What marketers need to know about chatbots


By Jess Thoms

Since Facebook’s F8 developer conference in April last year, where the company announced the Messenger app would support chatbots — marketers have been grappling with the best ways to implement bots. With increasing media coverage and brands like CNN, TechCrunch, Sephora, and DuoLingo pioneering their own conversational experience’s on Messenger — the industry is now paying close attention.

Here’s what marketer’s need to know:


While there is debate as to whether the app boom is over, or not, it is clear that messaging apps are continuing to grow significantly. The steady growth of messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger has taken over social networks Instagram & Twitter.

Since Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends Report, Facebook Messenger has exceeded 1 billion monthly active users, with over 34,000 chatbots available on the platform. In addition, Facebook owned WhatsApp sits alongside Messenger as the most popular messaging apps used by millennials worldwide.

“Millennials and teens — who represent the bulk of tomorrow’s market — spend more time on messaging apps than on social media sites, creating a huge opportunity for businesses who want to reach them on those platforms.” - Mariya Yao, TOPBOTS

With marketing efforts trying to extend beyond social media channels to win over millennials, chatbots and conversational campaigns give brands the chance to stand out.


Whether you want to buy flowers, win a holiday, register to vote, order an Uber, or book flights — chatbots can facilitate.

Chatbot directory Botlist.co lists 27 categories including Education, Finance, Health, Games, and Productivity that brands have created bots for. Widely used to drive e-commerce transactions, chatbots have also seen success in delivering daily news digests and tracking personal habits like meditation, exercise or dietary goals.

Bots for 1800 Flowers, TechCrunch, and MeditateBot.

Bots for 1800 Flowers, TechCrunch, and MeditateBot.

While the ease and efficiency of chatbots for performing tasks is a drawcard for brands, immersive storytelling experience’s for marketing campaigns will eventually win audiences over. An example of such experiences includes the Facebook Messenger bot Persona Synthetics, created on PullString to promote the second series of Channel 4’s Humans, which takes the user through a structured narrative that perfectly blurs the lines between reality and digital experience. While some commented that the level of this campaign was excessive for a TV series, it’s a clear indicator that more brands will follow suit.

Marketers also have the advantage on Facebook to be able to send users directly to a Messenger bot from a Facebook ad campaign, rather than to a website or Facebook page. This allows brands to seamlessly promote their bot experience’s to the intended demographic, leading to better engagement and retention.

Brand messaging

Chatbots can have little to no ‘functionality’ beyond conversation yet still reinforce a strong brand message.

Mattress start-up Casper launched Insomnobot 3000 as a companion for when you can’t sleep, and it’s too late to text your friends. Casper VP Lindsay Kaplan describes the bot as “obsessed with pizza and really on the fence about if it’s too late to eat or it should just wait to eat waffles in the morning.”

The bot was developed with the single intention to bring customers closer to the brand, with a fun marketing tactic that allows users to engage in conversation with a product.

There’s no better way to reinforce a brand message than conversation. With chatbots, brands can engage in 1-on-1 communication at scale. Brands have the opportunity to personalise each customer’s experience that is unique, scalable, and automated.

The future is voice

If 2016 was the year of the chatbot, 2017 will be the year of voice assistants. With reports showing that there will be over 30 million voice assistants in US homes by the end of 2017, brands are already adapting to the voice-first ecosystem. Applications of voice in homes will ultimately be functional: reordering groceries when low, controlling lights, or even helping to conceive. Giving brands a whole new way to advertise via search, voice assistants allow marketers to create “branded skills” that serve as a useful offering from brands. Of course, you can already order pizza via the Domino’s Alexa Skill.

The applications of voice assistants are almost as varied as chatbots, with limitations still present in discoverability for users and challenges in designing for voice-first user interfaces. With increasing thought leadership in this space, marketers can gain perspective of the voice ecosystem in articles like the Ultimate Guide to Voice Assistants by Ben Tossell.

This article was originally published on Medium.