On the surface, conversational marketing may seem like a marketing buzz term. Look deeper, however, and you’ll see it’s an organic way to engage customers. It comes down to the simple fact that, as humans, we prefer to engage in conversation rather than have someone talk at us. And due to the limitations of marketing throughout the years, that’s predominantly been the only way advertisers could get their message across.
Now businesses and brands can actually communicate in real time with customers, be it helping to solve a product issue, facilitating a purchase, or simply making a recommendation.
Just look at social media. Currently, there are some 1.3 billion people using FB Messenger every month. To keep up with this trend, brands and businesses now have 300,000 messenger bots on the app all designed to facilitate communication. These bots help with everything from movie/TV show recommendations to finding cheap flights to ordering flowers.
But there’s a place for conversational marketing in the B2B world, too. Consider this tidbit: software developer/marketer HubSpot gained 20% more qualified leads simply by adding live chat to their communication channels. Moreover, tech companies across the globe are reducing lead times, strengthening lead quality, and increasing new clients in the sales cycle with conversational marketing.
This is the power of a chat interface, and by extension, it’s the power of conversational marketing.
AI allows for automated conversational marketing
Automation is helping marketers to create complex campaigns that run by themselves so they can focus on measuring and metrics rather than getting bogged down in repetitive manual tasks. It might come as a surprise that automation plays an important role in conversational marketing – after all, the whole point of conversational marketing is to create deep customer relationships.
However, AI allows marketers to automate conversational marketing without losing the human touch.
At the moment this is evidenced predominantly in the popularity of chatbots. Since their advent we’ve seen just how effective machine learning can be at engaging people when they want and how they want. Chatbots eliminated many of the drawbacks that are common with human customer service representatives. Now you can communicate with your customers at any time of day or night, whether it’s business hours or not.
Crucial stats bear this out. Consider that 80% of businesses are currently utilizing or plan on implementing chatbots by 2020. This supports the prediction that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with a brand or business without even speaking to a human.
It’s not just the ability to communicate with customers at all hours, chatbots and automated conversational marketing tools allow brands to scale without sacrificing the customer experience.
Prospects that are in buy mode might have an objection or two before they finally make a purchase, and a brand that can answer those questions immediately is going to win favor with customers. Chatbots allow this in-the-moment connection to keep the momentum of the buying cycle going and reduce the chance of a potential buyer going elsewhere where they can get their questions answered straight away.
Using AI to fuel conversational marketing in this way allows brands to create individual relationships with their customers at scale. Machine learning is used to create templated responses, while personalization techniques are integrated to offer that all-important personal touch.
AI supercharges personalization
By integrating conversational AI with the back-end data in your old CRM solutions, the sky’s the limit as far as making that data actionable in real time. Consider how things used to be: a business would accumulate terabytes of useful info, and it would then be applied to inbound marketing initiatives like email and social media campaigns.
However, while effective, AI can now take that info and boost personalization, segmenting your target right down to the individual, not a group or demographic.
Consumers today expect brands to personalize the shopping experience for them. In fact, they are even happy to hand over their sacred data in order to receive a personalized journey in exchange.
Using AI to personalize the marketing and sales process allows brands to scale while still providing a human connection (and consumers desperately crave connection with the brands they buy from despite the fact that most activities are carried out behind the veil of a screen).
Powerful AI technologies can use individual consumer data to automatically serve personalized ads, product recommendations, and upsell offers to customers without needing any manual input. As a result, customers can create their own journey that’s based on their previous purchasing behaviors and online activities. This shortens the sales cycle because it taps directly into the things they want and need rather than going for a general approach that might be a hit with some shoppers but not with others.
There’s a high chance we’ll see AI used to power personalization in both marketing and other key brand touchpoints, like customer support. Using technology to identify common questions that are being asked and sending an automated but personalized response will save customer support teams tons of time while maintaining a high conversion rate.
Advances in natural language processing give automated conversations a human touch
With chatbots streaming on ever more platforms, like Facebook messenger, there’s even more of a need for chatbots to evolve. Natural language processing (NLP), a subset of AI and machine learning, allows chatbots to evolve from script-reading tools to multi-dimensional digital conversationalists, which adds context to automated conversations and makes users feel like they’re talking to a human being, rather than a robot.
We’re already seeing real-world advances in NLP with digital assistants like Siri and Alexa. Expect to see a boost in this with APIs like Google’s Cloud Natural Language. Applications like this can derive insights from unstructured text. Machines are now analyzing even greater volumes of data, which helps businesses glean real-time insight into what’s being said about them and how their products and services are being received.
As well as automated conversations, AI can help pick out key phrases that customers use and serve them back. In the future this might manifest in using AI to create a brand tone of voice that’s executed across all channels to maintain consistency and create connection. Technology can dig into the common phrases and words customers use and power marketing messages with this information.
Again, this takes pressure off of marketing teams who are diligently carrying out repetitive manual tasks. Instead, they will use AI to manage these processes so they can focus on creativity and other important parts of business.
Conversational data protection
At its core, conversational marketing is all about data. As mentioned, being able to integrate information in your CRM is what allows for greater personalization. But with so much data floating around, the potential to misuse information is greater than ever.
The most glaring examples of this in recent times has been the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal. Throw in the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) initiative into the mix and you have technology and information running headlong into regulatory forces trying to prevent it from spiraling out of control.
How this immediately affects the upward trend of conversational marketing is in the chatbot realm. Advances in AI will help marketers who want to implement chatbots to further comply with GDPR regulations in a number of ways. For example, greater machine learning will allow bots to:
- Receive data and determine instantly if it is for the purposes of data processing or data controlling (this distinction matters in GDPR, as controllers have to comply fully with GDPR regs)
- Offering those who engage with chatbots clear opportunities to provide consent to receive their data and transfer it to a different format
- Ensuring all data is safe, encrypted, and easily downloadable
There is one way AI is still limited where it concerns data protection. At the moment, GDPR’s article 22 specifically states that AI algorithms alone cannot be responsible for decisions that have a significant effect on users. In other words, there still needs to be human oversight regarding data control. So, for the moment the robots are still subservient to people.
An exciting inflection point
We’ve reached an exciting inflection point where the rise of AI can facilitate and shape the trend of conversational marketing. Advances in AI will help this vital trend evolve and reach more people, allow for greater personalization, and ultimately help marketers achieve what was once thought of as an impossible goal: to have a conversation with their target audience in real time, whenever and however they want.
As a result, this will deepen customer-brand relationships and build trust among buyers. Not only will this ensure customers are more loyal than ever, but it will essentially shorten the sales cycle by serving each individual customer exactly what they want or need, exactly when they need it. What’s more, the use of AI means this is done on autopilot. This means that marketing staff are able to free up much of the time they originally spent executing repetitive tasks and instead focus on creative endeavors and having more important conversations with their customers.