Back in the day, the idea of artificial intelligence was reserved for science fiction movies. (Remember the creepy computer, HAL, from 2001: A Space Odyssey?! Still gives me nightmares). But today, artificial intelligence is a fairly common piece of technology—think Siri on your iPhone or Amazon Echo in your living room. And as the technology continues to advance, AI is going to become a go-to for just about every industry under the sun—including digital marketing.

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Robot mascot design by Cross The Lime, illustration by OrangeCrush

There are plenty of implications for AI in the digital marketing world and chatbots are definitely one of the most exciting.

Chatbots offer the best of both worlds; you can automate a huge part of your customer communication process without sacrificing customer service and support. These AI-powered chat machines are about to be everywhere—and if you want to stay competitive, it’s important to wrap your head around how they work and incorporate them into your strategy.

But what, exactly, are chatbots? How are they changing the digital marketing game? And how can you incorporate bots into your digital marketing strategy to take advantage of this science fiction-inspired technology—and skyrocket your business’ success in the process?

Here we cover everything you need to know about chatbots in marketing:

  1. What are chatbots?
  2. How are chatbots transforming digital marketing?
  3. How can you incorporate chatbots into your digital marketing strategy?
  4. Chatbot best practices
  5. Conclusion

What are chatbots?

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Logo design by ludibes

First things first. What the heck are chatbots?

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Chatbots are an AI-powered software you program to facilitate conversations with your customers. You can program your chatbots with specific answers to frequently asked questions (like “what’s your return policy?” or “how much do your services cost?”)—so, instead of spending the time and energy to answer every individual question from your customers, your chatbots can step in and do the work for you.

And the best part? Chatbots leverage machine learning—so the more questions your customers ask, and the more involved those questions are, the better the software gets at answering them.

You can have chatbots on your website, on Facebook or on your customer service portal. Wherever you interact with your customers you’ll find an opportunity to leverage chatbot technology.

How are chatbots transforming digital marketing?

Now we know what chatbots are, so let’s look at how they’re transforming digital marketing (and how they can transform your business in the process):

Chatbots automate part of the marketing process—which frees up your team to work on more important projects

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In case you haven’t noticed, marketing takes work. Chatbots, give you the ability to make marketing easier and more streamlined by automating the beginning of the process—freeing up your time and energy to work on other things.

Chatbots are great for managing the initial steps of the marketing process, whether that’s gathering contact details and information for a sales call, answering general customer service questions or providing direction on common tech issues.

Now, before you get all “the robots are taking our jobs!” let’s be clear—chatbots are in no way replacing humans. If anything, chatbots are a human engagement enabler. The chatbot’s job is to handle the initial communication and gather any necessary details from your customers—so that when you do step in, you already have what you need to engage people in a meaningful way.

Chatbots increase the volume of marketing conversations

As mentioned, chatbots can automate a huge chunk of the marketing process. And because a huge chunk of your marketing process is automated, that means you and your team can handle a higher volume of marketing conversations—and close more sales as a result.

This is another example of chatbots enabling your engagement; they allow you to connect with more customers, start more conversations, and generally have a higher degree of personalization in your approach to customer communication—all of which can have a huge impact on your business.

Chatbots bridge the gap between marketing and sales

There can be a huge disconnect between marketing and sales; maybe marketing doesn’t know what sales needs to be successful or sales doesn’t know exactly how the marketing funnel is set up (and where prospects are in the sales cycle when they hit their desk).

Chatbots are a great way to bridge the gap between marketing and sales. Bots are a more efficient way of gathering information, qualifying leads and setting your sales team up for success. By looping everyone in on your chatbot strategy, you can get marketing and sales on the same page—and convert more prospects into customers.

How can you incorporate chatbots into your digital marketing strategy?

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As you can see, chatbots are changing the digital marketing game—but how can you hop on board the chatbot train and incorporate these AI powerhouses into your own digital marketing strategy?

You can use chatbots for:

  • Gathering initial information from leads. There are details you need to gather from every lead before any meaningful conversation can happen—like their contact information, whether or not they’re already a customer, and the areas where they need support. Chatbots are a much more personalized way to gather this information (instead of, say, contact forms)—and are much more time-efficient than gathering the information yourself.
  • Scheduling. Need to schedule a sales call? A customer service call? An onboarding session? Instead of going back and forth with your customer, have a chatbot schedule it for you.
  • Answering FAQs. No matter what kind of business you’re in, there’s a set of questions you get all the time. Instead of wasting the time and energy to answer those questions every time they’re asked, let your chatbot do the dirty work. It’s a win-win; your customers get the answers they’re looking for—and you don’t have to answer the same three questions 10,000 times a day.
  • Quickly greeting customers when they first land on your website. If you had a brick and mortar business, you’d probably have a staff member in place to greet every customer when they walked through the door. Chatbots can recreate that experience on your website by sending a personalized greeting to every person who lands on your page.

Once you’re ready to add a chatbot to your page, you don’t have to start from scratch. There are lots of great chatbot platforms that allow you to build your own chatbot and integrate it on your website. Depending on the usability and look of your page, you may want to consider adjusting the design of your website and the appearance of your chatbot to make the whole experience as nice and on-brand as possible for your visitors.

Chatbot best practices

Clearly, chatbots are an incredible tool to take your digital marketing, and your business, to the next level. But you can’t simply invest in a chatbot, throw it on your website and expect the sales to start rolling in. Like any other marketing tactic, it’s impossible (in the immortal words of Nike) to just do it—you have to do it well.

Here are a few chatbot best practices to keep in mind:

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  • Keep it simple. The more complicated you get with your chatbot programming, the more opportunities there are for things to go wrong. Keep your chatbot strategy—and the conversations you program your chatbots to have—simple (especially when you’re first getting started). The more simple your chatbot strategy, the better you can execute it, and the more successful you’ll be.
  • Think in terms of “if/then.” When programming your chatbots, you need to think like an engineer. Use “if/then” triggers to let your chatbots know how to respond (for example, “if a customer asks X question, send Y response” or “if a customer asks a question outside of this programming, send an email to X”).
  • Make your chatbots conversational. No one wants to feel like they’re having a conversation with a robot. If you want your chatbots to drive results, they need feel like real humans. Make sure to infuse your chatbot’s programming with warmth and personality!
  • Use chatbots as a supplement to human conversations—never as a replacement. Chatbots can only manage simple conversations, so you never want to use it instead of a real person. Make sure chatbots are the first step on the road to real, live, human engagement.
  • If at first you don’t succeed? Try, try again. Chatbots are a brand new technology and like any brand new technology, it’s probably going to take some trial and error to get it right. Be willing to try new things, test new strategies and overcome roadblocks as you roll out your chatbot strategy. The more flexible and adaptable you are, the more successful you’ll be with chatbots.

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Chat(bot) your way to digital marketing success

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Chatbots might seem like something out of the future, but the future has officially arrived. Now that you know the basics of all-things-chatbot, you are ready to embrace the future and incorporate this AI powerhouse into your digital marketing strategy—and drive the explosive results that go with it. What are you waiting for?

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