What is Chatbot Marketing and Is It Right for You?

In a meeting recently, our team explored the idea of adding a chatbot to our site. At first we thought, “A chatbot would be a great thing to add to our website!” But then, someone pointed out, “Wouldn’t this be the antithesis of a boutique marketing firm that’s focused on relationships?”

And you know what?

That person had a point.

With the big AI push, many business owners have looked for ways to automate almost everything - and chatbots are a big part of that automation. The challenge comes as businesses try to find the digital balance in their marketing between a human touch and a robotic one. Chatbots can provide an innovative way to amplify your marketing, but it’s important to understand how it works — and how it can work for you. 

How to Use Chatbots in Marketing

Chatbots are computer programs used to interact with a user through simulated conversation. In marketing, they are frequently used to automate certain marketing tasks, such as customer service or parts of the sales funnel.

Nowadays, most everyone has heard of or encountered a chatbot in some form. Many pop up on websites to answer questions and bolster customer service. Others help point customers to personalized recommendations for a better experience. In all cases, chatbots have given companies the ability to effortlessly connect with a plethora of their existing and potential customers through more than just the typical marketing, advertising, or sales tactics. For just about every brand, this can be revolutionary, but with that power comes great responsibility. How do brands make smart use of this tool without allowing it to completely take over (or destroy) their relationships?

AI and Chatbots

With the rise of artificial intelligence, it’s no surprise that more companies are relying on chatbots. Aside from a few glitches, chatbots do a pretty decent job making customers feel like they are being heard. It’s a simple way to connect with a new website visitor, drum up new conversations, and make sure that every customer is receiving the golden glove treatment. 

There are two types of chatbots being used in the market today: rule-based chatbots and AI chatbots.

Rule-based chatbots operate under specific rules and are designed to answer a set of specific questions. For this type of bot, typically several ‘question-flows’ are defined for it, meaning that if you ask it a specific predefined question, it is programmed to spit out a specific predefined answer. The conversation with this type of chatbot may start with, “Welcome to our site! What can I help you with today?” followed by a list of suggested questions it can answer. Rule-based chatbots can work well for customer service or to answer frequently asked questions—pretty much anything that isn’t too complicated. However, try asking anything outside of the predetermined content and you could get circled back to, “Welcome to our site! What can I help you with today?”

AI chatbots (also sometimes referred to as contextual chatbots) are a little different. These bots can learn and can hold a full-on conversation with the user. By using machine learning and natural language processing, they can understand contexts and improve output all while sounding like a human. ChatGPT is probably the best (and most popular) example of an AI chatbot, and it seems to have endless possibilities. With their complexities, AI chatbots can be used for more intricate marketing needs. One such example is Sephora’s virtual beauty coach that provides users with personalized content and product recommendations based on the conversations it has with its users. But there are pitfalls with AI chatbots as well—they may be intelligent and able to learn concepts, but a lack of understanding human emotions and sensitive situations can lead to miscommunication, backlash, and sometimes dangerous consequences for your audience.

The Pros of Chatbots

A chatbot can help everyone get a leg up in the one area that is (arguably) the most important in marketing: building relationships. Depending on your needs, picking the right chatbot can help you deepen the relationship you have between your brand and your customers. There are a lot of advantages of adding chatbots to your marketing conversation, but here are some of the positives that really stick out to us:

Chatbots are available 24/7. Whether on your website, through social media messaging, or even a textbot, chatbots are always on. This allows customers to communicate with the brand at any time, leaving no stone unturned and no question unanswered.

Better one-to-one communications. For brands with large audiences, this pro can be a game-changer. Using an AI chatbot (for instance) can help each customer feel like they are valued and getting the support they need. Bonus: Since AI chatbots learn, they can provide a more in-depth personalized experience to customers that your normal |*FNAME*| email campaign cannot.

A/B Testing. Chatbots can do wonders for engagement (see above), which allows you a perfect opportunity to experiment. Learn more about retention rates, drop-offs, and even what is confusing your chatbot. Additionally, you can also program your bot to ask for feedback (“How was your experience today?”) to learn whether your chatbot is rubbing people the right (or wrong) way. This kind of data can help you improve upon your chatbot marketing strategy and could even inform your strategy as a whole. And as we say here at EMB: be driven by the data!

Chatbots open up possibilities for your team. Marketing is challenging enough without having to repeat the same question-and-answer session over and over again. Chatbots can help automate these tasks and provide the support needed so your skilled team members can get back to being innovative.

The Cons of Chatbots

After looking at the positives, there might not seem to be many negatives. However, there are a few drawbacks to using chatbots that could leave you wanting:

Lack of strategy. Everything (and we mean everything) in marketing has to have a strategy. Chatbots are no exception. Without being intentional about how you use them, your chatbots could end up as another wasted opportunity. 

You can’t automate everything. It’s true - chatbot automation is a huge help for all of those repetitive questions and tasks; however, there can be instances that are too complex for a chatbot to handle on its own. While AI is intelligent, it can only learn so much and can’t replace a human’s critical thinking or problem-solving skills. Additionally, someone will have to monitor the channels to make sure people are being helped when someone inevitably confuses the chatbot.

They can be frustrating. We may live in a mostly computer-generated world, but there are still some people (60% in fact!) who prefer the human route. Audience members can get upset with chatbots that send them in a circle or don’t understand their input (how often have you shouted ‘REPRESENTATIVE!’ in the middle of a bot’s message?). This frustration can cause a potential or existing customer to give up and search for another source, leading to a lack of trust, loss of qualified leads, fewer conversions, and a poor opinion of your brand’s authenticity.

What might be good for one may not be good for all. It may sound like an old proverb, but we promise it’s true. Depending on your industry, your marketing needs, and how you prefer to communicate with your audience, a chatbot might not be a good fit. Most chatbots are used to help companies generate leads or help lower costs, but it’s important to think about how and why you will be using them. 

The Verdict Is…

….well, it’s on you, really. Chatbots can be beneficial if you’re intentional about using them, but automation can’t replace the human elements of your marketing. Additionally, taking a minute to think about the strategy behind your chatbot efforts can save you a lot of heartbreak in the end. As marketers, we always want to keep the relationship with our audience top of mind, no matter which touchpoints we use. It can be a challenge to figure out how to do that effectively with so many different channels and tools at your fingertips, but that’s where we can help you shine. Contact us if you’re looking for ways to be more intentional with your marketing, no matter which tools you choose to use.

Samantha Lawrence, Account Manager

Elevate My Brand

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