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Watch This Space: Bots, Machine Learning, and Marketing

15 Jul

A couple of years ago, Cleverbot took the world by storm. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a chatbot – a computer program that tries to mimic human conversation.

What set Cleverbot apart from other chatbots was the way it was programmed. Instead of a set of preprogrammed responses, Cleverbot learned it’s responses from people who talked to it. Give it a try – it’s a surreal experience!

Machine learning is one of the latest buzzwords the world has latched onto when describing how Cleverbot’s learning process works. And the technology has come a long way since then…

Chatbots and electronic direct marketing

For those of us in digital marketing, the usage of emails as a direct marketing platform should be something we’re all intimately familiar with.

Most of us are pretty stoked if we open up our reports and dashboards on Mailchimp, Outlook or whatever email client we use and see anything higher than a 20% open rate.

Which brings us to the topic of chatbots and machine learning. Ever since Facebook started implementing bot support into its Messenger app, chat bots have seen an explosion in popularity amongst digital marketers.

According to some, making the switch from email to messenger for direct marketing campaigns made their open rate jump from to 80% and click-through rates skyrocket to 50%!

And according to some, chatbots are the key!

Today, we’ll be discussing the practical applications of chatbots, the bold claims about their future in direct marketing, and where bots and machine learning fit in your marketing mix.

What is a bot?

Simply put, internet bots are software that run automated functions over the internet.

Bots are bit like the worker bees of the internet, buzzing around collecting and indexing data, or performing routine, monotonous tasks much faster than humans can.

Bots are a common sight on the internet – you’ve probably encountered them before in both benign and malicious flavours.

In fact, it’s estimated that over half of the world’s internet activity is made up of bots.

Let that sink in – there are potentially more programs on the internet than there are people!

(Hello to the bots reading this blog post!)

How do chatbots come into it?

Like their name suggests, chatbots are bots that attempt to replicate the experience of talking to a human being, just like Cleverbot, mentioned above.

According to some marketers, Facebook’s recent implementation of chatbot support on its Messenger platform is a game changer for EDM campaigns.

Some claim to have experienced huge jumps in open and click-through rates using chat compared to email. Many credit the inherent nature of instant messaging apps.

On that front, we really can’t disagree with them! When I feel my phone buzzing in my pocket, I for one don’t bother opening it unless it’s either a text or a message coming in over an IM app.

The truth is that in an age of instant messaging and decreasing attention spans, email just doesn’t hold our attention any more. The takeaway is clear – Messenger, iMessage, Skype and Wechat are quicker and so much more immediate than email could ever hope to be.

So is it any wonder that companies using messenger chatbots are boasting open rates in excess of 80% and click-through rates of 50%?

Without the automation offered by chatbots, this type of undertaking would be impossibly time-consuming. With chatbots however, all marketers have to do is program the chatbot (or hire someone else to), integrate it into their Facebook page and watch the results come in.


Another way chatbots can enhance your company and business’ marketing efforts is through recognition and tagging of customer data.

Chatbots have come a long way in a short time. Machine learning means that bots have the ability to independently learn how to identify and tag relevant information:

  • Did the receiver respond to your EDM?
  • If your message was written as a query, how did they answer?
  • Have they responded to multiple messages of yours?
  • How long did they take to respond?

I don’t need to tell you that it can help your sales team make successful conversions down the line, or that it can help your customer service team resolve any future customer queries.

Bots can also help marketers generate and qualify leads.

With all the data a bot can gather, bots can learn to identify customer information and qualify potential leads, all without the need for human involvement.

Your bot could even prompt action from your leads by offering referrals or demos!

Tread with care

Facebook is definitely onto something here.

Make no mistake, their platform has the potential to be very effective!

Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, messaging bots for direct market purposes are still a very new field, however. While there are significant gains to made from being an early adopter, you should take care to avoid making mistakes:

1. Don’t spam

The user experience is key!

No one likes a hard sell, especially when it’s not even coming from a real person.

2. Get a human involved if need be

Some people might not appreciate being spoken to by a bot. Some might find it unnerving, while others might be old-fashioned.

Having the option to speak with a human customer service representative can go a long way towards getting these types of customers to buy-in.

3. Beware the burnout

Once upon a time, banner ads had 44% click-through! You could argue that banner ads and messenger bots are very different beasts – and they are.

But the point is that Messenger bots are still a new and novel technology, still in the honeymoon phase – these fantastic numbers may not last forever, so it’s probably best to not go all-in on chatbots just yet.

What else can bots do?

We’ve been focusing on chatbots for messaging apps and how that affects our direct marketing efforts so far.

But there are many other ways that bots can effectively contribute to your overall marketing mix.

For example, are you engaging in a content marketing strategy?

Machine learning is being also being used in content creation for content marketing strategies. We’ve reached the point where algorithms are now perfectly capable of generating content for content marketing.

In fact, it’s possible you’ve read content generated by machine learning without even realizing! Read this article by Associated Press. Notice how there’s no name in the byline? Or, rather, no human name?

That’s right! Computer programs have already being put to work writing content for major players such as AP.

At this stage, machine learning is only being used to create content which is generally very routine or very heavy on numbers – on AP, you’ll only see the bots working on routine financial information, for example.

Another thing bots can do is enhance your customer service with the Messenger app.

From something as simple as helping moviegoers reserve priority seating without having to visit a cinema’s website to answering routine customer service queries, bots can massively enhance your brand’s ability to deliver service.

Even something as simple as a bot capable of responding to FAQs can go a long way towards enhancing the customer experience, and can build confidence in your brand.

Your thoughts?

What do The Terminator, The Matrix and Stephen Hawking all have in common?

The answer: they all talk about the rise of computers taking over and the risk of them conquering humanity.

Thankfully, it doesn’t look like they’ll completely replace humans any time just yet!

But if you’re a marketer, it doesn’t pay to rest on your laurels. Bots are coming and their impact on your digital marketing could prove significant.

Do you hold strong opinions on this matter? Sharing your thoughts with us on Twitter!