The Unexpected Ways Chat Bots Could Change Marketing

If this is truly the beginning of the rise of chat bots, let it be the beginning of finding something to replace the old ways of solving actual business challenges. Otherwise, I’ll see you at the pyre.

There’s an awkward moment at the outset of every new technology when marketers and agencies begin spasmodically craving it. This craving is often blind to whether the investment would solve a business challenge or if that money would be better spent by letting junior staffers roast marshmallows on a giant burning pyre of cocaine.

To date, much of the conversation around chat bots has been focused on replacing rote customer service for existing clients and “driving loyalty,” as spurious as that phrase has been shown to be by the good folks at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

So we’re going to look at something different: four ways that chat bots could increase marketing effectiveness outside of giving existing customers a better experience. In short, how could chat bots be used to actually grow a brand and reach new customers?

How can chat bots increase reach by turning something boring into something fun? We know from decades of academic research and years of Facebook lift studies that reaching category buyers (especially light and lapsed buyers) is key to growing a brand. So rather than seeing chat bots as a way to service existing customers cheaper, we should be asking how chat bots can reach new buyers for the brand.

For example, is anything more boring than weather? Conversations about weather have become a symbol of milquetoast human interaction. A chat bot named Poncho the Weather Cat is changing that. Poncho, a fictional cat, can be reached on Facebook Messenger and will answer all your questions about what time it’s supposed to rain on Sunday in an amusing chat conversation.

For a certain audience, Poncho has made weather-checking a fun experience. The Weather Channel and others may have missed this opportunity. How could a chat bot actually be a more interesting introduction to what your company does? How could it increase ad performance? How it could generate organic reach? How could it capture information that could be repurposed into marketing automation?

One helpful tactical consideration is that, as revealed at this year’s F8 conference, you can now run reach-optimized Facebook News Feed ads that drive directly to your chat bot.

The world is still waiting on the first great idea for using chat bots for reaching new buyers–your brand should be working on that.

How can chat bots turn soul-deadening automated emails into personalized and fun proactive communication from the brand? Getting pounded in the inbox by a retail store hawking “20 percent deals on all halter tops through Sunday only” is a detestable experience. But imagine receiving, instead, “Hey–it’s the Gapbot. Not sure if your sundress game for this summer is tight already, but if you’re looking to up your game, let me know. I have a 10 percent coupon and can give you advice on colors, patterns and all that shiz.”

Seamless is already using a primitive chat bot to send proactive messages to check on how your order was received. One variation of the proactive communication is to reduce the latency of between necessary repeat purchases, like razors or printer cartridges.

The big question here is in what situations these chat bots are more valuable from the brand or for the retailer.

How can chatbots make early-funnel decision engines more sticky? There are an increasing number of situations where you need expert advice on something–How much house can I afford? How much life insurance do I need? What kind of shoes could I wear to work comfortably without looking sloppy?–but you realize that a robot could do the job. It’s no stretch of the imagination to realize that a chat bot is way better than you and perfectly adequate to answer these things.

In these situations, what’s essential is that the buyer’s expectation level is matched. For instance, I believe that a chat bot can ask me questions and help me figure out what level of life insurance I need, but that chat bot needs to know when to hand me off to “Chuck” the human life insurance agent to answer my questions.

How can chat bots improve surveys, uncovering better customer insights that can be used in product evolution, customer service and reaching new buyers? Historically, surveys have been inert and static questionnaires. The first research company to develop a chat bot that can dynamically adapt mid-survey–without blowing up methodological unassailability–would dominate other survey providers. Or if a brand with a perpetual research endeavor were to implement it itself, it could be customized specifically for its category and brand.

These are just four directional ways that chat bots could achieve results beyond the superficial. The most important question a marketer can ask about chat bots–or any new technology–is that of Wire Stone digital strategist Rachel Hitzig, who habitually asks, “What will this replace?”

If this is truly the beginning of the rise of chat bots, let it be the beginning of finding something to replace the old ways of solving actual business challenges. Otherwise, I’ll see you at the pyre.

Gunny Scarfo is vice president of strategy at Wire Stone, an independent digital marketing agency for global Fortune 1000 brands.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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