Chatbots 101: What Marketers Need to Know

 In Digital Marketing, Uncategorized
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There’s little doubt you’ve probably heard about chatbots being one of the biggest new marketing trends of 2016. In fact, they are expected to grow even more over the next few years.

But, there is still a lot of confusion out there on what chatbots are exactly, and how they can help marketers over the long run.

In this post, we’re going to give you a high-level overview of chatbots. What they are, why they are gaining in popularity, and how your brand might be able to use them.

Think of it as chatbots:101.

Class is in session.

What is a Chatbot?

Let’s start with the basics, what exactly is a chatbot?

In it’s most basic form (we’ll use basic as a relative term here) a chatbot is a form of artificial intelligence that combined with rules and algorithms allow for a text-based chat interface to communicate with others. A chatbot is a tool that lets brands interact over chat with consumers.

If it sounds a bit freaky, don’t worry too much, chatbots aren’t scheduled to take over the world (yet).

What Does a Chatbot Do?

Now that you know what a chatbot is you can see what a chatbot might be used for.

According to conventional wisdom, most chatbots fall into two camps.

  1. Virtual assistant chatbots: these have been created to help get information or complete tasks like finding the weather report, or latest news, or to schedule a meeting. Think Alexa, Amazon Echo, or Apple’s Siri.
  2. Business based chatbots: these have been created to specifically help customers interact or learn more about a brand. Sephora, 1-800-flowers, Uber, and Bank of America are all brands using these types of chatbots.

Since we’re into marketing, in this post, we’re going to focus on that second camp of chatbots, those that are specifically designed to interact with a brand’s customers.

Why Marketers Like Chatbots

Most brands are looking at chatbots as a way to approach customer service within messaging apps. These apps, like Facebook Messanger, WhatsApp, Slack, WeChat and Kik, just to name a few, are some of the fastest growing tools out there with a combined user base of over three billion people.

Since so many people are connected to messaging apps and use them every single day, there’s a huge potential for brands to jump in there and also use them to communicate with their customers through chatbots.

Here are just a couple of the benefits marketers see with chatbots:

  • They are available 24/7: Brands can always have ‘someone’ on call to answer questions and provide information whenever the customer needs it.
  • They can be personalized: Remember, these bots run on data, so being able to personalize the customer experience, just a little is going to leave a good impression (which can often convert to sales over time).
  • Data tracking: Chatbots can also monitor quite a bit of information on customers, what their shopping habits are, what questions they ask, and what gets them to convert to the sale.

With even just a few of these benefits, it’s easy to see why chatbots are becoming big, especially with the e-commerce arms of traditional retail sites.

Bots in Action

Since seeing is believing, here are a few examples of chatbots in action so you can get a feel for them:

Domino’s Pizza

Earlier in 2016, Domino’s Pizza launched its pizzbot, nicknamed Dom, that allows ordering from right inside Facebook messenger. Users can also save a favorite pizza so they can order with the click of a button.


Pizzabot in action. Image via: Econsultancy.


Uber is just about everywhere today, you’ll find the app sitting on the home page of most smartphones around the world. And now they have also teamed up with Facebook Messenger to offer users a chatbot to schedule rides.

Chatbox Best Practices

Are you considering adding a chatbot into your own marketing mix? It’s not a bad idea, but there are a few things you want to keep in mind and plan for before you deploy the bots.

Here are a few best practices:

Know Why You Need a Chatbot (and Where You’d Put It)

Just because the idea of having a chatbot sounds cool doesn’t mean your brand needs to go all in on getting one up and running. There’s no point in having a chatbot just to have one. Instead, focus on not only why you would need one, but also exactly where you should use it.

Having a chatbot that only slows down or confuses customer support is never going to win you any new customers, and will probably drive many away over the long run.

Understand Personality

What makes chatbots so popular is people don’t feel like they are just talking to a robot. The brands that do it well make sure their bots are engaging and provide real helpful information to their customers.

And, since many brands are rolling out these bots to speak directly to younger consumers like Millenials, don’t be afraid to have a way to communicate humor. Jokes, memes, gifs, and other interactive marketing ideas are a great way to leave the consumer with a positive feeling that lasts.

Realize They Aren’t a Quick Fix

At the end of the day, chatbots can go a long way towards automating some marketing and customer service aspects of your brand. But, remember, there is nothing that actually replaces excellent human based help and customer service. So, don’t think that just because you’ve got a bot rolling out it means you’re good to go.

Instead, understand that chatbots are a great way to enhance the service that you already offer. Approach them with a customer first attitude and you won’t go wrong.

Final Thoughts

As you can probably guess, it doesn’t seem like chatbots are going away anytime soon. And, those brands that are able to find a way to use chatbots to their advantage, and in a way that their customers love, are going to be the big winners over the long term.

So, if you’ve been considering going all in on using a chatbot as part of your marketing strategy, now might just be the perfect time to do it.

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