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Brands, bots and banter – why marketers should chat

 Imagine if brands had the opportunity to engage with consumers in ways that were not only relevant and personal but also in an environment where their added value is proactively sought out by the individual themselves…  Let’s chat…
It used to be that the digital interactions shown on Mission Impossible or Star Trek were just mock-ups for TV or the big screen.  However, what was once science fiction is quickly becoming fact.  We are in the age of a significant shift in computing conversation.  A shift that is fuelled by the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), the desire for a more intuitive interaction with technology; conversing naturally as people.
One of the major trends that has set the stage for an era of people talking to their devices is the growth in people talking through their devices. eMarketer estimates that 1.82 billion people across the globe will use mobile messaging apps in 2017, which equates to nearly one-quarter (24.6%) of the world’s population1.

Just look at real-time conversations, such as those that happen in Skype, it’s where you discover people that matter to you, and get things done on the spot.  Or SNAPCHAT  with 166 million daily active users sending, sharing and enjoying content.
Bringing together intuitive interactions and human-like conversations, all supported by AI, is a way to create more appealing technology-based experiences, and something brands can look at leveraging much more to help establish deeper dialogues with consumers.
Consider Xiaoice, a chat bot developed by Microsoft for the Chinese market, as an example of how marketers can be part of the conversation.  Xiaoice is an artificial persona who has engaged with over 40 million users2, inserting herself intelligently into conversations, backed by a powerful search engine.
But Xiaoice doesn’t just provide timely, contextual information – she provides empathy, a personality and a sense of humour.  In other words, she seems human and real.  You can introduce her to your dog through a photo, she will recognise the breed and ask for updates.  Or, if you tell her about a recent breakup, she will check in on how you are doing.  She’s become a household name in China and those who have befriended her feel an emotional connection that is decidedly real, with one in four users declaring their love2.
Many such bots are also built on cognitive services which enable Microsoft Cognitive Services to give developers the tools to create a new branded presence that sees, listens, articulates, understands and interprets a user’s needs. The intent signals gleaned from cognitive abilities are allowing marketers to be more personal and impactful. When your branded bot is part of a conversation, your brand is effectively engaging one-to-one in real-time with a consumer and can help provide deeper and more meaningful relationships with customers in new and unexpected ways.
Take Skyscanner’s group chat travel bot.  Integrated with Skype, it allows you to add the Skyscanner bot into the Skype chat and interact with the bot as if it were another group member. You can search for flights, live prices, routes and then finally book via a link giving travellers the ability to share the experience of finding the best flights together.
It’s long been said that personal recommendations are the most effective form of advertising – a brand recommending itself is not going to win favours, but if it’s promoted by one of your peers, in the right situation at the right time, you may have a winning formula.
It’s an approach that can help build far stronger bonds than anything established through conventional push-advertising. Marketers can, by adding value to a personal exchange, insert themselves into a conversation or a group, with the acceptance that one expects of peers.  That, I believe, is a level of affinity never achieved before in the marketing sphere, and the ingredients are already in place to make it happen.