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How can CEOs harness the power of generative AI?

Published 2 November 2023 in Technology • 5 min read

Generative AI can transform marketing, customer service, and other business areas, but CEOs must ensure they use it effectively, says IMD’s Goutam Challagalla.

Less than a year after generative AI began to come to the fore, one-third of companies say they are already using it regularly in at least one business function.1 While executives may think that Generative AI is synonymous with ChatGPT and can be only used to generate text, it is capable of creating images and audio as well, offering the potential to transform work processes across marketing, customer services, supply chain, HR, and other functions. 

For the business to use AI effectively, however, the C-Suite – and especially the CEO – must embrace its potential and become a champion of the technology across the business. 

Marketing collateral to order – automatically 

Generative AI is a game-changer for marketing professionals. Previously, businesses couldn’t use these tools for commercial purposes, as the images they created were subject to copyright. However, certain well-known creative software companies have now developed their own versions of the tool, which use stock images from their databases. These can be used by marketing professionals without fear of copyright infringement.   

If you’re a brand manager who has half an hour to create a personalized ad, this tool can rapidly source the exact image type required and transform it into viable marketing material. It can even be trained to follow brand guidelines, ensuring it uses that the correct font, colors, and shapes. The tool could produce several different versions of the same ad, tailoring each option to a specific audience, platform, or purpose. 

As well as adverts, AI image-generation tools can be used to generate videos for social media, logos, and product images for marketing purposes.  

As business use of Generative AI becomes commonplace, the role of the marketer will shift and, with it, the nature of marketing strategy. Marketing professionals will become experts in the use of generative AI in the creation and personalization of campaigns.  

This type of generative AI could be used in other areas, such as in the supply chain, by allowing a supplier quickly to create images of product prototypes or an instruction video to showcase a product to a potential buyer. 

A new voice in customer service 

As well as creating marketing content, generative AI can also be used to enhance customer service by replicating the voice of a human assistant, lending a more humanized, authentic feel to online chatbots and automated phone calls. 

Generative AI may even be able to achieve a greater level of personalization of customer service than can a human assistant, for example in its ability to switch instantly to a customer’s native language. The AI can also learn from customer conversations, gathering their data and moderating tone and intensity according to how the customer responds. It can also pass relevant customer information on to other functions, benefiting the business as a whole. As well as this, AI can work in conjunction with humans, acting as a gatekeeper and assessing when it is necessary to transfer the client on to a customer-service employee. In this way, Generative AI can take on the general enquiries that make up the bulk of customer-service calls, leaving staff to focus on dealing with more complex queries. 

Generative AI could be used in other areas, such as in the supply chain, by allowing a supplier quickly to create images of product prototypes

Generative AI could also be used when dealing with employees, for example to answer technical queries during the staff onboarding process, such as ‘How do I set up my computer?’ This could be especially useful when a company has had a recruitment drive and IT staff are spread thinly.  

AI-generated speech can also be used in content creation for video voiceovers and audio articles or books. For example, conventionally, an audiobook is created by hiring a celebrity to read it through aloud, in its entirety. This is recorded over several sessions, making it a costly and time-consuming process. However, with generative AI, the narrator records a 30-minute sample of their reading voice, which Generative AI can then use to produce the entire audiobook, as well as translating it instantly into multiple languages. This generates a huge time saving and can bring down costs significantly.  

Three actions for CEOs to promote generative AI 

If generative AI is to transform a company’s marketing and customer service efforts, the business requires buy-in from the very top. To ensure that AI is used effectively and that people across the business understand the benefits, the CEO should take the following steps: 

1. Encourage functional and business leaders to explore generative AI.

The CEO is in the unique position of being able to challenge senior executives from across the business to explore and embrace the possibilities of generative AI. Whether it’s the CHRO, who could use it for employee onboarding, or the head of supply chain, who could use it to create product prototypes, the CEO should encourage all functions to capitalize on the potential benefits. 

2. Ensure connected use of AI.

If you use AI for distinct purposes, such as marketing, customer service, and sales, and you never join the dots, you will fail to harness its full potential. For example, integrating systems and data across departments will provide a 360-degree view of the customer. The manner in which a customer has engaged with a marketing campaign, for example, may provide insight into the most appropriate medium through which to contact them. Equally, analysis of purchasing patterns can reveal which other products the marketing team could successfully promote to them, facilitating tailored campaigns and targeted chatbot recommendations. The CEO has oversight of all these processes and, accordingly, can become the driving force in connecting them. 

3. Encourage senior executives to undertake formal generative AI training.

In light of the onward march of AI, senior executives would benefit from formal training to help them understand the different types of AI and their capabilities. As a CEO, it is important to ensure that senior management from across the business receives training from a reputable source, facilitating smooth deployment of the technology in all departments. 

The powers of generative AI are far-reaching and constantly evolving. The more deeply businesses can understand these, as well as AI’s limitations, the more effectively they will be able to use them to create efficiencies, enhance the customer and employee experiences, and drive innovation. 


Goutam Challagalla

Professor of Marketing and Strategy and dentsu Group Chair in Sustainable Strategy and Marketing at IMD

Goutam Challagalla is Professor of Strategy and Marketing and dentsu Group Chair in Sustainable Strategy and Marketing at IMD. His teaching, consulting, and research focuses on strategy with a focus on digital transformation, business-to-business commercial management, value-based pricing, sales management, distribution channels, and customer and service excellence. At IMD, he is Director of the Advanced Management Program (AMP), Digital Marketing Strategies (DMS), and Strategy Governance for Boards.


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