The Tech Giants have Spoken: It’s Time to Start Talking to our Machines
Backed by the likes of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Samsung, conversational interfaces – platforms that enable people to direct devices and programs through natural dialogue – have grown rapidly since
Apple introduced its virtual assistant, Siri, in 2011. There are now 3.5 billion active devices with virtual assistants, a number predicted to increase to 7.5 billion by 2021 (Ovum, 2017).
Consider these recent developments:
– Led by products tied to Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, smart-speakers have penetrated 10 percent of all broadband US homes, tripling in the past year (NPD, 2017).
– Facebook features over 100,000 bots on its messaging platform, helping with diverse tasks ranging from finding the right GIF to signing up for insurance (Facebook, 2017).
– One in five searches on smartphones made through Google’s app are currently made through voice (CEBIT, 2016).
Chatbots and Virtual Assistants
At the heart of these efforts is the conversational interface (CI), a connection between the user and a device that emulates talking with a “real” person through voice or text. Today’s conversational interface landscape is rapidly expanding, offering consumers a dizzying array of devices to talk to. For marketers, conversational interfaces present two clear customer-facing opportunities: chatbots and virtual assistant skills (see Figure 1).
Chatbots are programs on messaging applications like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp that complete tasks for users through natural conversation, allowing users to interact via text or by choosing from a list of items.
For example, Domino’s Pizza offers a chatbot on Facebook Messenger that allows people to order a pizza by talking with it. Virtual assistants are personalized digital concierges that assist users by responding to their voices (Jacobs, 2017). They can engage various applications on behalf of a user and exist both on mobile and home devices. Assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant offer integrations for brands (also known as “skills”), which allow them to program their own personalized experience for the user.
Identifying the Conversational “Job to be Done” for the Customer
For marketers to utilize CIs to reach and engage their customers, they must first identify the conversational “job(s) to be done,” a concept championed by Clayton Christensen, based on understanding customer needs by looking at what they wish to accomplish (Christensen et al, 2016). People are driven by five underlying motivations to use conversational interfaces: knowledge, connection, consumption, action, and service. These motivations map to jobs that brands can do for their customers and marketing goals within a purchase funnel (see Figure 2).
For example, consumers seeking knowledge present two conversational “jobs to be done” that brands can help accomplish: “help me find” and “inform me.” This information-gathering stage focuses on search, which ranges from the simplicity of a quick-hit voice search to the complexity of itinerary building and product recommendations. Chatbots for SnapTravel and Expedia enable users to search for hotels by chatting on Facebook Messenger, effectively replicating a conversation consumers might once have had with a travel agent, focused on dates, budgets, and availability. Best Buy offers an Alexa skill to recommend products to users, while retail brands like H&M have built chatbots to serve as stylists for shoppers.
Marketing’s Role Centers On Brand Experience and Discovery
The emergence of conversational marketing coincides with the rise of the age of the customer. To succeed, marketers must adhere more than ever to customer-centricity, taking an outside-in approach to designing their activities. Marketers must manage the brand experience offered by the conversational agent, where previously terms like brand, voice, and tone now become very tangible. Beyond assisting in designing the experience CIs deliver, aiding discovery will be a key part of conversational marketing, with campaigns designed to generate engagement with a brand’s Alexa skill or chatbot, similar to getting a customer to download a brand’s app.
As Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple battle to make the devices and assistants everyone will talk to, conversational interfaces will continue to expand in reach and usage. However, their ultimate success is up to customers, who must recognize the value created by this new way of interacting with machines. While virtual assistants and chatbots are still nascent, brands that are first to market will gain invaluable experience, data, and customer bases, much as was the case in the early days of social media. Marketers cannot risk being left out of the conversation.
Written by Jonathan Copulsky, Lecturer in the Medill IMC program, as well as at Kellogg, and Nicholas Stolongo Marketing Analytics Storyteller at Deloitte
Edited by Yuting Xue, Medill IMC Class Of 2018
CEBIT (2016). Google Trend: 20% of all queries are made by voice, 30 May, available at: http://www.cebit.de/en/news-trends/news/google-trend-20-of-all-queries-are-made-by-voice-1044 (accessed 15 January, 2018).
Christensen, Hall, Dillon, Duncan (2016) Know your customers’ “jobs to be done”, Harvard Business Review, accesed at: https://hbr.org/2016/09/know-your-customers-jobs-to-be-done (accessed 15 January, 2018)
Facebook (2017). Messenger Platform connects you to over 1.3 billion people each month, available at: https://messenger.fb.com/ (accessed 15 January, 2018).
Jacobs, I. (2017). Executive Q&A, Boost your Chatbot IQ, 21 February, available at: https://www.forrester.com/report/Executive+QA+Boost+Your+Chatbot+IQ/-/E-RES137301 (accessed 15 January, 2018).
NPD (2017). US home automation sales growth fueled in part by voice control and digital assistants, 5 October, available at: https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/2017/us-home-automation-sales-growth-fueled-in-part-by-voice-control-and-digital-assistants/ (accessed 15 January, 2018).
Ovum (2017). Virtual digital assistants to overtake world population by 2021,17 May, available at: https://ovum.informa.com/resources/product-content/virtual-digital-assistants-to-overtake-world-population-by-2021 (accessed 15 January, 2018).