What is conversational marketing and why do brands need it now?

By Lauren Lee

Your consumers expect you to listen, and quarantine isolation has intensified their desires for meaningful personal connections and immediate responses from brands.

Meanwhile, marketers are challenged with recalibrating their strategies and messaging to meet new consumer behaviors and demands without a clear roadmap or precedent.

In response to the “new normal” brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, brands are striving to find a balance between leaning into empathetic, user-centric practices and safeguarding economic stability:

  • Movie studios are releasing popular titles to streaming platforms months ahead of schedule.
  • Technology companies are rolling out no-cost extended trials of digital solutions that facilitate working and schooling from home.
  • Luxury brands are producing facemasks and hand sanitizer instead of handbags and perfume.

But the ways in which we determine what customers think about our brand must change as well. Traditional methods such as in-person focus groups are likely on hold for the foreseeable future. Similarly, social listening tools may skew toward the context of current conversations. As a result, US marketers need new tools to help them rapidly and confidently engage consumers and uncover how behaviors and brand perceptions have shifted. 

Enter: conversational marketing. Let’s break down what conversational marketing is, and how marketers can use it to strengthen their strategy in these trying times.

What is conversational marketing?

Conversational marketing is a method that engages consumers in dialogue-driven, personalized experiences at a one-to-one level, enabling brands to listen and gain unique customer insights while also providing value to the user.

For many businesses, engaging in these types of conversations with clients to gain actionable insight requires scalable technologies such as chatbots or other digital solutions. These tools can be thought of as a new set of ears for marketers and may be embedded in virtually any place you connect with consumers, whether that’s on your website, mobile app or even interactive advertisements.

The benefits of conversational marketing

A sophisticated, conversational approach to marketing can enable brands to deliver personalized consumer engagements with readily available, hands-on digital experiences while supporting privacy expectations. This unique experience can extend throughout the consumer journey with deployment across various channels such as digital advertisements, owned and operated sites, a mobile app and more.

An effective conversational marketing strategy should be designed to help:

  • Differentiate your brand by leveraging AI tools such as natural language processing to showcase your voice authentically and create a sense of empathy with users.
  • Deepen consumer engagement, confidence and loyalty by empowering users to interact directly and on-demand with your brand.
  • Quantify the impact of marketing campaigns on various parts of your business—including sales, product development and the in-store experience—by gathering near real-time consumer feedback.
  • Optimize future strategies by better evaluating how messages are resonating with your audience.
  • Improve user satisfaction by delivering a consistent, purposeful experience at each digital touchpoint.

Best practices for conversational marketing

In order for brands to make the most use of conversational marketing, they need to consider the following steps:

  • The right data and better analytics: Making the right decisions starts with the right data. When it comes to conversational marketing, your tool must be able to utilize this data to craft individualized responses based on the user’s history and preferences.
  • Personalization: Personalization is key in conversational marketing. A personalized solution takes user data into account when drafting responses to questions your users may have about your brand. These interactions can help strengthen the consumer’s relationship to your brand by fostering a one-on-one connection.
  • Customer engagement: The biggest difference between conversational marketing and other, traditional approaches is that it is designed to engage the customer with natural dialog. By talking to customers on a human level, you’ll be able to connect in a way they may never have experienced before with a brand. These conversations will make users feel more comfortable, and you’ll be able to gain key consumer insights and understand leads.

Conversational marketing's impact on the bottom line

Conversational marketing can be a great tool for marketers to utilize due to its impact on sales and leads. Through a personalized conversation, you’re able to establish a deeper connection with consumers. When someone lands on your site, this is an opportunity for you to engage with them and begin those consumer relationships. Your response time must be quick and the answers your AI crafts should be individualized.

Not being able to respond in a timely manner can negate the efforts you put into your conversational marketing strategy. If a user is looking for answers they aren’t receiving due to an impersonal chatbot or submitting a generic Contact Us form, they’ll leave. That’s why it’s a smart move to implement a real, live chat right onto your site.

When doing this, marketers need to ensure they are choosing the right technology to leverage the right insights and data for a seamless experience. When Facebook launched Messenger, most people considered it to be a way to message friends and family. Soon, businesses realized they could use Messenger as a direct line of communication with consumers. In fact, they found that conversations between users and companies that took place inside Messenger have a 30% better return on investment than retargeting ads on the web.

By implementing an AI tool on your website, you can also foster this direct line of communication without users having to leave your site.

Examples of conversational marketing

One of the best ways to look at conversational marketing is through example. Let’s consider Behr Paint Company. When they wanted to drive sales by promoting the Color Finder - a new recommendation tool that streamlines the process of paint selection - they weren’t sure where to start. To help distribute their message in a personalized way, the company launched an AI-powered campaign on weather.com to facilitate near real-time dialogue with consumers. The tool offers personalized paint recommendations to users while gaining insight into color trends based on their responses.

These dynamic ad experiences generated over 15,000 conversations with consumers, driving a 17 percent increase in purchase considerations among the target audience and an 8.5 percent incremental lift in store foot traffic. The interactions also helped shape future production strategies by giving Behr deeper insight into the types of color choices their customers preferred.

Another example of conversation marketing would be Hulu’s launch of their live TV services. When they were getting ready to launch Hulu with Live TV, they wanted to make sure their users understood the new service and how it set them apart from top-tier competitors.

To help, Hulu Watson Ads campaign ran alongside high impact branded backgrounds and homepage takeovers on select days during the holiday season. These ads leverage natural language dialog to ask users about their viewing habits and overall mood. As a result, these meaningful conversations led to 14,000 total button clicks, with 3,000 heading right to Hulu.com.

Enable two-way brand conversations with Watson AI 

To achieve these results, brands should seek out experienced, trusted partners to assist in developing and deploying a conversational marketing strategy. As an industry leader in conversational marketing, IBM Watson Ads solutions are designed to drive deeper engagement, awareness, action and affinity by creating one-to-one connections between brands and consumers at scale.

These solutions begin by training award-winning AI from IBM Watson Advertising to be an expert on your brand by utilizing content from your website, FAQ documents and relevant marketing materials. IBM works with you to develop a custom creative and conversation experience that invites consumers to ask questions about your brand and delivers personalized responses in natural language that are unique to each user.

The IBM Watson Ads portfolio of solutions can be deployed on virtually any digital property based on your marketing strategy, acting as a massive virtual focus group for your brand.

The result is a solution that helps you enhance the user experience, drive revenue and improve future business practices by uncovering valuable insights and emerging trends.

Listen to your customers and let your voice be heard.

To learn more about IBM Watson Ads, watch our breakout session—Connect with Consumers Through AI-Powered Conversational Marketing—from the recent MMA Impact virtual session.

Listen to your customers and let your voice be heard.

Watch the webinar: Connect with Consumers Through AI-Powered Conversational Marketing