Rethinking Channels–Chat Is More Than Conversations

Lately, I’ve been fascinated by how digital channels aren’t just disrupting traditional ones — but that we’re already starting to reimagine how we use the channels themselves.

Take chat, for example. Messaging apps already have more active users than social media platforms, creating a massive market for chatbots. A recent report by Uberall found 80% of consumers having positive chat experiences, even recognizing the need to improve accuracy.

Most of us might think about chat as a customer service channel, and that is surely the biggest bucket of use cases we’re seeing from most enterprises today. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In her report The Conversational Business, my colleague Susan Etlinger at Altimeter highlighted 12 categories for bots, starting with experience and service but extending to commerce, sales, marketing, healthcare, government, smart home, and employee productivity.

For marketers, here are three fresh ways to think about this fast-growing channel:

  1. Building Awareness: Can chat help find new audiences? It did for BBC America. The popular cable channel used chat. To. promote its Planet Earth series. The idea, delivered through Facebook Messenger, is grounded in a study that proved watching nature programs makes people happier. After a user answers a few questions, the BBC’s “Happybot” delivers a “Real Happiness Moment” each week. The moment is a personalized video of joyful animal activity (puppies cuddling, monkeys swinging, rhinos dancing), based on content from BBC Earth, the master brand across all BBC natural history content. I took notice, remembered the show, was reminded each week, and even tuned in.
  2. Engaging with Story:  If you like murder mysteries, you’ll be right in the center of this one. Last Fall, hyping his upcoming novel “The Chef,” author James Patterson launched an storytelling experience on Facebook Messenger. Users interacted with the characters and got a taste of the storyline in action, via video and audio clips. It didn’t ruin the book; it made you want to read it.
  3. Driving Transactions: is a new “conversational commerce” tool. It facilitates checkouts on web sites and social media platforms. Among the examples a representative showed me was “The Bot Office” — selling movie tickets via chat. For clients like Disney, they tracked 68% sales conversion and 80% click-throughs. That’s very high in any kind of direct marketing, and especially in a new channel like chat.

The biggest battleground will, of course, be voice:

Already growing, the big chat platforms like Alexa are being careful about letting advertisers into voice before consumer behaviors take root. Like chat, says my colleague Mike Welch, “Voice has the power to transform experiences, and is a real innovation in certain contexts. For most humans, simply speaking a command or question is the most frictionless experience imaginable.” By eliminating the need to pull out your phone or laptop, Welch explains, it has the potential to drastically reduce friction in a current experience. Of course, one can type in my Starbucks order into the app, but isn’t it just so much easier to just ask Alex to do it for you, especially when you are driving?

Voice can also enhance a current experience, bringing new functionality or content in something you already do. Patron’s “Ask Patron” skill on Alexa takes cocktail recipes to a new level, bringing the brand to life, making recommendations and providing hands-free support to at-home mixologists. But most exciting are the completely new experiences only voice make possible— teaching you new skills or playing a game with you. Alexa and her kind, you see, are becoming far more than an expensive alarm clocks.

Sure, enjoying the promise of chat requires a shift in long-established behaviors. For decades, we’ve had to be trained to use computers — how to use a keyboard and mouse, how to navigate a webpage, how to optimize our search terms. But by teaching computers how to interact with us — through chat and voice — we open up a new world of possibility. Keep your mind open to using channels differently, the old and the new.

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