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I bought a video-making app the other day. The seller had sent a promotional email which offered a hefty discount. I was looking to buy and the discount came as a big motivator to ‘buy now’. The price, however, doubled when I logged in and tried to upgrade from a free to paid plan. The website had a live chat feature, so I got in touch with their staff and had a brief ‘conversation’. It worked and I was able to buy the app at a discount.
Conversational marketing had successfully closed another sale.
Simply put, conversational marketing is marketing driven by dialogue. You try to engage your online audience in a conversation and convert them into leads and sales through a dialog process.
Conversational marketing is not something new. Dialog and conversation have driven human actions since, well, forever,whether in politics, love, or marketing. In modern times, however, technology has enabled businesses to set up and scale their messaging channels like never before. Let’s take a quick look at the evolution and rise of messaging or conversational marketing.
Once upon a time, people used birds for sending and receiving messages. Then came snail-mail, telegraph, telephone, fax, and voicemail. And then email took over. Email became the preferred channel for exchanging messages between people and businesses. It was fast, free, and easy to save and track, which is why it also became the favorite haunt of marketers and spammers.
In 1996, an Israeli company called Mirabilis developed ICQ, which was officially the world’s first instant messenger. AOL, which later bought ICQ, rolled out AIM in 1997. SMS texts began hitting cell phones everywhere around the same time. After the Apple-led and Android-fueled smartphone revolution, a deluge of OTT messaging apps likes WhatsApp, WeChat, and Facebook Messenger became the standard for one-to-one communication.
One-on-one conversations via messaging apps have become a significant force in digital marketing today. Around 42 million mobile messages are sent every minute. Messaging apps now have more users than social media. Three-quarters of smartphone users have at least one messaging app on their phone while 36% of them have two or more.
Conversational marketing has become essential for every business because today’s consumers want and expect to interact with businesses via messaging apps. A recent survey of 1,000 US adults with smartphones revealed people prefer companies that offer text messaging as a channel of communication. 72% of the respondents said they are more likely to buy from an ecommerce website that communicates with them via chat messaging with a real employee in real time. In fact, almost two-third (63%) said they would switch to such a company.
That means many of your customers might abandon your company if you haven’t set up your conversational marketing channels, and go to a competitor that has.
Is conversational marketing really worth the effort? Let’s look at some of the notable benefits of conversational marketing.
Think about how many times you pick up your phone to quickly find the information you need. The average consumer spends more than 5 hours per day on their phones. Chatting with a sales rep or even a bot on conversational marketing channels like messaging apps and email are the easiest way to get answers for consumers, especially when compared to spending time scrolling and searching through a company’s website. Messaging apps allow people to state their problem or concern fully and get a personalized response faster than other channels, including email.
A recent Facebook survey found more than 56% of people in four countries message businesses across all stages of their buying journey. When asked why they message businesses, over 64% said it’s because they’re “always messaging anyway”.
Because consumers find it convenient and easy to use and get answers through conversations, conversational marketing delivers significantly better results. In a 2017 HubSpot experiment, Facebook Messenger was found to deliver 2.5X higher open rates and 6X more clicks compared to email. More recent figures from Campaign Monitor show SMS open rates to be as high as 98%, compared to just 20% for email.
Messaging and conversations are a great way for consumers to tell you about their preferences, needs, and dislikes in their own words. Conversational marketing allows you to learn directly from the horse’s mouth what your customers want to do or change. Not only does conversational marketing solve the immediate customer’s concerns, it also gives you the information you need to optimize the customer experience and solve their problems before they even arise.
Messaging apps provide a single, continuous thread between you and your customers. Quick and continuous communication on a single-thread platform feels more natural and offers more opportunities to solicit feedback, provide customer support, and build a loyal customer base. In addition to its convenience for your customers, conversational marketing also allows you to showcase your brand. You can use copywriting, images, videos, and emojis to reinforce your brand’s personality and therefore keep customers coming back.
If you are already reaching out to your customers via messaging apps, email, and social media, you almost have your conversational marketing strategy in place. Consider the following key components of conversational marketing to fill the remaining gaps in your strategy.
Conversational marketing reaches customers at the times and channels they want. A customer may start a conversation during breakfast, continue the conversation during lunch time, and close with a purchase after dinner. They should be able to pick up the thread where they left off. And they should be able to access your business on the channel that best suits their needs. They’d rather send a quick message on Facebook Messenger rather than call a toll-free number.
Customers expect to have conversations in their own time. They don’t want to wait and they don’t care if you’re talking with 50 other people or 500. Businesses must be able to scale conversations whether it’s by deploying chatbots or real people. Bots are the ideal solution for small and medium businesses that cannot afford to hire more manpower. chatbots can provide quick answers to common questions by tapping into data that already exists. They can be online 24/7 and improve your company’s response times while reducing the workload on your team.
Conversations always have a context. The customer needs information or guidance to resolve a particular situation. Conversational marketers should be able to figure out what those problems are and then the best way to provide the most relevant information. A travel agent provides the best flight options based on where and when the customer wants to travel--they don’t bombard the traveler with the whole flight schedule of every airline. Customers also expect to pick up the conversation where they left off. If you ever had to speak with multiple support agents to solve a particular glitch, you know how frustrating it is to repeat your story over and over again.
Advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) have a major role to play in conversational marketing. Using these technologies, conversational marketing software can predict customer intent based on data that already exists. For example, leading conversational marketing platforms like Drift and Intercom can determine the stage where the customer is in the buying journey and serve personalized messages. AI chatbots like Automat, Frase, and Conversica can use existing data to strike highly personalized conversations. They can make product recommendations, answer common questions, create unique conversations for each customer, and do it all at scale.
The conversational marketing framework takes the conventional sales funnel to a new level. Instead of using dispersed and fragmented marketing assets to guide customers through different stages of their buying journey, this new framework gives them a single thread to lead them through the process -- from product discovery, information search, evaluation, and finally, to a purchase. Compared to the traditional sales funnel, the conversational marketing framework is faster, more unified, and more convenient. Let’s take a closer look at this simple 3-dimensional framework.
The traditional lead-capture forms are a relic of the past. They belong to an era when the balance of power had not shifted from companies to customers. Today’s customers want to engage with businesses whenever, wherever, and however they like. They want the experience to be simple and they don’t want to wait. As a marketer your job is to provide a way for customers to start real-time conversations with your brand. Many companies use chatbots to greet website visitors and engage them in a conversation.
You can use chatbots in combination with lead capture forms, email and landing pages to increase engagement and start real time conversations.
Consumers today are the most well-informed in history. Thanks to the mass of content they consume on digital media, your customers know a lot about your business before they even make first contact. Most of them come to you looking to refine their knowledge of something they already understand. Your job is to help them understand your product or service in the easiest and quickest way. Don’t waste their time bombarding them with unnecessary information.
Once you know the customer’s intent and concerns, you should give them the feeling that you understand their perspective. You can empathize with your buyers by capturing the crux of what they are saying. You can then mirror their core message back to them using similar language. Here are a few examples of empathy statements:
Most customers start a conversation looking for buying recommendations. They don’t want a sales pitch, but an honest and helpful recommendation about which particular product or service will best do the job they want to get done. The more you know about your buyer, the better you can train your team or chatbot to make more accurate and personalized recommendations.
A recommendation can be about a product to buy, a video to watch, or piece of content to read. Use the customer data you’ve been gathering to know who someone is and what they want. Remember that today’s customers have zero tolerance for bad recommendations.
As we said in the beginning, most businesses with a multichannel or cross-channel marketing strategy already in place are practicing conversational marketing to some degree. Here’s a simple roadmap to help you fill the gaps in your strategy and align your conversational marketing with the latest market trends.
Most ecommerce platforms support live chat and chatbots. Select the right software, plugin or extension for your business. You don’t need coding skills to integrate apps like ManyChat, Drift or Intercom into your website, email or social media. Most of these apps offer a free trial, so you can evaluate them for their ease of use and ability to achieve your goals.
Design your chatbot in a way that it matches the theme of your website. A chatbot should be interesting, informative, and sometimes, funny; so that it invites visitors to start a conversation. Humanize your chatbot so that your customers find their chatbot interactions as satisfying as those with your employees.
Popular email marketing programs such as MailChimp and Campaign Monitor support chatbot integration. Online retailers can use chatbots to collect email addresses of people visiting their websites. When used in combination with email, chatbots can help gather a wealth of customer data that you can use to customize your campaigns and further segment your target audience.
Chatbots like DialogFlow, ManyChat and others support social media integration. All popular social media and messaging platforms including Facebook Messenger, Slack, Line, Kik, Hipchat, WeChat, Twitter support chatbot integration. Using social media chatbots to answer common customer questions improves your response times and frees up your digital marketing staff.
Conversational marketing starts with your customers. That’s why conversational marketers should understand their audience and focus on their buying journey while designing or customizing their chatbots. Your customers should have an enjoyable and satisfying experience while interacting with your chatbot. chatbots that trigger randomly, annoy customers, ask irrelevant questions, or give wrong answers can damage your credibility and image.
Chatbots and conversational marketing are not something you can fire and forget. You should keep an eye on chatbot analytics and keep making adjustments to your strategy and chatbot based on the users’ feedback.
Conversational marketing via chatbots and messaging apps is the latest trend. Most top ecommerce websites don’t have chatbots in place yet. Small and medium sized retailers that integrate conversational marketing successfully have a clear edge over bigger, more established brands that don’t. Here are 5 companies that are doing a wonderful job with conversational marketing.
Domino’s uses their AnyWare platform and text messages to engage with existing customers and get them to order again. You can order pizza and track your order via Facebook Messenger, Google Home, Amazon, Alexa, and text messaging. That’s not all. You can order pizzas by tweeting, using your smart watch, smart TV, even your car.
1-800-Flowers has always focused on DTC sales. The company sees technology as a means to build one-on-one customer relationships. It has a Facebook Messenger bot that interacts with customers using AI and NLP technology. The bot can answer customer questions, make gifting recommendations, receive orders, send shipping updates, send reminders, and more. 1-800-Flowers has also introduced voice enabled gifting through Amazon Alexa.
Sephora is one of the first beauty retailers to use chatbots. The brand’s conversational marketing strategy aligns with its tagline—“let’s beauty together”. Sephora is active on multiple social media channels including Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, Kik, Wishbone, and SnapChat. Sephora’s chatbot is a multifaceted program that uses Facebook Messenger to help customers book appointments, match color, find the closest locations, and more.
HealthTap’s Messenger bot makes healthcare more accessible by providing answers to people’s questions in real time, at scale, and at a low cost. You can obtain answers provided by doctors and healthcare professionals. If you don’t find the right answer, you can contact a doctor in minutes by paying a small fee.
eBay’s powerful chatbot helps shoppers find the products they desire at the best prices by applying NLP and AI on the endless eBay inventory. The bot is unique because you can access it via Google Assistant and search for the product using voice queries.
Conversational marketing is the future -- and it’s already here. It allows companies like yours to have real-time personalized conversations with your customers and develop one-to-one relationships with each of them. AI has made it possible to scale these conversations. There are plenty of conversational marketing tools available for B2B and B2C sellers. And there are professionals available to help you create and implement a conversational marketing strategy that works for your business. The time to start is now!
The art is building the right growth campaign. The science is in the results.