What is conversational marketing?
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What is conversational marketing?

As its name suggests, conversational marketing is a type of marketing where brands or businesses communicate with customers and prospects through personalized, real-time interactions on marketing channels such as social media, email, live chat and messaging applications.

The term "conversational marketing" was coined by Drift, a popular marketing and sales platform, in 2010, and is used widely throughout the digital marketing industry today.

Most conversational marketing instances begin with a website visitor or app user being greeted by a pop-up window that asks a question such as what are you looking for? Or how can I help you? Strong conversational marketing strategies help enterprises improve their marketing campaigns and overall user experiences by anticipating customer needs and expectations as soon as the customer has made contact. With the rise of artificial intelligence or AI, chatbots equipped with it have become a popular conversational marketing tool because of their ability to conduct real-time conversations with customers and prospects in a natural tone.

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Why is conversational marketing important?

As more and more interactions between businesses and their customers move into the digital space, organizations need ways to create meaningful conversations with their customers on their preferred channels. A strong conversational marketing approach enables fast, personalized service for a variety of common customer issues including FAQs, pain points, product recommendations, questions about pricing and customer feedback.

Conversational marketing vs. Traditional marketing


Traditional marketing tactics, such as cold-calling or advertising on print and media channels, have proven to be tremendously effective at raising brand or product awareness. Just think of the super bowl spot you we’re chuckling about days after the big game, or the catchy jingle you heard on the radio and couldn’t get out of your head. But it has its drawbacks. For one, it can be a waste of time and resources to target consumers that have no need or interest in your product and because of the limitations of traditional marketing channels, there is simply no way to correct this. This is where conversational marketing tactics step in.

Because of the nature of digital marketing and social media, conversational marketing can address the needs of each individual customer and only engage with those who have an inherent interest in a service or product, making it easier to create better conversational experiences. Using conversational AI, enterprises deploying conversational marketing effectively learn quickly about their customers’ online habits and preferences and can serve up messaging and content they are likely to engage with. This also helps sales teams by increasing the likelihood that their leads will be more qualified by the time they speak to them.

The benefits of conversational marketing

From lead generation and better customer relationship management (crm), to stronger email marketing programs, digital marketing campaigns, shorter sales cycles and the automation of time-consuming tasks, there are many reasons for businesses to invest in a conversational marketing program. Here are some of the most popular benefits:

More personalized customer interactions: Today, because of the proliferation of smartphones, messaging apps and social networking, customers have come to expect a highly personalized experience when they interact with their favorite brands and companies. They demand accurate, open and friendly communication and reward enterprises who deliver this in their digital experiences. In-person, customer service can only go so far though, and to cope with these rising demands, more enterprises are turning to AI-enhanced chatbots and voice agents to deliver a more personalized experience. These tools, built on deep learning (DL), machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) models, can understand customer questions and often answer them with the same accuracy as a human.

Improved customer-support: Customers are often frustrated when they can’t find basic information such as accurate product descriptions or hours of business on a website. Conversational marketing offers a proactive solution to this problem, answering a host of commonly asked questions and only routing support tickets to customer service representatives that are too complex for it to handle. Automated chatbots can help customers solve a variety of problems such as booking an appointment, returning an unwanted item or making a purchase.

Reduced costs: AI-enhanced conversational marketing helps organizations meet customer demand while still reducing the overhead costs associated with running an effective support team. AI-enhanced chatbots and voice agents deliver automated, self-service support across many customer channels and touchpoints, reducing the number of staff needed on the team.

Shorter sales cycles: Conversational marketing helps sales teams move more leads through the sales funnel, faster, while also helping the customer build a stronger relationship with the brand or business at every stage. AI-automated chatbots improve the nurture process by responding in real-time to customer concerns, offering up timely, relevant content and communicating effectively via chat, text, email or whatever platform the customer prefers.

How does conversational marketing work?

Conversational marketing works best when it is incorporated into an overall marketing plan so all potential channels relevant to the customer journey can be carefully considered. Here are five commonly used best practices companies have deployed to build an effective conversational marketing strategy:

  1. Establish goals: Goals for a conversational marketing strategy should be consistent with the overall goals of the digital campaign it’s supporting. Start with easily measurable objectives, such as increasing the number of quality leads, boosting customer engagement or reducing the number of unresolved customer-service tickets, and then adjust them as needed.    
  2. Identify customer segments: The next step is to identify which groups of customers you want to target with your conversational marketing strategy. A good place to start is with existing or new customers—do you want to use conversational marketing to improve the quality of your existing customer base or to target new customers altogether?
  3. Create a channel strategy: Once you’ve identified your target audience, you can establish which channels are best for communicating with them. There are many options when it comes to interacting with customers digitally today, some of the more popular channels include messaging apps, such as Facebook messenger and WhatsApp, SMS texting and email. Research into how your audience spends its time online and their preferred methods of engagement will help pinpoint the right channels to focus your strategy on. 
  4. Develop the right content: Like channel preferences, audiences have content preferences that brands and businesses need to pay attention to as well. Preferred content can range from podcasts, blogs and product reviews, to GIFS, videos and even influencers on social media sites. Effective conversational marketing takes these things into account and ensures that content is developed for each relevant customer profile and can be quickly served up on their channel of choice.
  5. Measure and optimize: Like any effective strategy, conversational marketing depends on strong execution which means constant measurement and re-evaluation of your methods. To optimize your campaign, you’ll need to create meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs), such as watches, likes, shares, reach and impressions to gauge how your program is faring. Measuring what your audience responds to and making adjustments along the way will increase the likelihood of success.
Examples of conversational marketing

Conversational marketing has become an essential tool for enterprises looking to strengthen their customer relationships, improve conversion rates and engage with their core audiences on their preferred communication channels. Here are some examples of ways it is being used today:

Customer support

AI-enhanced chatbots are helping enterprises overcome the friction associated with traditional customer support models such as long wait-times and inaccurate information and delivering elevated customer experiences instead. Some of the benefits of using conversational marketing for customer support include:

  • Improved return on investment (ROI): According to a recent Forrester study an organization based on real client data showed a payback period for virtual agents in as little as six months and an ROI of 370 percent over three years.1
  • Greater accuracy: One of Brazil’s largest banks automated their customer service with AI and achieved 95 percent accuracy answering 283,000 questions a month on over ten million customer interactions.2
  • Better scalability: Chatbots and virtual voice agents support customers twenty-four/seven on their preferred channel and can easily scale to handle large volumes of inquiries. Hiring and training employees to manage the same workload can be expensive and time consuming.
Social media messaging

Not all conversational marketing strategies need to be driven by an automated approach or even leverage AI. Popular social media apps such as Facebook, LinkedIN, X (Formerly known as Twitter,) TikTok and Instagram allow brands and businesses to address customer needs directly with one-to-one or one-to-many messaging models. While LinkedIN and X allow organizations to engage directly with prospects and customers through built-in messaging functions, Facebook, TikTok and Instagram are more commonly used to engage with content such as videos and interactive stories. 

Sales-cycle enhancement

Conversational marketing is helpful for optimizing ROI over the course of the sales process. Many chatbots and virtual agents can identify customers that fit an ideal customer profile (ICP) from anonymous traffic to a site or app and reach out to them proactively with engaging content, all without the involvement of a sales rep. The result is that when a sales team does engage with a potential customer, it’s after an initial vetting period has already been conducted through conversational marketing and a certain level of relevancy and/or interest on the customer’s part has been established. Also, unlike sales reps, chatbots are available around-the-clock to engage with customers on their preferred channels, answer questions and serve up relevant content.

Messaging applications

Popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Snapchat also present excellent opportunities for brands and businesses to engage with customers through conversational marketing. According to a recent Business Insider report, Apple handles as many as 200,000 text messages per second and about 40 billion imessage notifications per day.3 This environment of near-constant interaction is unscalable without the help of AI-enhanced chatbots which is why the popularity of conversational marketing has increased with the widespread adoption of these apps.

Today, many organizations use WhatsApp and its popular Business API to deliver automated notifications about products and services, helping their customers stay connected as well as reaching new ones at scale. 

Customer research

One of the biggest benefits of deploying tools and strategies underpinned by AI is that AI is constantly learning. AI deployed for the purpose of conversational marketing with customers learns about customer preferences, purchase history and other valuable information that the business it belongs to can leverage for both existing and future campaigns.

A good example of this is the travel industry where popular applications for booking flights can pass along information about customer intent to car rental and hotel reservation applications. The customer that has just booked a flight to, say, Japan, will then be politely asked if they would also like to book a car or hotel for their stay.

Inbound marketing

Conversational marketing tactics can help improve inbound marketing efforts in several ways. First, by providing one-on-one interaction to website visitors, it can improve customer engagement while also gathering relevant and timely data about customer preferences. Second, conversational marketing tools can qualify leads in real-time by asking customers a series of questions that will help marketers understand how close they are to making a purchase. Third, with the information it gathers from prospects, conversational marketing can serve up hyper-relevant content to them and guide them further down the sales funnel according to their interests.

Conversational marketing solutions 
Data and AI IBM® watsonx Assistant

IBM watsonx Assistant is a market-leading, AI enhanced conversational marketing platform that helps businesses deliver exceptional experiences to prospects, customers and employees. Powered by large language models (LLMs) that are reliable, accurate and trustworthy and designed with an intuitive user interface, IBM watsonx Assistant enables enterprises to build AI-powered voice agents and chatbots that deliver automated self-service support across all relevant channels.

Learn more about IBM® watsonx Assistant
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IBM watsonx Assistant helps organizations provide better customer experiences with an AI chatbot that understands the language of the business, connects to existing customer care systems, and deploys anywhere with enterprise security and scalability. watsonx Assistant automates repetitive tasks and uses machine learning to resolve customer support issues quickly and efficiently.

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1“2023 Forrester TEI study finds Watson Assistant customers saw 23 million USD in benefits over 3 years" (link resides outside ibm.com), Forrester Research, April, 2023

2“Customer Response in seconds, not minutes”, IBM case study, 2020

3“Apple says people send as many as 200,000 messages per second" (link resides outside ibm.com), Leswing, Kif, Business Insider, February, 2016