For the first time ever, messaging app usage is surpassing social network usage, and the popularity of messaging apps doesn’t stop there.
According to 2015 Forrester study, US and UK smartphone owners use an average of 24 apps per month but spend more than 80 percent of their [in app] time using just five non-native apps installed from the App Store.
These five apps vary from person to person, but at least one of these five apps is almost always, you guessed it, a messaging app.
With the recent release of the Messenger API, Facebook is expecting retailers to benefit most from this rapidly growing technology. Consumers have simply reached app fatigue, and Facebook is betting big that it can turn its popular messaging service into a key channel for businesses to interact directly with customers.
What Marketers Need to Know
So what does this mean for marketers?
Like with any new channel, you will need to figure out how chatbots will affect your current marketing strategy, if a chatbot needs to be a part of it and how chatbots will help the consumer’s experience with your brand.
The chatbot boom may also be an important time for marketers to think critically about looking beyond branded apps and start planning for the opportunities that chatbots present.
So how can marketers prepare to integrate chatbots into their efforts? Or at the very least, how can you successfully prepare to ride the wave of these instant, micro-marketing moments? Here are a few ways to make sure your brand is ready.
The Mobile-Friendly Imperative
Google’s recent mobile algorithm update (#mobilegeddon) is making it nearly impossible for websites to appear on search results pages if they are not mobile-friendly. If a chatbot’s primary goal is to provide consumers with the best, most relevant information, and your website isn’t up to par, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll miss out on a lot of traffic.
Instead of seeing 10 or more results for a search like with Google Search, a chatbot may only pull answers from the most authoritative site.
Google reports that 91 percent of smartphone users look up information on their smartphones while in the middle of a task; 82 percent of smartphone users also consult their phones while they’re standing in a store deciding on a product to buy.
Define Your Mobile Strategy
This is a significant amount of mobile search traffic that you don’t want to miss out on. For marketers, defining a mobile strategy will no longer be optional. Mobile must be part of your overall marketing strategy, or you’ll see chatbots start to deliver answers from your more mobile-friendly competitors instead.
A prime example is DiggBot, which is available only on Slack for now but is making its way to other messaging playgrounds soon. The algorithm-assisted aggregation bot literally digs through millions of publisher RSS feeds and tweets to generate the most relevant articles for its users.
"There were 1.4 billion monthly active users on messaging apps by the end of 2015 (over 3 billion if you don’t de-dupe), sending over 90 trillion messages last year, and that number in aggregate is growing faster than any single network in the world.
"Our daily attention is increasingly captive within messaging, and we have noticed more and more users sharing links they’ve found on Digg directly into these apps. But there still isn’t an easy way to discover great content directly through messaging."
DiggBot is ahead of the curve, but it shows the potential for chatbots to comb quickly through millions of article and social media data and present consumers with only the most mobile-friendly results. Content still matters, but mobile-friendly content will matter most.
Much More Customer Data Available
As a marketer, you depend on analytics to gain valuable insights on customers and evaluate the success of your campaigns.
With chatbots, a whole new range of insights into your customers’ behaviors and interactions with your brand will be available. The challenge will be processing and taking in all this new data to use it effectively.
The enormous amount of data chatbots provide can be used to greatly improve both your interactions as well as your other marketing initiatives. The other challenge that presents itself when we’re talking about this much data is that of user privacy.
In an intimate, one-to-one conversation setting, finding the right balance between how much information marketers are allowed to gather from user messages and how much should be protected, whether that’s through encryption or permission controls, remains to be seen. Facebook and the other messaging app platforms still have a lot to figure out when it comes to chatbot data, but this may be one area that is sure to affect marketers the most.
Attention spans have decreased, and consumer desire for instant gratification has never been higher. Never before have consumers had such a wide range of devices and services available to research precisely what they need to at any moment.
You could say that access to this extreme amount of information has made us all smarter and more efficient consumers. But for marketers, this means you must evolve and figure out the best ways to get your messages seen in this micro-moment world. To do so, marketing messages will not only need to be mobile-friendly, but they will also need to be easy to find.
Google first coined the term ‘Zero Moment of Truth’ (ZMOT) or “the moment when you grab your laptop, mobile phone or some other wired device and start learning about a product or service you’re thinking about trying or buying”.
Chatbots are certainly a result of the ZMOT phenomenon and as a marketer, you will want to be certain that your brand is present when these micro marketing opportunities present themselves. This first interaction with your brand must hit the mark.
Only when a consumer has chosen your brand to inform their decisions (thanks to your easily digestible mobile-friendly presence), will they feel comfortable taking next steps within the comfort of your branded chatbot.
From Branded Apps to Chatbots
Chatbots are here because mobile apps have lacked. After substantial investments in mobile app development by brands both big and small, there is an emerging trend that shows app usage is now on the decline, as consumers are not spending nearly as much time in them as marketers predicted.
From a consumer perspective, it has become a pesky task to have to download apps continuously and keep them up-to-date to shop or interact with branded content. We’re now seeing big brands embrace the consumer interest in messaging and chatbots in exciting, innovative ways.
Integrated into both Slack and Facebook Messenger, TacoBot enables users to place an order at Taco Bell without leaving their device.
This quirky chatbot is designed to be both humorous and convenient. Employing artificial intelligence, the bot can recommend menu items, organize group orders, and answer any taco-related questions.
Holiday booking service, Skyscanner, has also announced a chatbot that enables users to book flights and vacations all within Facebook Messenger. The bot can search for flights on request, make recommendations, and redirect users to the Skyscanner website to confirm and complete a booking.
Chatbots Curate, Condense Information
To test out some of the branded chatbots that are currently operating on Facebook Messenger, PC Mag walks you through how to find them.
It remains to be seen if chatbots will truly take off as a successful marketing tool, but ultimately we could see chatbots completely replace apps for most brands.
Chatbots can curate and condense information into easily-to-understand messages, process payments and gather significant data to personalize its action, so consumers no longer have to scour the Internet to discover exactly what they’re looking for.
For now bigger brands are harnessing the power of chatbots to connect with their customers, but this trend will begin to trickle down to small and medium-sized businesses in the short-term.
And because of that, all marketers must begin to prepare by focusing on mobile and content as well as trying to zero in on what customer data is most important to their brand.
The technology for these chatbots is coming quickly, and it will push brands into the servant-marketing arena as consumers begin to expect this technology rather than just want it. Marketers should be watching and using chatbots from a variety of industries to find out what works and what doesn’t as this industry expands.
Title image by Alex Blăjan