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Conversational marketing will be an integral part of the marketing mix in two to three years.
“It may seem exotic right now to think that conversational interfaces will play such a key role in marketing,” explains Jonathan Copulsky, former chief content officer and principal at Deloitte and author and lecturer at Northwestern University, “but ten years ago we thought the same way about Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Pinterest. Today, we all have social media as part of our marketing mix.”
In an excerpt from a new ITSMA Viewpoint, Copulsky explains why conversational marketing, though still in its early days, is destined to become a top digital priority for B2B marketers and offers tips for getting started.
ITSMA: Why is conversational marketing important for marketers?
Jonathan Copulsky: We’re on a journey towards unstructured, informal interfaces. Some of us are old enough to remember a world of punch cards and command-line interfaces. In the ’90s, we moved into a world of graphical user interfaces where we had menus, pointers, and touch screens. I believe the next wave will be conversational user interfaces.
As of 2018, the global smart-speaker market (e.g., Amazon Echo and Google Home) is worth approximately $3 billion. It is predicted to grow to nearly $12 billion in 2023, a compound annual growth rate of 34%.
According to NPR and Edison Research, 16% of Americans own a smart speaker as of January 2018, a 128% increase from the previous year. Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm is about the challenges that high-tech devices face when they are trying to move from the early adopter market to the mass market. In the book, Moore states that innovators and early adopters make up 16% of the population adopting a new product. This would suggest that the smart-speaker market is currently in the early adopter market. It’s still early, but we’re on the cusp. The question is whether smart speakers will cross the chasm to the mass market.
The numbers suggest that they’re moving in that direction. Over 300,000 chatbots have been released on the Facebook Messenger platform, and half of smartphone users with voice technology on their phones engage with it. Furthermore, one in three voice-enabled smartphone users engage with voice technology daily, according to comScore.
ITSMA: Most of what we hear about conversational interfaces is consumer oriented. What are the B2B marketing opportunities for conversational interfaces, particularly for those who are focused on services and solutions?
Copulsky: Let me suggest a couple of areas that might come into play.
Navigating the firm is probably one of the most challenging things for employees; I saw this when I was working at Deloitte. For example, who is the best person to talk about IoT? Who is the expert on conversational marketing? We can use conversational interfaces to find subject matter experts, relevant thought leadership, and so forth. Using conversational marketing to navigate is important. Similarly, we can apply this to connecting with our customers and partners to help them find the information they need.
The second idea is around developing new offers. When a customer is using voice to search for something, we’re having a conversation with them that goes beyond a simple search. We start to understand why they’re looking for something. We capture the sequence in which questions are asked. We get smarter about how we can enable the customer journey by helping them understand more about the different capabilities and offerings. You gain deep insights into how customers want to interact with you.
ITSMA: Why are these insights more valuable than a Google search or Amazon purchase history?
Copulsky: Conversational interfaces offer an unparalleled opportunity for us to gain insights about customers. Think about the richness of the conversations we can have with our customers via conversational interfaces as opposed to search.
If you have a website, customers can only navigate to where you allow them to go. Imagine having a conversation with a client or customer who says, “What’s the best thought leadership on the Internet of Things (IoT)?” It’s more than a simple search. Why do you want to read about this? How much do you want to know? It’s more of a conversation, as opposed to a simple request.
As marketers, we can start to understand what customers actually ask for. What was the sequence of the questions? These insights allow us to better enable the customer journey.
ITSMA: What advice do you have for marketers to get started with conversational marketing?
Copulsky: I’m a big believer in learning pilots. We need to learn how to test fast and then how to scale fast. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is to keep a wishlist of things that you would do if a million dollars suddenly appeared in your budget at the end of the year. I would put conversational marketing on that list, although you can actually do this with minimal resources; we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars, not millions.
It will take time for people to learn these new tools and applications, similar to when we had to learn how to use a mouse or a touch screen. People will learn to use it. I envision that a lot of the applications we talked about will happen over the phone. For example, the salesperson who is in the field might be using a tablet; they will want to get the information they need using voice on that tablet. In particular, as we move into a world of autonomous vehicles, people can engage and have a conversation on their devices while they’re on the road.
Discovery is a big part of what we do in professional services. Conversational marketing is a great tool for helping people find things by getting really good about asking questions. For marketers, aiding discovery will be a key part of conversational marketing.
Copulsky explains why conversational marketing is destined to become a top digital priority for B2B marketers and offers tips for getting started.