A guide to effective conversational marketing
What is conversational marketing?
Conversational marketing is an effective approach that uses real-time interactions to move customers through every stage of the buying process in the most efficient and engaging way possible.
It uses a combination of human conversations, both live and AI-led chat, and other automated messaging and triggers to provide useful, authentic, and engaging experiences for anyone interacting with the brand.
The goal of conversational marketing is to remove friction from the buying process by providing the right help at the right time in the right channel. Rather than a series of one-off generic ‘chats’ the approach aims to orchestrate coordinated communication across channels.
The quality of interactions is enhanced as more customer data is gathered. As a person learns about the brand as they move through the funnel, the brand also learns about them and uses that knowledge to provide a more relevant and compelling experience.
Just like speaking with an old friend, there is no need to cover old ground and repeat information they already know.
Why is conversational marketing effective?
Conversational marketing is nothing new – it is the way that humans have been conducting business since the first human negotiated with their neighbor to sell a cow. Business transactions are seldom straightforward – there are hurdles to overcome and details to finalize, and the best way to do this is by talking it through.
Technology has now reached a point where this method can be applied at scale and at any point in the customer journey – from discovery to checkout and beyond.
The strength of the approach is that it can eliminate friction from the buying process by identifying blockers and effectively removing them.
In this way marketing conversations evolve to become high quality goal-orientated exchanges that benefit both parties.
Consider the following online chat between a person and their mobile phone provider.
In less than 30 seconds, both the customer and provider have achieved their goals:
- The customer has renewed their contract and added more data
- The supplier has confirmed the renewal and upsold the contract
Going further, effective conversational marketing is not just about knowing what to say but also how to say it, considering channel preferences, cultural norms, and other factors unique to each individual. This can be achieved when every conversation across all channels is underpinned by the same customer database.
Conversational marketing examples
Here are some examples of different types of conversational marketing and where they might fit into the buyer journey:
1. Live chat
Live chat is a key part of a conversational experience, but it must take account of the funnel stage. The technology will play a part, but just as importantly, the agent handling the chat should have both the knowledge and mandate to achieve a positive outcome for the customer.
- For the awareness and consideration stages, a simple “Hi, what can we help you with today?” when a person arrives on your website can immediately identify what they need and what product or service is best suited. They can then be directed to an appropriate landing page with no risk of becoming frustrated and drifting off to a competitor site.
- Further down the funnel when the customer is in the purchase phase the help on offer should be more specific and focused on removing any blockers in the purchase process. Product availability, customization questions, and even shipping enquiries can be covered.
- And finally, in the post-sale phase the emphasis would be on customer service and ensuring that the person returns to make further purchases.
For many use-cases live chat can be replaced by automated chatbots that have been designed specifically for the purpose. Again – conversational automation can be put to work at any stage of the customer journey and on any digital channel including web, WhatsApp, Messenger, and more.
- For the awareness phase options are a bit more limited as most chat providers have strict guidelines on how chats are initiated. Usually, the customer must have started the conversation or opted-in to receiving messages. That doesn’t rule it out however – there are plenty of options for initiating chats via social media and web ads, or by scanning QR codes on outdoor media.
- In the consideration and purchase phase the customer will often initiate chats to ask specific product questions and enquire about stock. Chatbots can handle this at scale 24/7.
Businesses that require customers or partners to sign up for a service via an online form have enjoyed huge improvements in sign-up rates by moving the process from an old-style web form to a chatbot that guides the person through the process.
Gone are the days of intimidating long forms, often asking for information that the company already knows. Now a chatbot can provide a dynamic sign-up process, only requesting information that is relevant for the individual based on detail already provided.
The ride hailing company Bolt used this tactic very successfully to improve the sign-up rate for new drivers by 40%.
- Straddling the purchase and post-sale phases, any product or service that requires the person to register will benefit hugely from automating the process with a chatbot. In counties where SIM cards have to be registered to individuals, a process that previously required a trip to a physical store with ID can now be done via chatbot from home, with an automatic biometric check done to verify the customer from just a selfie and a photo of their ID.
SMS should not be neglected as a tool in conversational marketing – it has the greatest reach and open rates and doesn’t rely on an internet connection. For marketing messages, many regions will have guidelines on how SMS can be used for marketing purposes, so it is most often used to interact with existing customers for transactional purposes.
Due to the 160-character restriction there are limits on what can be conveyed, so SMS is often used for critical alerts and for directing the customer to another channel like voice or email. Think of the message from your bank’s fraud team when they detect unusual activity on your account and ask you to call to confirm it.
4. Social media
Social channels were built for online conversations, but they have evolved into so much more, becoming microcosms of society as a whole. This trend will only grow as more people start joining metaverse worlds.
These days people go to social channels to research products, write reviews, rant about poor service, and connect with brands that they aspire to be associated with.
There are a huge number of opportunities to apply conversational tactics throughout the purchase cycle, and the possibilities only grow as a brand builds up its follower list and creates what is effectively a walled garden, much like Meta and Google have done. Compared with the exorbitant cost of digital ads, marketing and selling to followers costs next to nothing and it means that brands can control the entire process within their own eco-system.
How to create a conversational marketing strategy for your business
As we have alluded to, a solid conversational strategy is not just about buying a tool off the shelf to give you chat capability. That is overly simplistic and ignores the fact that interactions can take place on any channel and at any point in the buying journey.
Although most interactions may happen on mobile, key use cases may include web, voice, and face to face conversations. All need to be joined up and consistent and must always reflect the latest state of the customer.
So how do you do it?
The first step is to audit the entire customer journey to identify pain points and areas where adding conversational elements would be helpful.
Then draw up a list of use cases and rank them according to their business value and ease of fulfillment. You may find that there are high value use cases that can be addressed very easily, and these are the ones that you should start with.
This could be as simple as adding a ‘click to chat’ link to a sign-up form at a point where you are seeing drop-offs, or triggering a calendar entry for an account manager to call a customer when they check a ‘contact me’ option.
7 must-haves for a conversational marketing strategy
- Optimized entry points: Help customers to find your products easily and guide them to the right product to meet their needs. You can do this by adding ‘click to chat’ links in ads, emails and social media that kick off chats with agents or chatbots.
- The right help at the right time: Customers need different types of support depending on where they are in their purchase journey. From product discovery to purchase and shipping queries, and finally to specific product support and trouble shooting. Make sure that they can get appropriate support at every stage.
- Personalized product recommendations: Customers may connect with you knowing that they have a need, but not knowing exactly how your products and services can help to meet that need. As you learn more about the person you will be able to provide increasingly accurate product recommendations.
- Purchase opt-ins: No matter how carefully you have mapped out your customer journey, not everyone follows the script, and some may decide to purchase at a random point in the process. You need to support this by providing an easy way for them to complete the sale at any point.
- Seamless purchase and fulfillment: No matter how great a product is, if the purchase process is a pain, or something goes wrong with delivery then the lasting impression will be negative. Use conversational tactics to encourage stress-free buying experiences which encourage repeat purchases and brand advocacy. This is where SMS is useful for providing regular shipping and delivery updates.
- Maximize CLV: With a comprehensive view of every customer that includes both personal and transactional data, you can identify purchase cycles and use conversational tactics to engage with customers at key times when they are close to making a repeat purchase or renewing a contract.
- Identify the conversational fans: Some people respond to conversational marketing tactics better than others. Identify customers that have a history of responding well and nurture them, but also make sure that you don’t keep contacting those that don’t respond and try other tactics instead.
What is the best tool for conversational marketing?
As we have mentioned, conversational marketing is an approach rather than a single use case that can be addressed by buying a tool off the shelf.
Of course, technology is what underpins effective conversational marketing at scale so your entire tech stack has to be able to support your conversational goals. Check out this blog post that describes in detail what tech you will need to do effective conversational marketing.
In summary, the five key characteristics of a platform that can support successful conversational marketing are as follows:
Support for multiple channels
Successful conversational marketing is all about facilitating conversations across all channels and throughout the customer journey, with the option to switch channels when it makes sense to do so. The tech stack must be able to support this natively.
With chatbots playing such a key role in conversational marketing, marketers must have the capability to build and deploy chatbots for any channel themselves, without relying on developers. This means a chatbot builder with a no-code interface like our own Answers solution.
Contact center integration
The contact center will often be the hub of any organization’s conversational marketing efforts. Human and AI agents working symbiotically to inform, service and sell across all traditional and native channels. A cloud contact solution like our own Conversations fulfills the brief exactly.
The value and power of conversational marketing only grows when you are able to leverage data and insights from across the organization. The marketing platform should therefore support API integrations with transactional, payment, and any other internal systems that can provide data to enrich customer interactions.
With a solid strategy in place, conversational marketing could really be the fuse that ignites your business growth. The tools that you choose should not only cope with the growth in both interactions and transactions, but also make it easy to extend to cover additional use cases.
The benefits of conversational marketing
We are sure that you are already convinced, but if you need to sell the benefits of adopting a conversational marketing strategy to your boss, here is a handy summary of the benefits:
- Removes friction from the customer journey
- Allows businesses to build close customer relationships at scale
- Enables goal-based exchanges and experiences that save time and resources for both the business and customer
- It is channel-agnostic and can be conducted on the channels that each individual prefers
- It enables personalized shopping experiences without the prohibitive cost of ad spend
- Conversational automation allows businesses to engage with people both online and offline 24/7 and in any region
- It encourages creativity – as a relatively new concept you can create fresh and original campaigns that really capture people’s attention