Whether you think the future belongs to “AI” and “robots” or have a more skeptical view of their role in society, one thing is certain, today for the first time people are using messenger apps more than they are using social networks. This means they are actually spending more time in messaging apps than in social media. Facebook Messenger alone has over 11,000 chatbots.  And as a marketer that is something you cannot ignore. After all, you need to be where your audience is spending their time. In this post, I will examine how marketers can leverage these messaging platforms by using chatbots and conversational UI to market their brand and why these chatbots combine the best characteristics of other marketing channels, making them the ultimate “healthiest” channel to engage with audiences and market your brand.

What is Chatbot Marketing?

Let’s take a step back and examine what chatbots are and how they can be used for marketing purposes. A chatbot is a computer program that mimics intelligent conversations with humans, through voice or text. The goal is that rather than just searching for information on your website or sending an email, a customer can interact with a chatbot to find what they need (conversational user interface). Today, chatbots are mostly available on messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype and voice enabled devices such as Alexa.

Chatbots are “traditionally” used to provide basic support, answer simple questions (including basic product information) and share company information. However chatbots can go much further than that. In fact, chatbots are the realization of the “Conversational Marketing” approach. They can be a perfect way for brands to engage in a bi-directional conversation with their audience. Once users subscribe to the brand’s chatbot, this brand can forge an intimate relationship with these individual members of the audience, engage in a conversation with them and provide them with valuable information that is in the right context at the right time.

Chatbot conversations can be initiated by the user or, if the user is already subscribed to the bot, by the bot itself. In most cases, if the conversation is initiated by the bot, the first message will appear as a notification that cannot be easily ignored.

Let’s take a look at how marketing chatbots can be used. For example, by a baby food brand. To earn the trust of mothers, the brand can use chatbots to have an ongoing relationship with them from the early stages of their pregnancy. Using a Facebook Messenger chatbot, they can provide a conversational pregnancy guide with weekly tips and updates.  As the due date approaches, the bot can proactively engage the mother in conversations about baby nutrition. The chatbot can analyze the conversations and if, for example, it identifies that the mother is considering baby formula, the bot will offer her a free sample at the right time. Several weeks later, the bot can follow up with the mother and gauge her interest in the product. If positive, it will facilitate an orderly and sign her up to a loyalty program.

While Chatbots should never go as far as pretending to be a real human, they can feature the brand’s personality. This can be expressed in the language that is used, a sense of humor, wittiness, service-orientation, etc. You would feel very uncomfortable if your investment banker told you a joke in every interaction or spoke to you using street language.

The perfect consultant or representative

If you think about it, chatbots are a marketer’s dream come true – it’s like having an endless army of consultants or representatives that can work everywhere and around the clock. But unlike the “flesh and blood” representatives, these chatbot reps will always carry the perfect marketing message and be in tune with the marketer’s approach.

Comparing Chatbots to other Marketing Channels

Today, marketing professionals can use a wide range of marketing channels to engage with their audiences. Each with its own characteristics, advantages and disadvantages. Some are more intrusive than others, some are more immediate, more engaging, more in-depth, etc. Let’s examine how chatbots compare to the other marketing channels to understand how they are similar or different, and how chatbots can complement existing marketing activities.

Email marketing

Email marketing has always been referred to as an effective platform to drive engagement and distribute content. Getting an email address from a user, they would say, is like getting an invitation to his/her personal space – where the marketer can push personalized marketing messages, newsletters, promotions, and much more.

  • Chatbot Similarities
    • Enrollment/subscription – subscribing to a chatbot is similar to subscribing to an email newsletter. Instead of getting an email, you need the user to interact with the chatbot and provide explicit consent to receive content.
    • Content – chatbots can be used to distribute much of the content of a newsletter – tips, promotions, guidance, news, etc… A chatbot conversation can be as in-depth as an email newsletter and sometimes it can go even further. In the case of the chatbot, the content delivered to the user is interactive and can be adjusted in real-time during the conversation.
    • Measurable – just like in an email newsletter, clicks can be measured so marketers can track conversions etc. With a chatbot, you can also measure the interest and engagement levels because the content is delivered in an interactive manner (conversation).
  • Chatbot advantages –
    • Higher “open rates” – email open rates are at a low point, about 20%, and have been for over 10 years. Chatbots enjoy an open rate like emails before the dreaded Chrome browser “Promotions” tab era. In addition, the “pushy” nature of those message notifications makes them difficult to ignore.
    • Immediate and interactive – an email is very passive. When it is sent, there is a possibility that it may or may not be read, it may or may not receive a response and sometimes it gets stuck in spam filters. A chatbot is the opposite – it generates notifications, it’s immediate and it’s interactive.
    • Personalized – email can be very personalized based on a multitude of inputs (e.g. what did the user click on, which ads brought them to subscribe, etc.). Chatbots can use these same inputs but take it a step further. Just like the best human representative, an effective chatbot will use data about the user (e.g. CRM data) to make more meaningful interactions. For example, if the chatbot knows that the user likes certain types of products, it can skew the conversation towards these products. Or if the chatbot identifies the user’s sentiment, it can change the language that it uses to present the information. The content can be adjusted in real-time based on the users interactions and responses.
    • Bi-directional conversation – as I mentioned before, no one sends a reply to an email newsletter. With a chatbot the “newsletter” becomes a bi-directional conversation. Instead of just providing information, the chatbot can ask questions and based on the answer, provide extremely relevant pieces of information.

In the next part, I will continue our examination of additional marketing channels. For part 2, click here!