Conversation has always been part of marketing.
Back in 1999, David Weinberger reminded us that “Markets are nothing more than conversations” in his renowned Cluetrain Manifesto.
Then, the conversation was mainly held by the company. Personalisation of the marketing messages was essentially impossible at scale.
Today, we finally have the technology. It is now possible to reach out to millions of people through different channels (email, SMS, messaging apps, Facebook, and so on), and use data to target specific segments of these people with offers specifically tailored to their needs.
The technology is there.
Now it’s time we catch up.
What is conversational marketing?
In his must-read article, Chris Messina describes conversational commerce (his way of naming conversational marketing) as:
“Conversational commerce (as I see it) largely pertains to utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e. voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context.”
Let’s try to expand on this a little bit. Conversational marketing is all about personalisation and availability.
It’s about bringing value to the customer, not just through the products sold but through the entire relationship between the customer and the company.
It’s about encouraging customers to engage with the brand. It’s about putting a friendly face to the company.
Conversational marketing is the death of one-way marketing, and the birth of two-ways conversations. [Tweet this]
Consumers are no longer numbers that fit certain criteria, whose sole purpose is being sold to. Customers are real people, with real issues and real problems that need a solution. The company’s focus is on helping these customers by offering them a product that will solve their problem, all the while delighting them with the experience of the conversation.
By adopting conversational marketing, consumers make themselves available to chat with. Customers can reach out to the company service, sales, or support teams by engaging a friendly chat rather than a formal email, and expect a timely response that fits their very specific needs.
Putting the concept to practice
I have a wedding to go to this Saturday. It’s a bit last minute, and I have just realised I don’t actually own any pair of dress shoes. I’ll have to go on a mission to find something that will:
- Fit my style
- Be my size
- Be at a good price point
- Be available in a shop not too far away from my home
Right now, my only option would be to Google for a brand I like that has shops in my area. Then go to the brand’s website and look at their shoes section. I’ll pick a few that I like then quickly realise I have no fashion sense. I have other questions as well.
- Do they have any left in my size?
- Which colour should I choose?
- Do they require specific treatment products or can I use my normal polish?
And so on.
I could send an email via the site’s contact form, but when will they answer? How would I know if my email has been received and read? What if the person who answers didn’t really understand my question and I have to ask for clarity?
It’s inefficient, I’m losing patience and I’ll probably just give up and go to another shop close by.
The conversational alternative
As a company with a strong conversational marketing culture, I can contact the brand I found on Google directly through one of the messaging apps I use every day.
I add them to my contacts list and fire up a conversation with one of their representatives.
I can instantly find out the different colours, sizes, and styles in stock. The rep also tells me that the fabric protector on sale will keep my shoes in top condition if it rains during the wedding.
Within a few minutes, all my questions have been answered. I’m on my way to purchase the shoes secure in the knowledge that they’ve put aside a pair for me.
A simple autoresponder would already make a world of difference, but, thanks to this conversational approach, I get a quick, friendly, and extremely helpful experience.
NB: This is obviously a fictional scenario. I know very well that I should be wearing zebra skin loafers with my navy blue suit.
The trend is already (somewhat) under way
Some companies have realised that being available all the time, in a friendly manner and adopting a conversational tone is the way to go.
Companies like Buffer or even Eurostar currently use Twitter as their main channel to help and communicate with their customers.
As a frequent Eurostar traveller, I have contacted them many times through Twitter asking questions.
How did these experiences make me feel?
I felt special. I felt enthused to have someone respond directly to me via Twitter, within a few minutes, and responding to my exact query.
I felt appreciated. I am a Eurostar customer so feel entitled to a certain degree of support, it’s still a nice additional touch. I am not a Buffer client (for example) and yet experienced the same delight when they responded to me.
It felt seamless. I know I could have emailed my travel queries, but sending an email is an entirely different social interaction. It entails me writing a longer message, with complete sentences describing my problem in a formal manner.
Sending an email also often means getting an automated response (“Your email has been received, we aim to reply within 24 hours”), not knowing exactly when I will finally get an answer, or even if my email was clear. If not, we’re back at the start again with me sending my reply, waiting for theirs, etc.
By going through Twitter I was able to be direct, explain my issues and get a quick answer.
Finally, it made me feel like sharing. I want to spread the word about their services.
The current limitations
The experiences I explained above were amazing, and I deeply believe all companies should adopt this degree of availability. Twitter is a good start, but it has its limitations.
Firstly, using Twitter means that your outreach is public. Your tweets to a company can appear on your friends’ timelines, and they are publicly available on the company’s Twitter feed. That’s alright as long as you’re reacting to an article or asking about the luggage size you can carry, but it could be more worrying if you had a personal or security question.
Secondly, tweets are limited in characters. You can only send 140 characters, minus the @name of the company, which can be a bit too short. (EDIT: This isn't true anymore, thanks Twitter!)
Finally and most importantly, although you can converse through Twitter it still doesn’t feel like the best place to do it. You have to go to your mentions every time you get an answer, there’s no obvious display of messages between you and the company – it’s not the way we’re used to messaging our friends.
The future of marketing
According to BI Intelligence’s Messaging App Report, active monthly messaging application users have recently surpassed social network active users.
If the graph tells us anything, it’s that messaging applications are here to stay.
One of the key takeaways from the report is that currently marketers are still very much focused on social media outreach, even though messaging apps are clearly becoming more important. Although being present and active on social media is super important, this shows a huge opportunity for brands, publishers, and advertisers ready to make the jump into conversational marketing earlier than their peers.
As conversational marketing is about personalisation and availability, it makes sense that the future of marketing would be to couple both the idea of extreme personalisation with the exponential usage of messaging applications.
This would hit all the requirements, on both sides of the conversation. Data is being collected, offers personalised, responses are sent quickly, sales are always on, content is relevant, etc.
By building a marketing strategy that revolves around conversing through messaging applications, marketers can get their content back in front of their audience. Email open rates (the most common and widely spread attempt at conversational marketing) have been dropping for many years now. On average, a marketer can expect a 20% open rate on the emails sent.
Bringing instant messaging and conversational marketing together, we can expect to at least quadruple that number. Recent research has found that SMS open rates are, on average, as high as 98%.
Not only that, our research has shown consumers actively want businesses to be conversational.
Delight, delight, delight
Conversational marketing is a brilliant way to help your customers, sell your products, and delight them in the process.
By being available on messaging platforms, you are now the go-to for your customers whenever they have a question related to your products. You become a contact, you become a person they can reach out to – you essentially become a friend.
As a marketer, you know the importance of getting your message across to your audience, and the importance of delighting your readers in the process. This is true through your blog, your communication with your customers, your public image, your social media presence, and more. Conversational marketing is the best way to build rapport and the customer journey needed for an impressive customer experience.
We strongly believe conversational marketing is the way forward, and we’re excited to be at the forefront of the revolution.