Clearly it is not new to think of marketing as conversations

In the Cluetrain Manifesto of 1999 Doc Searls and David Weinberger remind us that markets are conversations.

For thousands of years’ markets have been “conversations between people who sought out others who shared the same interests."

Buyers had as much to say as sellers. [..] markets were places where people met to see and talk about each other’s work. Conversation is a profound act of humanity.

The voices taking part in marketing conversations have also proliferated.

Andy Hobsbawm, founder of one of the first digital agencies and now founder and CMO of Internet of Things platform, EVRYTHNG, talks of three ages of ‘voice’:

The first age of broadcast media was built around the brand having a voice, and the second social-media driven age centred on what we might call consumer voice.

The third age will need to focus on product becoming both a media channel and an interface for service delivery.

One of digital’s great promises, along with accountability, is personalisation at scale.

And similarly to accountability, it is questionable how far digital has yet fully delivered on personalisation.

The idea of personalised, one-to-one marketing, was popularised even earlier in the 90s by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers in their 1994 book, The One to One Future.

Could 2016 be the year that conversations actually become a paradigm for realising the promise of marketing as a personalised experience at scale?

And an experience that can take place not just between human buyers and sellers but between brands, perhaps brought alive as bots, and physical products given a voice through the internet of things? 

The signs are promising

Messaging is already huge and still growing fast. Last month WhatsApp passed the 1bn user mark.

Last year messaging apps caught up with social networks in user numbers and now dominate mobile.

Facebook and others are investing heavily in messaging and it will be interesting to see how Facebook M develops this year.

As well as more general messaging apps there are also many specialist concierge services springing up like Pana (for travel), Operator and GoButler.

All of these use messaging, and conversations, as the core interface and interaction medium.

There are many mobile-focused challenger brands launching this year, like Atom Bank and Starling Bank, where we can expect to see conversational style interactions forming a much great part of the brand experience.

Conversations as the primary medium for communication is age old.

But much of the experimentation in digital products and services now is about making conversations the primary interface, or jumping off point, for commerce.

Conversational commerce?

2016 has been touted as the year of “conversational commerce”, an early example being Uber’s integration into Facebook Messenger.

We can expect to be sending money not just to friends but to bots in the near future.

As mobile apps have access to rich contextual information about you, including location, social, health and sensor data, the opportunities for friction-free conversational commerce are exciting. 

Econsultancy's Facebook Messenger code, which can be scanned to begin chatting with us. Or is it just a bot you'll be chatting with...

What about conversational content? Quartz recently launched a news app with a ‘whole new way’ to experience news: one whose interface is an ongoing conversation.

It is too early to say how well this will work but it is worth downloading to experience a “conversationalised” user interface, applied to content.

And conversational customer service?

If you have experienced interacting with, say, Slack’s “Slackbot”, you will have glimpsed how service can be effectively delivered via a bot in a conversational interface that, whilst pure machine, can be imbued with the tone, and feeling, of a brand.

Conversations may always have been at the heart of markets and perhaps the most natural expression of personalisation, but digital has made it possible for marketing to be more of a dialogue, rather than a one way voice.

But perhaps only now will conversations really start to power communication, customer service, content and commerce.

Ashley Friedlein

Published 20 April, 2016 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (7)

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Toby Kesterton

Toby Kesterton, Client Partner at Lab

Slackbot is excellent. Lab have added to its knowledge with lots of local info to our offices. Plus use it to prank our colleagues.

over 2 years ago


mr me, boss at of me

Well of course, Saying "of course" before a machine answers a human question makes it all so much more believable. And everybody is fooled by the old machine-talking in second person trick. It's worked for TV news stations for decades now - your news, your weather, your morning pap.

Sarcasm aside, second person voice and speaking in full sentences does work. Toss in some idioms and the machine might be much more engaging, but eventually people learn the idioms are a cover for a machine with very limited capacity - much like superlatives are used in conversation to bury a speakers capacity for descriptive analysis. Amazing. Terrific. Huge. The Best.

Conversational style can make some difference, but the heart of the matter remains whether the machine can provide answers the user is seeking.

over 2 years ago

Andy Headington

Andy Headington, CEO at Adido Limited

To answer the title of your post simply - No. Everything i've read and tried to this point is not worthy of our attention in terms of serving a real and useful purpose. That's not to say there aren't some great examples out there and it's working in some places but for it to be seriously considered as part of any marketing mix at this point is wayyy off both in terms of technology but also user adoption. It needs at least another 12-18 months IMO.

over 2 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at EconsultancyStaff

@Andy I'm less sure. Certainly if you operate in Asia, especially China, you'd be bonkers not to be operating via WeChat which is already massive not just for messaging but for commerce.

Or look at what KLM are doing on Facebook Messenger already:

I think an easy-ish place to start is simple, transactional/informational services (like KLM) where you can build on an existing platform (like Messenger).

Taco Bell are about to launch - again, I can see how that might work. Pizza ordering is already massive on mobile. Why not via chat/bot?

over 2 years ago

Andy Headington

Andy Headington, CEO at Adido Limited

I guess ultimately it depends on your view of the market. Sure these BIG companies are doing this and I'm sure across the globe things are happening, in some places like Asia as you rightly say where things can and are happening in a big way. But my view is that in the UK there are limited opportunities right now both in terms of the sectors where this will work (1-1 and real time dialogue can work well for say travel or simple services such as ordering) and with the audiences.

I just can't see this tipping anytime soon across the UK and esp at SME level where there isn't enough sufficient delivery, understanding from a business perspective or demand from the users (in terms of platform knowledge - perhaps with Gen Z more so though). You may well be right but I've yet to be convinced.

over 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

Certainly seems the conundrum of 2016 - how to make messaging work. Dan Grover (product manager at wechat) has recently written a wonderful longer read about this with plenty of background and insider insight

about 2 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at EconsultancyStaff

@Andy I see plenty of opportunities for small businesses using, say, WhatsApp as a platform for customer service or community or comms. You don't have to go building your own chat bot. You just need to recognise that messaging can be used for business (including marketing). In fact I'm just about to set up a community of digital professionals (for Econsultancy) using Telegram (which is like WhatsApp) - mostly for marketing reasons. That costs nothing except time and we (Econsultancy) are not *BIG* ;)

about 2 years ago

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