their own website, they say "Looka combines your design preferences with AI to make beautiful logos you'll love." Ok, HUGE alarm bells are going off for me already. "Your" design preferences? Logos "you'll" love? Do you see the massive problem here? Before I tell you, consider this quote from Marty Neumeier:
"Your brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is." - Marty Neumeier
In essence, no one gives a damn whether or not you like your brand because you don't decide what your brand is; the people who experience it do. You can choose the colour blue because it's your favourite colour, and you can say you're a fun brand, but if your customers have negative affiliations with blue in the context of your product niche and they think you're overly corporate then that's all that matters.
My point is, AI branding tools may be good at executing the technical side of certain branding tasks, but where they fall short is true innovation, and developing outcomes based on the needs of your customers. And that's the whole point of branding!
Now, that's not to say this won't change in the future. AI is evolving at terrifyingly fast rates and who knows if, in the future, it could be used on an emotional human level. We're just not there right now. I will say, however, that this clearly isn't a fad. AI technology IS the future whether we like it or not. Why? Because it has huge commercial value, and so long as the opportunity is there for money to be made, people will keep investing in it.
AI is something we've been experimenting with here at Ventur for a little while now. As I mentioned earlier, brand strategy is a highly personal and emotional discipline, and we intend to keep it that way. However, there are a few cases where we use the technology to save us time or to help us illustrate a point. For example, creating brand personas. When you're creating a brand the whole point is to differentiate, so searching the internet for existing images of people to represent your brand is somewhat counterintuitive. When it comes to brand personas, we use AI to create an image of a completely new person. This person would come to life based on the brand purpose and brand values that we have extracted during our strategy sessions. So we simply feed an AI tool like Midjourney with those prompts and we fine-tune from there.
Another example is messaging. Let's say we go through the brand strategy process and uncover the tone of voice that our client needs to connect with their customers whilst remaining different from their competitors. We would narrow that tone of voice down to a few adjectives, write a few paragraphs of copy in that style, and then plug it into an AI copywriter like Jasper to further dial in the uniqueness. Some adjectives we might use as prompts are "cheeky", "approachable", and "knowledgeable". This is a great example of doing the human work first, and then using the technology to enhance what you've done. That's how it's supposed to be used.
I want to add a caveat here for AI digital marketing because this is one area I do think will change drastically over the next 3-5 years. Digital marketing is a highly tactical discipline, much more so than branding which is more strategic. Being a tactical medium, digital marketing relies heavily on metrics and statistics; things like ROAS, clickthrough rates, conversions, impressions, and so on. Areas like this where tangible data can be measured regularly to make decisions will be a playground for AI.
For example, AI could easily A/B test different ad copies in Facebook Ads, different titles in Google Ads, and even different ad creatives for you. We already mentioned tools like Midjourney which allow you to create incredibly powerful images with the right prompts. This is another great example of how you could use AI to your benefit, and to support the work you've already done.
"Can AI become human" is a question that gets raised daily. The truth is, no one knows yet. "Hopefully not" is my answer, but the potential possibilities for such complex technology are totally unfathomable as of 2023. I have no doubt that AI will develop to an extraordinarily impressive level; the question is how long will it take to get there, and will it ever truly become human?
As far as how branding and business will change, I think we'll see the value of creative minds skyrocket over the next few decades, especially creative thinkers. Creativity is the magic that connects us as human beings and I don't think any technology could ever truly replace that. As a result, I think we'll see companies fighting for talented creatives to help them cut through the noise and stand out in an AI-driven market. We might even see massive changes in the way businesses are structured. Whereas currently, the logical minds are at the top of the chain and give direction to the more technical creatives, in the future we might see this do a complete 180. If AI progresses enough to be able to decide all of the rational decisions within a company then all that's left is creativity and emotion, and that's what we do best as human beings.
Inevitably, I think we'll see AI technology used more and more as a tool for building brands over the coming years, but I don't think it will ever fully replace human beings. Our unparalleled creativity, ability to empathise, and create work that connects with one another can never be replicated, in my opinion. Even as AI develops, I think people will become more sensitive to whether or not work has been created by AI, and that ability to differentiate is what makes us special.
That wraps up my thoughts on AI in branding and in the wider business world. I'd highly recommend checking out Alex Hormozi's Youtube video on this topic as it goes into mindblowing detail on the scale and possibilities AI might offer to businesses in the coming years. Check it out below:
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