The short answer: thanks to modern technology, drastically! Conversation is one of the foundations of our civilization and obviously, it is fundamental for marketing and sales. But there were never better times to communicate to an audience individual, personal and smart at a large scale than today – hello conversational marketing!
Let’s put the marketing hat on and dive right into it…
The basis: markets and conversations
In 1999, David Weinberger released “The Cluetrain Manifesto:
The End of Business as Usual”. He wrote about the evolution of marketing and communication from the origins of markets where “supply met demand with a firm handshake” to today, where the worldwide market known as the internet is gotten complex, fast and crowdy. To “deliver a message” that is relevant to a potential business partner (customer) can be a real struggle these days. Weinberger realized:
Markets are nothing more than conversations. (…) Our only hope is to talk.David Weinberger
Conversation leads to transparency. Transparency leads to trust. And trust is the basis for any relationship or business. This seems even more relevant for marketing today than it was ever before. But why?
When the key is to talk, to build a relationship – the challenge is to gain attention, to get into a real conversation with customers. There were never more people talking at us than today, the noise every customer has to deal with is tremendous.
And because of that, we all defined some solid gate-keepers in mind that only let pass relevant information. Unfortunately, ads and marketing messages often don’t make it through. They tend to be bearish and obtrusive, they often simply don’t fit our needs.
Marketing means talking to people, right?
Well, that’s the way marketing was defined for the past decades. But talking to people is no conversation. And talking even more and even start yelling, because everyone is talking is no conversation either. There is one important thing missing: you have to listen!
“In the past, brands have been able to talk at their customers — through email, website interactions, and social media — not with them. Brands have struggled to capture, keep and convert attention into sales, sign-ups, and long-term loyalty. Engagement was passive, and results were shallow”, Justin Lee from HubSpot wrote in his article about conversational commerce.
The missing ability to listen, to gain qualified insights about users needs was leading to a kind of “trial and error” marketing. “Just spread the message wide, hopefully, there is someone who likes it.” There are plenty of numbers that illustrate the problem: customers are resistant to ‘one-size-fits-all’ messages today.
Cold emails have a 1% open rate. The average email open rate is about 20%. The average landing page conversion rate is just 2.35%. We got used to these numbers.
About marketing, data, and customers
Obviously, marketing is more than “trial and error”. There is a heavy focus on data (big data) these days. But at its core, marketing is not about data, it’s about people. In the past, talking to a large audience in a personal and individual way – and in real-time – simply was impossible or highly expensive.
“As a result, the buying experience most companies provide has become cold and impersonal. For many marketing and sales teams, their leads have become faceless entities that exist only inside of spreadsheets — they aren’t treated like actual people”, Erik Devaney explained with this Drift post.
Today customers are well-informed and smart. No one wants to be a faceless number in a giant marketing game.
For users, personalization and transparency are a prerequisite to building a relationship with a brand. Customers feel empowered by their options. It’s hard to fool them, and even harder to gain their loyalty. But what does this mean for marketing?
The new kid: conversational marketing
There is a new paradigm arrived in marketing these days, it is called “conversational marketing” or “conversational commerce”.
“At its most simple, it’s the act of talking — and more importantly, listening — to your customers: their problems, their stories, their successes. Forging a genuine connection and using that connection to inform your marketing decisions. At its most complex, conversational marketing has become synonymous with cutting-edge technologies for computer-based dialog processing”, Justin Lee resumed.
Eric Devaney summarised: “Unlike traditional marketing, conversational marketing uses targeted, real-time messaging and intelligent chatbots instead of lead capture forms — that way leads never have to wait for follow-ups, and can engage with your business when it’s convenient for them.”
Dialogue and messaging
Conversational marketing is all about dialogue at the right time in the right place. It changes the habit of marketers from just pushing messages to audiences to actually entering a conversation. Messaging is playing a big role here. Since messaging apps have surpassed social networks in terms of active monthly users, brands, and businesses seeking for direct connections to customers on these platforms.
Innovative brands are realizing that messaging offers the kind of convenience that drives engagement — and the kind of intimacy that inspires deep customer loyalty.Chris Messina
Two aspects of conversational marketing
On the one hand, there is a changing mindset, the need to interact and engage with people to understand and reach them. On the other hand, there is technology that enables a new way of individual “mass-communication”. Chatbots and smart voice-assistants represent this new era in conversational marketing: they are scalable, personalized, real-time and data-driven.
“A customer-centric marketing approach that places brand transparency and trust above all else is the true opportunity in conversational marketing”, Jess Thoms wrote on her conversational marketing article for Prototypr.
To reach this goal, a customer-centric marketing, we have to use smart technology, data and AI along with all the other traditional marketing techniques. But most of all:
It is our job to help users having the right conversations with the right people at the right time. That means to provide useful content, be transparent and let the customer do the first move.
The opportunities and the dangers
Well crafted automated conversations can boost user experience and businesses:
- More sales through fast responses on leads
- Lower costs for service and support
- Data-driven insights on what customers interests are
- Personalized and relevant for users
- It let the customer make the first move, on his terms
But: poor experiences with bots are frustrating and leading to a “never again”-attitude in most cases. People have high expectations of conversations and are looking for an efficient and delightful experience. The reference for bots is human communication, which is multi-layered, complex and ambiguous.
According to Lee, “Bots are far from being autonomous, and people aren’t easily fooled; trying to present your bot as a human agent is likely to be self-defeating. Bots don’t understand context created by preceding text, and conversational nuances can easily affect their capacity to answer.”
Ancient human behavior still predicts our needs
Imagine a middle-age market. Or better, imagine a stone age market. These markets were places where people met who had something to offer and who were looking for a solution for a specific need. The business in those markets followed simple rules.
- Does the product fit my need?
- Is the price (or the consideration) acceptable?
- Can I trust my business partner to deliver what is promised?
The only way to find out was the conversation.
Since way back people don´t want to trade or buy anything without interacting with their counterpart. You want to get in touch, you want to know if you can trust your business partner and if the offer really suits your needs.
Now jump fast forward into the 21st century. – Guess what? Nothing changed. We´re still the same, aren´t we?
While the scale of the market has changed dramatically, our needs are still the same. We are looking for a business partner who can solve a problem we have. And we want to know if we can trust him.
Still, the only way to find out is conversation. The more purposeful and personal the conversation is, the better for both sides. That’s why conversational marketing is more than a trend, it’s like a core principle of trade. Thank’s to technology now we can catch up and build a user experience that feels more natural and human again.
Got it, wipe out everything and start a chatbot now!
Ahmm … no.
Conversational marketing is not about bots, it’s about providing value to your customers and carefully building a relationship through personalized and relevant content.
The strategy is what you should think about first. How can you attract customers with valuable content rather than pushing replaceable messages to the universe? How can you define and personalize the right content? And how can you build trust and establish a loyal relationship with customers?
Maybe, after answering all these questions, a chatbot is the exact right thing for you. In this case: go for it! If not: go for it too! I am just the designer…