What, why and how: chatbots for brands

R2D2 connects to a system

Chatbots look likely to be a cornerstone of many brands' marketing campaigns this year with the programs capable of generating automated engagement with consumers.

Able to sit within messaging apps and communicate when prompted, chatbots can serve a wide variety of roles; the Guardian is distributing news; Activision engaged fans with the Call of Duty Series, Domino's Pizza is accepting food orders, and KLM's flight assistant houses boarding pass and flight times. For creative brands with on tap digital talent, the sky’s the limit.

2017 will see the technology enter the mainstream and on the crest of this wave there's an opportunity for brands to be the early bird.

The Drum has touched down with Paul Walsh, the founder of bCRM, a chatbot campaign management tool, which is now integrated with BotKit, one of the most widely used bot creation tools, to outline the basics for prospective brands.

The Drum: What benefits can chatbots bring to consumers?

Paul Walsh: Chatbots are very simple software programs that are installed and fully integrated inside Messenger Services such as Facebook Messenger, Kik and Skype, with chatbots also being installed inside internal messenger services such as Slack, HipChat and more. Consumers now spend more time inside messenger services than they do on social networks so being able to access a service like Uber, or read The Drum inside their preferred messenger app without having to leave the app provides a seamless and uninterrupted experience.

What is the practical application of chatbots?

Today bots are pretty basic, but that’s changing extremely fast. Imagine if you could open a group chat and invite the Hipmunk travel bot to your conversation to help coordinate a group booking.

Instead of being presented by countless dropdowns and tick boxes, you will soon be able to type in plain speak, each person’s likes and dislikes and the bot will understand it and then provide travel options based on everyone’s preferences. I like to travel to New York when it’s snowing but avoid Christmas. The bot will know your location and where you’re likely to fly from, to and when.

What is the next step up for bots?

When Artificial Intelligence (AI) is better understood and easier to integrate, chatbots will become much smarter and more aware of what we are likely to want and like. Additionally, consumer feedback will help improve the bot experience. Today the vast majority of innovation is coming from bot builders and they’re building what they believe consumers want. That will soon change when we learn what the true potential is in conjunction with what consumers really want and need.

I believe the creative geniuses that work for agencies and brands will add huge value to the ecosystem by coming up with engagement scenarios that haven’t been thought of yet. And machine learning and AI will add massive additional benefits that make bots much more intuitive than they are today. I see all of this happening inside the next 12 months.

How can brands build a bot?

Chatbots are pretty easy to build when you use frameworks and platforms like Botkit, Howdy, Pullstring and Pandorbots. As one of the seven original founders of the W3C Mobile Web Initiative in 2005 and an early advocate of Firefox and mobile apps, I’ve been through a few ecosystems. I’ve even helped to build and stimulate some from the ground up. I can say with a great deal of confidence that chatbots are exploding right now. Within 12 months agencies and brands will be talking about bots in the same way they talk about digital. The majority will get it and want it. Chatbots will become part of every integrated marketing campaign.

How can bots improve the brand eco-system/marketing?

Chatbots can significantly improve brand engagement and loyalty through segmented and highly targeted campaign management. By providing products and services, or content through their consumers’ preferred environment where they spend most of their time, brands are more likely to increase engagement and brand loyalty.

Imagine if you could schedule a message to be sent based on every consumer’s timezone so they get it at say, 8AM on Saturday morning for a promotional campaign available only on that day. With a delivery rate of 100% and an open rate of over 95%, incredible things will happen for brands.

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