Chatbots and messaging apps are revolutionizing the future of marketing.

Marketing in the 2000s was dominated by Search Engine Marketing and Optimization (SEM and SEO). The early 2010s saw the rise of Facebook and social media marketing. Most recently we’ve seen mobile marketing rise and plateau as users have stopped downloading new apps. Now, we are entering the era of messaging.

What is a “chatbot”? Chatbots are computer programs that carry out conversations with people using lightweight messaging app UI, language-based rules, or artificial intelligence. Chatbots converse with users using natural language (either voice or text) rather than than traditional website or app user interfaces.

Why are chatbots suddenly so important? Consumer behavior has shifted from social networks to messaging platforms such as SMS, Facebook Messenger, Apple iMessage, Slack, and WeChat. The growth of the four largest messaging apps exceeds that of the four largest social networks.

 

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 A new marketing channel is an exciting opportunity to experiment with fresh ad formats and connect with consumers in novel ways. Businesses also enjoy fewer companies competitors, less ad fatigue, and potentially exponential returns on marketing investment dollars (ROI).

Companies are now creating bots for Slack, Amazon Echo, Facebook Messenger, Kik, and SMS to talk directly to users. Bots range from recommending outfits (H&M), giving beauty tips (Sephora), direct ordering (Dominos and 1–800-Flowers bots), and much more.

Here are the four critical ways chatbots are transforming marketing and how businesses can capitalize on the current conversational trend.

 

True engagement beyond clicks

In traditional online advertising, we call a click of an ad or play of a video “engagement”. Engagement with a chatbot, on the other hand, is an active conversation with a user.

Disney created the Officer Judy Hopps bot on Facebook Messenger to tease their audience and drum up excitement prior to the movie’s release. Instead of passively watching a movie trailer, users joined Judy on a detective hunt and experienced her interactive story first-hand. Engagement was astronomical — users spent more than 10 minutes on average talking to the character and countless users restarted the conversation to replay a different scenario.

Conversation and rapport building is significantly more effective than a simple ad or video view. The interaction leaves users with an entertaining experience, a better understanding of the brand, and a positive emotional feeling— takeaways rarely achieved with traditional ads.

 

Insights directly from users

Users converse directly with chatbots just like they do with their family and friends.

In this highly personal and conversational setting, chatbots can ask questions too intrusive to be in traditional ads. Questions such as “Where do you live?”, “What music do like?”, “Where’s your dream travel destination?” or even “What do you think of the latest Geico commercial?” are socially acceptable and even welcome in chatbot interactions.

Businesses can remember and refer to personal information in future conversations to further customize a user’s experiences. Victoria’s Secret PINK bot recommends specific styles of bras based on answers to an initial questionnaire. Wingstop’s bot suggests new spicy offers to hot spice fanatics. In practice, brands must strike a responsible balance between personalization and privacy.

 

Maximum opportunities for personalization

Ads have become more targeted over time. Brands are always seeking ways to appeal to users personally, whether through programmatic display ads, retargeting, or direct mail.

With chatbots, brands can personalize a conversation to the individual. Sephora’s chatbot on Kik shares beauty tips with teenagers. The bot first inquires what users are interested in learning about — eyes, skin, hair, nails, etc. — and only suggests relevant products, beauty tips, and tutorials. The Hello Hipmunk bot on Skype works with group chats. Travelers can plan trips with friends and family without ever having to leave the chat room.

 

Bring a brand personality to life

Brand identity is usually pushed to users in a single direction — banner ad, videos, billboards, etc.

A branded chatbot becomes a “live entity” that can infuse personality into conversations. Disney’s Miss Piggy bot is funny and sassy while Universal Studio’s Laura Barns Unfriended bot is an angsty and foul-mouthed. The TMY.GRL bot from Tommy Hilfiger allows fashionistas to access exclusive behind-the-scenes fashion content. A company can show, rather than tell, their brand story to their audience.

Traditional ads are “pushed” upon an unwilling or apathetic viewer, while chatbots “pull” users to engage with them. Strategically implemented and well-designed chatbots can tell your brand story, re-engage audiences, facilitate commerce, and grow your business.

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