Conversational marketing is the art of using two-way conversations to drive action. These conversations help you engage your prospects better, build an authentic relationship with them, and finally, inspire them to act.

For a business, that could mean getting prospects to sign up for a newsletter, make a purchase, etc. 

For other organizations, it could be totally different! The action you encourage could be to sign a petition, make a donation, or even turn up to vote!

The conversational framework

Conversational marketing, however, is not a new concept.

Take your local Mom and Pop store, for instance. They always have at least a cheery “Hi” to every customer who walks in (or when they are at the billing counter). 

If you’re a regular, they probably ask after your family or pick up a conversation from where they had previously left off.

If you’re a customer struggling to make a purchasing decision, the store owners help you with it.

That is, they have been exercising conversational marketing with every single one of their customers even before the term was coined. Just look at the framework of a regular conversational cycle and see how well it relates to what they were doing:

conversational_framework_callhub

The result? They form a very human connection with their customers – who prioritize them for their needs (even in the age of Amazon Prime and 2hr deliveries.) 

How conversational marketing works today

A lot of organizations have also adopted a similar strategy. Here is an example of how the Drift bot engaged me in a conversation:

conversational_marketing_example

What I liked about this exchange was that it was extremely engaging. The Bot not only asked me highly pertinent questions but also followed up with relevant messages.

Was it any wonder then that I readily gave up my email id? 

In contrast, had I encountered an average, boring form, I would have been less likely to ‘convert.’

Advantages of conversational marketing

The biggest advantage of conversational marketing is that it encourages prospects to say yes to high-barrier asks. 

In simpler terms, it makes it easier for you to convert your prospects. Suddenly, you find that your major donors make contributions with fewer follow-ups. Your events have higher attendance, or even better, your conversion cycle is shorter! 

Here are a few reasons why conversations work better:

  1. Engagement is immediate: Prospects do not have to fill out a form and wait for a response.
  2. It gives customers the freedom to reach out on their terms. Most of the conversations are usually initiated by the customers when they want it.
  3. The exchange is highly relevant: Since the conversation is focussed around what the customer is looking for, the information is pertinent.
  4. The message is better received: The customer initiates the exchange and expects a response. So the chances of them ignoring the message are quite minimal.
  5. It adds a human touch: Let’s face it, to converse is human, to fill forms err…

Ultimately, conversational marketing engages the leads on their terms. It gives them a better experience and is more human than traditional marketing (like mass mailers and broadcast communication.) 

Why do you need conversational marketing?

Let’s face it. You probably think your organization is doing a pretty good job so far without conversational marketing. 

So while the above advantages we discussed are well and good, you are not convinced why conversational marketing is the answer to improved results. 

After all, you can always tweak your script a bit more, update your prospect list, or simply put in more resources to engage your leads. 

Here is a bit more insight on that aspect.

It is true that changes like tweaking script, list clean up etc. would be a lot less cumbersome than setting up a whole new channel of engagement with your contacts. 

Unfortunately, it will not help you in the long run.  

That is because the way prospects interact with organizations is fundamentally changing. 

conversational_marketing_why_needed

Prospects don’t want to be ‘interrupted’ from their daily lives

No matter how well-meaning the call, if your prospects would much rather be doing something else (like watching their favourite TV show), your call would only annoy them.

Your prospects want instant responses

82% of consumers rate ‘immediate response’ as important to their customer experience. That is because a significant part of their conversion journey happens outside your organization. So when they finally reach out to you, it is with pertinent questions to which they want a quick response.

They want those responses to be personalized

The entire interaction has to be an experience that is tailored to their unique requirements (timeline or requests).

They just wanted to be treated like a human

Having a one on one conversation with a person is way more appealing than talking to a website form!

So eventually, your prospects will expect the same from your organization. 

And guess what, conversational marketing is the perfect solution to live up to their evolving expectations. 

Here are a few channels you can try to engage your contacts in a conversation. Each of them have their pros and cons. Depending upon your requirements, you will find that some work better for you than others.

Email for conversational marketing

When I encountered conversational marketing for the first time, I was completely nonplussed. Why was it a new concept, when emails were essentially doing the same?

I mean, look at how closely emails follow the same principles of conversational marketing:

  • Emails are definitely back and forth (unless your emails land up in spam, people do read it and respond). 
  • It is totally one-to-one – you typically address it to one person.
  • To some extent, it can be personalized – not just the name of your contact, but sending it at the right time etc.

More importantly, for organizations like yours, it can be scaled! 

You can easily send an email to a list of your contacts about the latest event you are organizing, at the click of a button. Each of those contacts can reach your inbox directly with a response (so it’s definitely back and forth!)

It was later that I learned the difference. When it comes to conversational marketing, emails have one major drawback:

They are not instantaneous!

It takes at least a few hours for each email to be responded to! 

Another disadvantage is that even though bulk emails can be sent, personal one-on-one conversations are not scalable!

Also, since it is already such a cluttered channel, it takes immense effort to break through all the noise. 

Landing in the inbox is not the same as getting your email read. In some cases, even if the lead reads it, they may not always act on it. 

So what is the alternative?

Enter chatbots to the scene of conversational marketing!

email_chatbot_conversational_marketing

Instant Messaging and Chatbots for conversational marketing

The example of Drift that you saw above is called conversational messaging. It is when a prospect is engaged via personal, back and forth messages through a messaging channel

In this instance, the messaging channel is a Drift bot. It could also be say, a Facebook messenger bot etc. 

As we saw above, the bot can be made to send extremely pertinent and personalized information. It can also be used to ask intelligent questions to understand what your prospects are looking for. 

So, going by the conversational framework above, it hits all the boxes! It engages, understands, and recommends – without being too intrusive. And a big plus, it is highly scalable! No matter how many people come to your site, you will be able to handle them simultaneously with a bot.

However, there is a major drawback!

Conversational_marketing_no_bots

It is not truly a ‘conversation’ unless there is a real person on the other end!

As Tom Goodwin from Zenith puts it, it does seem like a foolhardy thing to do (let a bot handle the brand personalization!)

Because the bot is not ‘human’, it won’t be able to answer a question that is outside of its conversation flow.

For instance, if a supporter comes to your site and wants to know specific details about an upcoming event, a bot will not be able to help him if you haven’t programmed it to provide those details. So the conversation experience is broken!

Phone Calls for conversational marketing

Which brings me to my next channel of communication – phone calls. An oldie but a goodie! Despite the alarmingly low pick up rates and tighter phone banking laws, it is undeniable that phone calls are still one of the the primary methods of conversion. 

conversational_marketing_chats_

The reason it doesn’t work that well for all organizations is that:

  • Prospects are too busy to pick up – the calls are interruptive to their daily life
  • Prospects do not pick up a call from unknown numbers – so the outreach of your campaign suffers.

Regardless of which call center software you choose (or even the dialer option), you find that your pick up rates do not revive from the slump!

So you need a channel that is as powerful as phone calls, as un-intrusive as emails, and as scalable as chatbots. 

I have the solution right here.

Texting for conversational marketing

Conversational texting is a form of marketing where you can engage with your audience via text messages and get them to take action. 

Not all text messages fall under conversational marketing. For instance, if you send out a broadcast SMS like below, that is definitely not a conversation.

sms-b2b-promotional-text

For starters, it is only conveys an information and does not ask for a response. It also has absolutely no personalization elements (the very least we can do is use the contact’s name), that make the text seem friendlier.

More importantly, in a typical broadcast text like above even if the contact responds (a holy miracle indeed!), you cannot respond to them on a one to one basis.

In such cases, your responses would not have a human at your end, but would be automated. The replies that go out will be solely based on the keywords the contact uses in his texts.

To facilitate a true conversation that is based on your prospect’s replies, using peer-to-peer texting is ideal.

You can engage your contact list in genuine conversations, and send them relevant information. 

Here is an example of how conversational texting using peer-to-peer texts will look like:

event_reminder_update_sms_callhub

Notice how friendly and engaging the tone is. Also, the use of emojis makes it more personal. Since the conversation is so casual, the contact is also happy to go the extra mile (and bring his friends.) 

Keep in mind though, you may not see such heartening results immediately. To help you get there, take a look at a few best practices you can adopt.

The difference between conversational messaging and conversational texting is not just the channel. It is also that in conversational texting (using peer to peer texts), there is an actual person behind every text that is sent out. 

For any other channel, two-way personalized communication at scale is a challenge.

For instance, when campaign managers want to reach a large number of contacts over the phone (in a short time,) they use robocalls. 

If email is used for reaching a massive audience, it is again an automated message that is sent to a whole list of contacts. 

Even in texts, SMS broadcast is sent to at the click of a button to an entire list. In each of the above cases, personalization is missing!

Which makes peer to peer texts the ideal channel for conversational messaging! 

To start with, you have all the advantages of regular SMS marketing: better reach, more engagement, quicker responses.

Then, there is also the fact that it can be done at scale. Using ready-made templates, a single volunteer/agent from your end can engage initiate 3000 conversations in an hour!

Using conversational texting along with other marketing channels

Let me make something very clear. Yes, conversational texting is a great way to engage your audience, get to know them better, and inspire them to act. 

However, that does not mean traditional communication channels are defunct! The idea is to add conversational marketing to your existing marketing efforts so as to get better results.

For instance, say you are using phone calls to reach prospects. And of course, the outreach rate is low (because some prospects are too busy to answer). 

You can now send a quick text to introduce who you are and why you called! Not only does it give the prospect context, but it also uses another channel to carry on the conversation!

Similarly, if you are using chatbots to engage with your audience on the site, you can pass on the interaction to a live agent (on-call or chat). 

Both of these strategies are excellent for increasing conversions via conversations. 

We will look at how exactly you can implement conversations for your organization in later chapters. 

For now, analyze your current engagement framework and see where (and how) conversational texting can fit. 

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