Are Chatbots Ready For Brands?

tom.ollerton recently published this article by We Are Social Marketing and Innovation Director, Tom Ollerton, looking at the considerations for brands to think about before investing in a chatbot. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

They promise a convenient, one-to-one conversation with customers, but what are the considerations for CMOs thinking of investing in a bot for their brand?

The announcement of chatbots on Messenger was undoubtedly the headline stealer for agencies and brands at Facebook’s F8 conference back in April. You can see why—they will help Facebook move further towards becoming a competitive e-commerce platform, they provide the opportunity for marketers to use Messenger to interact directly with consumers, and, as with any shiny new tech, they allow forward-thinking brands to show off their approach to innovation.

There are already bots available to interact with, such as Poncho, a weather bot and one of the first apps used to demonstrate Messenger’s new Send/Receive API, or character-based bots like The Muppets’ Miss Piggy, with whom you can have a chat on Messenger.

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However, brands shouldn’t get carried away just yet—there are a number of potential challenges to be aware of before rushing headfirst into the bot world.

First Isn’t Always Best
It’s tempting to get caught up in the rush to be a first adopter. When the App Store launched, brands rushed to build apps just for the sake of it, without any real sense of whether they were actually providing something of value. Many of these apps served no purpose, flopped, and were eventually removed. If you’re a brand that can provide something genuinely useful to consumers now through chatbots, fantastic. But, for the most part, they’re going to take years to mature and the awful executions will heavily outweigh the good ones before brands start getting it right regularly.

Ask yourself: will a chatbot make our service faster, better, or cheaper? If the answer is no to any of these questions, it may be difficult to justify creating a chatbot to senior management—and even more difficult to justify its existence to consumers. For those that decide to create a chatbot, marketers will still need to follow the basic rules of social, remembering to strike a balance between what the brand wants and what the audience wants.

Most marketers need to take a step back right now, and understand what purpose having a chatbot will serve for their brand before rushing in.

Get A Personality
People will interact with chatbots in different ways, but they’re going to expect the experience to be tailored to their preferences. For example, take a chatbot for a clothing retailer—some will see it as a direct, hassle-free purchasing experience, others will want to have a conversation about different options available to them, and will expect to receive personal advice in return. Consumers aren’t idiots. They know chatbots aren’t real people, but they will expect the experience to be more fun, interactive, and useful than browsing a website. If it’s not, why bother?

Brand bots will need to provide content that matches their personality, while meeting consumer demands for useful information and generating trust. Brands are used to developing specific tones of voice and guidelines for their community managers on social to follow—chatbots will be a natural extension of this. Editorial input will be almost as valuable as tech when creating the perfect bot to represent your brand.

Don’t Butt In
Another key challenge for marketers using chatbots is not to be too disruptive. Facebook has made it very easy for users to block bots, so brands will only get one chance to make sure that their content and tone are correct. The minute a consumer blocks the bot, brands have lost the opportunity for repeat sale—and it’s hard to come back from that.

Despite all its recent developments, Facebook Messenger is still a very intimate platform, predominately used for, as the name suggests, messaging. Again, it comes back to my point about providing something useful. Don’t hassle the consumer with pointless information and updates. Speak when spoken to and avoid getting in the way.

Chatbots have the potential to revolutionise the way that consumers behave. People are lazy; if something saves us time and effort, we’re likely to go back to it. Just as Uber and contactless payments have simplified the way we travel and pay, chatbots have the potential to do the same in terms of how we interact with brands and how we shop. While everyday use of chatbots is still very much in its infancy, it’s an area that brands should be following very closely.