Beep Boop! What Marketers Need to Know about Chat Bots

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A robot invasion is coming–but not the kind that you might think.

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Nope, fortunately we’re not due for a Terminator-style robot apocalypse (at least, I hope not). However, the web and the Internet of Things are welcoming a new wave of chat bots–programs and artificial intelligences designed to communicate with users in a variety of different ways. And forward-looking brands as well as digital marketing specialists are already seeing potential in these chat bots to quickly, accurately and positively engage consumers on-demand.

Several big players are already on board the chat bot bandwagon, with mixed but mostly positive success. Facebook, for instance, recently unrolled bot communication capabilities in its messenger platform and is enabling developers to create bots who can operate on it, much like you can currently use Facebook apps and plugins. These bots could have a variety of uses, from games to education to web browsing to marketing. Microsoft has also announced its intent to start creating and enabling others to create chat bots on a wide scale, though it had a modest PR hiccup when the A.I. of one of its social media chat bots got manipulated to start spouting wild and inappropriate messages on Twitter. But you don’t have to be working with a huge corporation to appreciate the capabilities of this emerging tech.

Potential Uses of Chat Bots for Marketing

As a relatively new technology, smart and responsive chat bots haven’t been fully realized yet in terms of marketing potential. There will probably be some creative digital marketer who comes up with an ingeniously clever way to make use of them that no one had ever considered before. But there are some obvious potential applications of a chat bot that don’t need an innovative genius to think of, and businesses are performing digital staff augmentation on a wide scale to implement them. Here are just a few:

  • Personalized, private messaging and conversations: 1-to-1 conversations has been the Holy Grail for customer engagement for brands for years now, and with chat bots it’s finally a possibility. Instead of blasting out messaging into the ether and hoping the right people see it, you’ll be able to share customized relevant messaging directly with consumers. And whenever or wherever they are, your brand will always be there for them when they reach out to you.
  • A mine of customer data: Imagine if you could get the voices of hundreds or thousands of your customers coming in on a regular basis, telling you about themselves and how they’d like to interact with you. Assuming your analytics is in place, that’s exactly what a chat bot can provide. You can find out what consumers are talking about, and in what context–and that’s powerful.
  • Remarkable content and experiences: When it comes to interactive content marketing, it’s hard to think of a better channel than a chat bot. A well-designed bot can be more than a tool–it can be an experience that entertains, informs, comforts, and inspires people that engage with it.
  • Customer service navigation: If you’ve ever called in to a large company about a customer service need, you’ve probably gotten frustrated by the long chain of steps you have to take to identify your need and get on the line with a representative. A bot can help customers quickly navigate to the appropriate resource, and may even be able to give them the exact help they require if it’s a common issue.
  • Making basic orders and purchases: Straightforward orders, like from a menu or catalog, could easily be taken by a well-developed bot. Imagine, for instance, ordering a pizza through a short conversation with a bot on your messenger app rather than calling in to the restaurant, getting put on hold, then trying to clarify your order with a busy worker in a loud kitchen. Taco Bell is already experimenting with a similar program called TacoBot through messaging service Slack.

A Very Basic Example of What a Facebook Messenger Bot is Capable Of

video from Simon Prickett

Overcoming a Tarnished Reputation

Internet bots are not an entirely new development for digital marketing specialists; in fact, they’ve been around for some time and have often been a thorn in the side of our profession.

The fact that they can act and appear near-human has interesting implications and potential when it comes to providing better customer experience and growing sales. But it also means that marketers themselves can’t always distinguish between who’s a real, potential customer and who’s a simple script. That leads to misleading data and wasted ad dollars spent trying to market to a nonexistent person.

For instance, if you’re a social media marketer you’ve undoubtedly been followed and messaged by a Twitter bot promising you thousands of subscribers for a few measly dollars. That can warp your social analytics and skew your engagement and ROI measurements. Here’s one that recently followed our own corporate account, @MarketPro_Inc.

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Obviously, this bot following us has zero marketing value to our business. Counting any engagement from it throws off our big-picture view of how well our social marketing efforts are going. Unfortunately, filtering out bot accounts is a difficult process, especially on a large scale. And it only becomes harder as they become more intelligent and human-like.

Bots are also costing marketers–big time. They’re a big contributor to digital ad fraud, tricking ad engagement counters of all kinds into thinking that they’re getting valuable click-throughs and viewability when in fact it’s just a program manipulating the system. A study by the Association of National Advertisers estimates a staggering $7.2 billion in global losses to bot fraud this year. This has become a particular problem with programmatic and video advertising.

Given all the costs and headaches bots have caused in recent years, it’s understandable why marketers would be wary to adopt them. But much like any technology, web bots have the potential to be put to good or bad use; it all depends on who’s directing them. Marketers who write off bots entirely due to their past as a marketing obstacle are selling themselves short and ignoring a huge, unsettled frontier for growth and development.

Your Job Security

Robots have developed a somewhat notorious reputation for replacing human workers in other industries, and have been doing so for some time now. That generally leads to more overall productivity–but if you’re one of the people who’s been let go due to breakthroughs in automation, it’s hard to see the big-picture benefits.

Are bots about to “take” your marketing job?

So, are bots about to “take” your marketing job? Not likely any time soon. The robots currently being developed will be best suited as a compliment and addition to current marketing functions; not as a replacement. It will be some time, if ever, that web bots start to significantly impact marketing employment. Companies will continue to need digital staff augmentation for the foreseeable future.

However, as more systems and customer interactions become automated, you can expect your responsibilities to shift and evolve accordingly as you move your career forward. Expect a growing necessity to become more creative, innovative, and strategic  in your jobs rather than focused on day-to-day execution and implementation.

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