ai retail tech pr

AI and Retail Tech PR: Three Things to Remember

It’s hard to believe that today’s AI revolution started only 18+ months ago. That’s when OpenAI publicly released ChatGPT, forever changing the technology landscape by fueling an exponential wave of technology innovation.

We’ve seen firsthand the impact of AI in retail technology. NRF 2024 could easily have been rebranded “NRFAI,” as AI was everywhere and anywhere. But now there’s been a shift in emphasis about AI, which is moving from the “what” of AI (what it is and how it works) to the “so what” (what does it mean for your business?).

In terms of AI’s impact on the retail industry, our friends at IHL Group, a retail research and advisory firm, have done an excellent job of quantifying the financial benefits.

IHL has estimated that the top 200 publicly traded North American retailers and restaurants could see $1.5 trillion in additional financial impact from AI through 2029, with Amazon and Walmart alone accounting for more than a third of that. The firm’s “Retail AI Readiness Index” noted that nearly half of that will be created by generative AI.

Those are mind-boggling numbers. However, the “big picture” view of AI in retail is only part of the story. What’s needed now are stories about the real-world results and ROI of AI implementations. As IHL president/chief AI officer Greg Buzek says, “How are retailers really using it, with case study examples?”

That’s where we come in, as PR storytellers. However, given the unprecedented hype around AI, it’s important to keep these three things in mind when developing your PR strategy.

1. Skip the PR-speak about AI

Eliminate the buzzwords when you’re pitching editors. Most of them are burned out from AI fatigue, as this recent article from Fast Company makes clear. It’s worth quoting at length here:

“We are officially reaching the phase in the tech cycle where a new technology (in this case, artificial intelligence) goes from truly wondrous to truly annoying. Every organization now seems to be using it—or the idea of it—to ride the hype wave to achieve attention, clicks, or, you know, just a few more customers. And it’s starting to annoy the hell out of me.

“I can’t tell you how many pitches I receive from some poor comms person who is forced to proudly exclaim in the first sentence ‘We’re an AI-first company.’ Yeah, you and everyone else since, oh, early 2023.”

As the writer goes on to say, all the noise around AI can obscure the innovative work being done by the technology companies that are truly at the forefront of AI. These are the stories that the industry needs to hear.

2. Remember the media needs real-world AI stories

Exciting AI stories are quickly emerging. The industry’s largest retailers, grocers, restaurants and brands are actively sharing their own AI successes.

A recent Chain Store Age article detailed AI innovations in personalization from Best Buy (personalized mobile promotions), Reebok (personalized products) and leading regional grocers that have implemented personalized discounts, including Northeast Grocery, which uses an AI analytics, personalization and customer engagement platform from our client Birdzi.

While the largest tech vendors may dominate the headlines, some of the most innovative AI solutions for retailers are from earlier-stage technology companies.

These technology vendors have built AI platforms and solutions from the ground up (our client Digital Wave Technology is a prime example), rather than simply adding generative AI solutions to a legacy product portfolio.

The work these companies are doing is truly newsworthy.

3. Keep PR front and center in your marketing strategy

A recent Digiday article detailed how marketers are shifting the budgets away from pure performance marketing to focus more on brand building, including earned media. That’s where PR comes in.

There are unique challenges for PR agencies in telling AI stories. Some retailers and brands may be reluctant to disclose how they’re using AI solutions, as they consider it a competitive advantage. There’s an incredible amount of noise to cut through. Editors are bombarded with AI pitches, as we’ve noted earlier.

Yet there are plenty of opportunities to get your message across: thought leadership content, bylined articles, media pitching, recognition through industry awards, industry events and more, always amplifying your earned media wins through social media and marketing.

These are among the many PR tactics the Ketner Group team uses to get the word out for our clients, and it works.

AI innovation is moving at an extraordinary pace, creating plenty of opportunities for creative storytelling that explains the real benefits of AI. Make sure your company is part of those stories!