How To Make Sure Your Brand Excels at Conversational Marketing

February 7th, 2018 | Russ Ward, Massively

As marketers, we are constantly faced with new developments in technology and shifts in customer behaviour which require us to learn new things and change the way in which we do our jobs. I’ve written previously about why chatbots need to be part of your marketing strategy and when chatbots are at their best. Recently, brands have started to experiment with chatbots and have been introduced to new topics including artificial intelligence (AI), natural language understanding (NLU) and machine learning (ML). Regardless of the technology or pace of change, we need to remind ourselves that the underlying principles of strategy remain.

Why should you care?

What’s driving these new developments for marketers?

Messaging platforms (and the broader conversational channel which includes web based chat and voice) are emerging gateways to the consumer. Chatbots, voice assistants and AI now allow brands to have contextual, personalized, 1-to-1 conversations with their customers at scale.

We know reaching and engaging customers is harder than ever. People spend most of their time on mobile – socializing, sharing and having conversations. Messaging is the #1 application on mobile, which means it is impossible for businesses to ignore.

However, the long-standing marketing model of “interrupting” people with advertising doesn’t fit in this channel.

Conversational Marketing is an entirely new way to think about marketing: listening rather than simply talking, individualized instead of mass-produced, pulled not pushed, subtle over screaming. The rise of the conversational channel provides tremendous opportunity for marketers to build direct relationships and to present a relevant brand experience to consumers.

What problem are you solving?

Chatbots can provide persistent utility (pay bills, book an appointment, track an order), help with customer service, or can be used to engage customers in campaign or brand ideas. They can be used to onboard new customers, deliver content, or entertain. The usage and content of any two chatbots vary greatly depending on the goal marketers wish to achieve.

When designing a chatbot, look at the solution from the consumer’s perspective. Ask yourself, why is the solution relevant and why would anyone care? Does it return answers more quickly? Is it more convenient? Is it more accurate?

In general, brands should accept that their conversational marketing solution won’t be all things to all people, but should strive to be something meaningful to someone.

Which technologies should you use?

According to a recent study, 61% of marketing executives are either generally aware of AI or understand its potential applications. But only 3% considered themselves experts. As marketers, it is important to be educated and not to be misled by vendors eager to (over)sell the potential of AI. There is incredible hype and confusion in the marketplace.

No chatbot is intelligent “out of the box”. AI doesn’t just happen. True AI requires data (usually lots of it), training (usually lots of it) and a long-term commitment.

Most chatbots are scripted and only respond with predetermined answers. Some chatbots powered by AI can learn with every interaction and make conversations smarter as they gain confidence using machine learning or deep learning methods. Some chatbots can understand keywords. Some chatbots can understand full sentences. Some chatbots can understand intent. Some chatbots can understand context.

This isn’t to say every marketer needs to be an “expert” in AI and machine learning, but you must understand how various technologies will affect the user experience and the intelligence of your chatbot.

Your organization may not have the technological resources to support AI. Scripted chatbots can be incredibly effective and usually provide a low risk entry point into the conversational channel for brands. They can also be the starting point for “smarter” bots down the road.

AI conversational interfaces, such as chatbots and voice assistants, come in many forms. They may not be sophisticated enough to serve all your needs. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Everything you do now contributes to your company’s knowledge (and your own education), which ultimately will help you deliver better results.

Which platforms are right?

Chatbots and voice bots can be found on numerous platforms including Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Amazon Alexa, Kik, Viber, Skype, Slack, Google Home, SMS, and your own website. It is important to know the differences and deploy your bot to services that match your use case, technology and target audience. CPG companies may find voice platforms great for a recipe assistant. Kik is popular amongst teens and 20 somethings while bots on Slack are more centered around productivity. Bots can also be embedded within a web page and can be the first point of contact of a brand.

A bot should be tailored to the services provided by each messaging service provider. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Kik make use of suggested responses. These buttons behave as menu items, leading users to a specific subsection of the bot. In addition to building a bot, it is equally important to drive traffic to your conversational channel. Bots can be promoted on Twitter using a Direct Message Card. Bots in Kik can be found by scanning a code or can be in the bot shop. For Facebook Messenger, marketers can add the “send a message” button to their posts to drive users to the bot. In addition, messenger ads can be used along with weblinks or newsfeed ads.

Marketers should also become familiar with the broadcast and re-engagement policies and media specifications of each messaging platform. These are designed to avoid the temptation to spam users, but the rules vary. Getting explicit opt-in is always a good idea but in some cases, it may not be enough.

So now what?

The pace of change can be overwhelming and marketers can sometimes struggle to understand the technology they need to effectively do their jobs. As you are confronted with these new tools, remind yourselves that the underlying principles of strategy remain: understand behaviour, study the situation, set clear goals, target smartly and focus on execution.

The messaging space and conversational marketing are nascent. As the founder of a start-up, I generally believe that doing something is better than doing nothing. Just make sure there is sound strategic thinking behind whatever you choose to do as you begin to implement conversational marketing, chatbots and brand AI into your organization.

Russ Ward is the President of Massively Inc. Massively has been building chatbots for entertainment, customer support, sales and more since 2014. Learn more about what they do at http://massively.ai.