AI Brand-Building: Navigating Hype Cycles, Job Fears and Tech Storytelling

There are three paths of AI for a future symbolized by Hollywood films: The first is "Superman," a superhuman that leverages AI to be a superior being. The second is "Robocop," a world where AI takes over from humans. The third is "Iron Man," a world where humans and machines work together in harmony to build a better future.

We believe the future will look something like Superman and Iron Man. But regardless of what future you see, AI will define our lives—and we, as communicators, have an opportunity to define AI.

Though generative AI is the new kid on the block, building AI brands has been a labor of the past 10 years at VSC. While today’s AI market is rapidly growing, with thousands of new startups and businesses created every day, the need for a consistent brand presence is key for establishing category creation, market leadership and a persuasive story that connects with audiences over time.

PR and communication professionals play an essential role in the way companies present their brand stories to their stakeholders, especially when the popular narratives around artificial intelligence lack humanity, empathy and accuracy. Some of the key challenges in building AI brands involve navigating hype cycles, job-displacement fears and diving deep into the real scope of this technology.

Remain Human-Centric

The fear of job displacement is a significant challenge faced by AI brands. Companies that will face the most backlash will focus on how AI can replace human jobs. This is a mistake.

Messaging shouldn’t address what AI can do better than humans, but rather demonstrate how it will empower them to become “superhumans” with more tools and time to be creative, productive and safer. Switching the narrative from “instead of humans” to “superhuman” is one key example of verbiage mattering.

For example, we worked with Zume, a robot pizza-making company in the Bay Area, to highlight how automation enhances job roles rather than replacing them. Zume used AI to predict how many and what kind of pizzas people would order each day and to power the robots that baked and delivered the pizzas. The real value was that automation kept the crew safe from injuries and made them focus more on the menu, ingredient selection and customer service.

When marketing AI software or services, it is also important to avoid instilling fear in customers that their jobs will be replaced. AI brands should focus less on benefits such as “saving costs,” which often refers to the headcount and on showcasing how their solutions increase productivity and efficiency. By highlighting the value AI brings to business growth, brands can overcome the fear of job displacement and gain customer trust.

Deep Tech vs. Shallow Tech

“Deep tech” refers to those companies whose business model is based on high-technology innovation and who own the AI core of their business. In contrast, “shallow tech” simply adapts the current offering by enhancing the products or services with artificial intelligence.

AI brands face the challenge of differentiating themselves in a crowded market where consumers are becoming more tech-savvy and curious. Whether you are working with a deep or applied AI brand, it is important to communicate its real value proposition beyond just “having AI.” This distinction helps establish credibility and expertise.

According to Crunchbase, AI is a technology that applies to many fields rather than a standalone sector. Just as being "an Internet company" lost its distinctiveness over time, labeling a startup as an "AI company" might become redundant because artificial intelligence is becoming fundamental for all. Be sure to know the real value and purpose of your brand.

Be Skeptical and Strategic

Whether your brand is the developer or the user, AI is not infallible and can make mistakes. That’s why brands should have a well-defined crisis communication plan in place to address situations where AI delivers incorrect or potentially harmful results. This is particularly important in applications such as self-driving technology, image recognition, automated selection processes and conversational/generative AI, among others.

For instance, early this year, attorney Steven A. Schwartz from Levidow, Levidow & Oberman firm relied on OpenAI’s ChatGPT for legal research on a case against Avianca Airlines. ChatGPT provided him with multiple nonexistent court cases as references, which the lawyer used to support his arguments. Schwartz was unaware of the AI's potential for generating inaccurate data and didn't verify the chatbot's sources, which led him and his partner to face a $5,000 fine and a dismissed case.

This incident underscores the unreliability of AI in certain applications. It emphasizes the need for brands to be transparent about the limitations of AI and have strategies in place to rectify errors and the scope of the company’s responsibilit

Go Beyond the Buzzword 

Building AI brands requires a thoughtful approach that combines effective communication, differentiation, accuracy and honesty.

Honesty is a disruptive communications strategy: Amidst noise, honesty is so rare that if brands remained accurate and simple, they would become more visible. Build a team of PR pros who can actually dig deep into the technology behind the AI brand and create relatable and concise messages.

By being honest with their stakeholders about what they do and accurate about why and how they do it, brands can successfully navigate the evolving landscape of AI technology.

Vijay Chattha is founder and CEO at VSC PR. Daniela Rodriguez is a tech PR intern at the USC Center for PR and VSC.