Will brands soon engage with teens using chatbots?
A recent Wall Street Journal article suggests the answer is no—but that’s because this phenomenon is not the future, it’s already the present. According to the article, Kik, a popular chat service similar to WhatsApp, launched a service in July that lets users literally converse with brands using chatbots. For example, Kik’s own chatbot tells jokes, while those belonging to brands push content at users.
Kik’s new feature does not exactly have the sophistication of the artificial technology depicted in the movie “Her,” but some people are concerned that chatbots and other forms of artificial intelligence potentially bring a dark side. For example, some fear that chatbots might deceive customers. They worry that people may not be able to differentiate marketing messages from authentic human interactions.
That critique is only valid if you’re comparing chatbots to non-commercial interactions. But since they are more engaging than advertising and other forms of marketing, chatbots are a logical step in the personification of brands. In fact, chatbots let brands literally create a persona that can engage with customers. Here’s how I see chatbots helping brands get closer to their teen target audience in the near future:
1. Answer Common Customer Questions
Some companies already use bots to answer customer-service questions. Software offered by InteliWISE, Virtuoz, Codebaby and MyCyberTwin allow companies to program bots to address customer inquiries.
Imagine taking this interactivity to the next level. What if you could program bots to answer common questions about dating, fashion, music and other topics relevant to the teen market? What if a chatbot could give advice on how to find the best prom dress or how to get into your preferred colleges? As the technology becomes more sophisticated, chatbots could be set up to provide teen customers with relevant, timely and valuable information.
Some speculate that Kik’s chatbot could become messaging apps’ answer to native advertising. That’s not a bad theory given that chatbots are more interactive than mass-produced mobile ads and push notifications. For brands that specifically target teens, chatbots are potentially the next frontier in content marketing and advertising.
2. Offer Entertaining Content
Many teens today confess to being bored. Traditional tactics, however, often fall short when engaging this market.
That’s where I see chatbots playing a role. Compared to pop-up ads, chatbots are a lot more entertaining and compelling, and teens might actually want to interact with them. Chatbots could potentially offer entertainment in the future because they’re increasingly becoming more convincing. For example, a Russian-developed chatbot named “Eugene Goostman” was so believable that it recently passed the Turing Test, a test that measures the humanity of an artificial intelligence through text-based conversations.
Once they’re set up, chatbots can be an economical way of engaging teens since they could carry on multiple conversations with multiple people at once. Brands should take care to avoid being creepy, but as Kik’s new feature shows, chatbots can be conversational, informative and entertaining.
3. Solicit Feedback For Customer Insight
Although the technology still needs to catch up, I can see chatbots playing a role in customer intelligence in the future. For example, instead of sending a traditional survey, companies may be able to use chatbots to engage teen customers.
If implemented properly, chatbots could “talk” to teen customers and get their feedback on everything from existing products and services, potential new offerings, and even their lifestyles. These conversations should be just those: Conversations, rather than interrogations, with friendly questions and appropriate comments or reactions to them before asking more questions. Still, the potential to engage customers this way—in combination with online communities and other methods—is possibly a powerful and efficient way of gaining customer intelligence.
Chatbots and artificial intelligence are not entirely new, but Kik’s latest feature could signal a new chapter in the evolution of this technology. It might sound weird now, but we could see the rise of chatbots in the next decade, transforming marketing and customer intelligence in the process.