How often have you found yourself feeling trapped in a situation where someone’s talking at you? When you’re faced with a person who won’t listen, but sure wants to talk, it’s a lesson in what communication shouldn’t be. It’s frustrating. It’s boring. Sometimes it’s even infuriating.
Yet a lot of the communication brands have with their audiences is one sided. That’s not always a problem. Sometimes customers just want to get the information they’re looking for and be on their way. But there’s a shifting trend in the marketing world toward providing customers the option of more conversational, two-way interactions.
What is Conversational Marketing?
Conversational marketing is any type of marketing that happens in a format that allows real-time, one-on-one conversations. Instead of finding a static, one-size-fits-all answer, customers have the chance to input specifics about what they’re interested in, and receive personalized responses based on the information they provide. That makes the experience more interactive and the answers they get more relevant.
Why Conversational Marketing Matters
A key ingredient in successful marketing is meeting your customers where they are. That includes being present on the main channels they frequent, and interacting with them in the formats they’re most comfortable in. That now includes at least three noteworthy conversational channels:
1) Text messaging
Texting has become one of the most common ways people communicate. People in the U.S. receive an average of 94 text messages a day. While most of those come from friends and family, that doesn’t mean businesses can’t get in on it. 54% of consumers say they’d like to receive business promotions via text, but it’s still an underutilized channel for most businesses.
2) Messaging apps
Billions of people worldwide use messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. They provide a similar experience to texting, while getting around carrier fees and restrictions. And people aren’t only using messaging apps to communicate with friends. 70% of users in one Facebook survey said they feel more confident about working with brands they can message with. And why not? It gives them an immediate way to learn what they want to know, in a channel they’re already hanging out in.
Chatbots are probably the technology most associated with the term conversational marketing. They take the experience people are familiar with via text and messaging apps, and allow you to put it on your own website. And consumers are happy to interact with chatbots. In one recent Userlike survey, most respondents who had interacted with chatbots gave a high rating to their interactions and said they see their use as innovative.
How to Get Conversational Marketing Right
For marketers, the shift to conversational channels means having a new skill set to learn and strategy to develop. But it’s worth it. Reaching your audience in a new way—one they’re already comfortable in—can be a differentiating factor and a way to personalize your brand. And it enables you to program the most common answers they need, so that they can access helpful information on their own terms 24/7.
Here are the main steps you need to get started.
1. Start with getting your communication style down.
Talking in a more conversational style is a good way to create a more relatable brand in general. But even if you’re not doing it already in the rest of your marketing strategy, it’s a necessity in conversational marketing. That means learning how to write more like the way you talk. Or even better, more like how you text:
- Using contractions
- Swapping out long words for simpler, more common ones
- Sticking with (mostly) short sentences
- Using emojis (but not overdoing it)
- Sticking with casual language (“hey” vs “hello”)
With conversational channels, you’ll be sending one to two messages at a time, before getting a response from your audience. You’ll need to get your message across in brief lines that focus at least as much on what the the audience wants as what you want them to do.
2. Figure out the right technology.
Conversational marketing is powered by tech. Whether you’ll be using SMS, messaging apps, or a chatbot in your marketing strategy (or all three), you’ll need to invest in the right products to power them. The first step to finding the right tech is deciding which channel(s) you want to be in. Then think about what your main goals for conversational marketing are, and what you want your conversations with your audience to look like.
Most conversational marketing products let you automate a good amount of the conversations you’ll have with customers. You program common questions, answers, and conversational paths in advance, and the technology will automatically serve up responses based on your instructions. Some conversational marketing products even bring AI into the process. Instead of relying on the scripts and programming you provide, they use each conversation to learn more about what your audience wants and update the responses accordingly.
Whether you need an AI-powered tool and what level of automation you’ll want will depend on your particular goals. You have a lot of tech options for conversational marketing, so look into what’s available to find what best matches your goals.
3. Map out likely conversations.
In most marketing, you’re crafting a single, uninterrupted message with each ad or piece of content you create. With conversational marketing, you need to plan out full conversations. And ones that could go in a number of different directions—choose-your-own-adventure style. Sit down with your team and create a list of the most common questions your audience has. Then map out all the conversational paths you can imagine from each starting point.
There will probably be a lot of different paths your conversations can take, and you want to be prepared for all of them. Try to see each interaction from your customer’s point of view. Your answers should always aim to be helpful, rather than focused on pushing a sale on them. You may be able to organize these conversational paths easily within your tech product, or a spreadsheet.
4. Update as you go based on data.
The conversations you map out to start will involve making some guesses about what your audience will want to know and how they’ll respond. Once people start interacting with your messaging scripts, you’ll gain real data on how they react. Based on what you learn, regularly make updates to your conversational marketing plan. A tool that uses AI will do some of this for you automatically. But even if you opted for one without it, you can do the analysis and make changes on your own.
Over time, you’ll do a better job of understanding how your audience talks, what they care about, and the best ways to respond to them.
Conversations are Powerful
Conversational marketing has a lot of benefits for brands. You gain data on what your customers care about. It helps move them through the pipeline. It gives you more ways to reach people in the formats they prefer.
But chief among the benefits is that conversations are interactive. They put you on a more level playing field with your audience—you hear from them as much as they hear from you. That has the power to change how they perceive the relationship. It becomes less about pushing the information you want them to have on them, and more about helping them find what they’re looking for.
Image by Gerd Altmann