What Does the Coming Chatbot Revolution Mean for Marketers?

The marketing industry has bot fever. Years after smartphones were a shiny, fresh trend, the industry is ready for something new. So it's no surprise to see platform-agnostic chatbots already labeled the third runtime — the next revolution after the Web and apps.

Bots have the potential to reshape the dynamic between brands and consumers, creating a one-to-one, real-time communication channel that is both practical and conversational. But like every new trend, we are already seeing the bot-backlash.

While bots hold incredible promise, this channel is still in its infancy. Users and marketers alike still do not know what to expect from these interactions, which invariably leads to some frustrations. But this doesn’t mean we should write the channel off completely.

If your company is building a bot or thinking about its bot strategy, here are some useful tips to keep in mind: 

Bots should complement your other marketing channels
Today, we're watching the ascent of the omnichannel customer. For marketers, bots are best seen as part of this whole. Rather than standalone strategies or as a sidestep around distribution challenges in app stores, bots will, for the immediate future, work best as a complementary channel, offering a more personal connection to customers. The KLM flight information bot  offers an example of a bot playing support to an existing multichannel relationship.

Measure results in order to gain new customer insights
Is your bot driving engagement? What types of actions are consumers taking through your bot? When do customers choose to use your bot, and how are these moments distinguished from interacting with the brand through other channels?



Bots are a highly interactive medium, so certain goalposts will be easy to see. Others are more subtle. As with any new medium, it’s imperative to track and measure user activity to understand how your bot performs and what it means for your larger marketing strategy. 

Focus on the customer's needs, not your needs as a marketer
Perhaps more than any other medium, chatbots put the customer in control. It is a call-and-response format initiated by questions or comments from the customer, meaning that marketers must learn to both predict and react to their customers needs as opposed to trying to get the customer to respond to theirs.

Things like customer journey maps and sales funnels might as well get thrown out the window when planning a chatbot strategy. Instead of posing the question of what a customer means to you as a marketer, it is better to ask what your brand means to the customer. 

Find the right combination of AI and human interaction
The coming age of bots, artificial intelligence and IoT will help marketers improve every element of their communications – delivering the ideal message and experience to each user, in the right context. For now, however, chatbots have their limitations, especially when it comes to things like cultural sensitivities and regional colloquialisms.

The current reality of bots is fairly limited, so there may be many points at which a human should be looped in. Had Microsoft had more human oversight of its chatbot “Tay,” it might have avoided a messy PR disaster.

Decide what personality your bot should have
Bots can take on unique personas depending on what you hope to achieve with them and what your customers expect from them. Slack’s bot offers wryness and wittiness, Poncho’s is more straightforward and humorous, Disney's Miss Piggy bot is purely conversational and somewhat narrative.

Most bots will invariably take on one personality or another, whether by design or by accident, so marketers should be sure to build a specific personality into their bot that ties into their overall brand. 

To Bot or Not?
Changes and updates in the future will greatly expand the UI styles of chatbots, ranging from conversational UIs to apps in miniature. The messaging platforms will have their hands full trying to coax payment details and other information from their users.

Each of these pieces creates new use cases and new ways for customers to interact with a brand. Eventually, bots and similar technologies will allow us to adapt to cultures and communication styles that individual marketers never imagined. And small companies, without the resources for omnichannel marketing, may also be able to build a viable bot-only strategy.

Bots are not the be all and end all of all marketing communications. But when taken in context, this signals amazing new opportunities for brands, agencies and marketers to master their customer insights and relationships.

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