Chatbots: Why Marketers Will Want to Get to Know These Next-Gen Conversationalists

by Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

Gartner predicts that 30 percent of our interactions with tech will be through “conversations” with smart machines by 2018. This begs the question, “What are chatbots?” Better yet, why should marketers start paying attention?

The Chatbot of Today…

Chatbots have been around for almost 50 years. At their most basic level, they’re computer programs that simulate human conversations. The first chatbots were solely text based, but (following massive upgrades) the modern chatbot is also audio based, digitally integrated across mobile devices and computers, and increasingly ubiquitous.

There are currently more than 400 chatbots on Botlist – an app store for bots launched in April. Major players like Slack, WeChat and most recently Facebook Messenger are encouraging developers to create chatbots for their respective platforms.

Chatbot creation for platforms is robust and presents a number of advantages to businesses, including:

  • Communicating with a built-in user base
  • Increasing consumer engagement
  • Targeting an audience in real time
  • Encouraging sales at the point of purchase

…and the Chatbot of Tomorrow

At this year’s F8, Facebook proclaimed it was opening up Messenger application programming interfaces (API) so that businesses could harness them to create richer engagements with its 900 million users. On June 1 – a little more than six weeks after the conference – the company announced its artificial intelligence (AI) engine DeepText.

Facebook is billing it as “a deep learning-based text understanding engine that can understand with near-human accuracy the textual content of several thousand posts per second, spanning more than 20 languages.” In layman’s terms, DeepText works non-stop to extract the information you want and weed out the spam you don’t. 

But connect the dots: At the beginning of 2015, Facebook acquired Wit.ai, a Palo Alto startup formed to build a speech recognition platform for IoT. DeepText is a highly personalized AI engine that mines your news feed for applicable information.

Conclusion: Facebook is teaching chatbots how to talk like you and maybe – just maybe – be the second AI to pass the Turing Test and “think” like a human. Developers are inadvertently assisting in droves – as of July 1, 2016, more than 11,000 chatbots had been added to the Messenger platform – and chief among the entrants is American Express.

But Facebook isn’t the only player thinking chatbots and AI. Apple is opening up iMessage and Siri to developers. OpenAI, a non-profit company headed by Elon Musk dedicated to researching AI and sharing the results with the world, has shared plans to make its own natural language processor.

Conversational Commerce

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was not overstating the matter when he called chatbots the future. More specifically, West Cary Group sees the technology as the key to the inevitable rise in “conversational commerce.”

Chris Messina, Uber’s new Developer Experience Lead, recently coined the term and defines it as “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.”

What this means for marketers is a whole new frontier of advertising. It’s an era where we can craft chatbots to seamlessly integrate into consumers’ daily lives and communicate one on one with customers – all at a massively reduced cost. We can imbue an artificial source with personality that mimics the voice of a brand to foster engagement.

For businesses across every industry, the possibilities offered by chatbots are just as profound. Just think: Financial institutions could use them as an educational tool to help consumers be more fiscally responsible. Retailers could offer real-time responses to consumer questions in order to heighten convenience, increase sales and deepen brand loyalty. And the list goes on.

In short, the chatbot frontier is vast, and the marketing possibilities virtually endless – which is why marketers and businesses should pay close attention.  

Are you as excited about this advertising tool as WCGi is? Do you want to discuss specific strategies we can employ to help put your company on the cutting edge of conversational commerce? Reach out. We love dialogues more than chatbots, and we’re eager to help you make your mark in this expanding communications landscape.

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