Retail marketing is an extraordinarily intricate combination of art and science. Building a brand requires a powerful vision that connects with as large a portion of a highly diverse customer base as possible. Yet, driving revenue means understanding that very diversity on a very personal level, while also extrapolating predictable trends and insights around consumer behaviors, desires, and objections.
Walking this complex balance has been made more difficult for physical retailers by the emergence of ecommerce. Not only does it put tremendous pressure on physical stores, but ecommerce creates a gap between the level of insights and data collected online vs. in store – in other words, the omnichannel problem.
To address this problem, leading marketers in retail are embracing a new paradigm called conversational marketing.
What is conversational marketing?
Artificial intelligence and robotics are transforming the retail landscape, from enhanced customer recommendations and product selection, to inventory management. For marketers, these technologies are allowing brands to build a customer experience that is high-touch, highly customized, available 24/7, and most importantly, bidirectional. What does that mean?
Take a standard online ad; marketers use segmentation or digital retargeting to ensure that their ads appear in front of an audience most likely to engage. The problem is how “engagement” is defined – Facebook, for example, essentially defines engagement as a like, share, or click, which all marketers can agree leaves something to be desired.
Conversational marketing employs tools and tactics that get consumers to participate in marketing campaigns through direct, two-way communication. Instead of a digital ad being directed at an audience, each member of that audience has a unique, customized experience that interacts with them each time they encounter the brand.
Instead of a static FAQ page on a website, for example, automated assistants (chatbots) are employed to engage in a realistic conversation with customers. Chatbots answer questions directly for customers, while also asking questions to customers to collect data. The more data collected, the more the individual consumer’s next experience becomes tailored.
Brands leverage social media profiles to inject themselves into trending conversations, emails are now being redesigned with calls-to-conversation in place of calls-to-action, and digital ads are directing customers to landing pages that immediately involve them in a conversation and ask for consumers to share their thoughts, experiences, and goals. Deploying AI and robotics technologies allows marketers to create rich, individually tailored experiences for customers cost effectively and at scale.
Why is it critical?
The value in conversational marketing is three-fold. First, revenue: creating a bidirectional engagement connects customers to your brand in an incredibly personal way. Instead of sharing your brand story with your customers, they can share their stories about their experience with your brand. This naturally develops advocacy in your customer base, as customers enjoy promoting brands they love when prompted to do so. These stories help build trust for potential customers and provide them with a clear picture of how a brand will integrate into and benefit their lives. The benefits of harnessing customer stories in a two-way conversation can propel products and businesses to success.
Second, retention: conversational marketing provides a more efficient, satisfying experience for consumers. Robotic automation, in particular, has begun to prove itself as the most effective strategy for creating conversations. As ecommerce continues to grow and messaging apps now surpass social media usage, the chatbot has become the perfect brand representative: it’s fast, accurate, always available, and always in a good mood. Ultimately, customers are satisfied with the outcome of a conversation with chatbots because the interaction is personalized, efficient, and requires no wait time. This has a direct impact on brand advocacy, conversion rates, and repeat purchases.
Third, insights: digital data can often tell you what a customer does, but not why, while customer research focused on behavior and intent is time consuming and expensive. Using robotics to automate conversations allows retail marketers to be in constant contact with their customers, never missing an opportunity to engage and convert a potential sale. Every interaction is an opportunity to collect data on a customer, either through monitoring the interaction, itself, or asking customers questions, directly. This data can then be used to continually customize every future interaction for an individual consumer, achieving a level of personalization that 73% of today’s consumers demand from brands.
How do you integrate it in store?
For physical retailers, driving conversations in store can seem like a strange concept. Thankfully, several emerging technologies are specifically designed to address and bridge the in-store data gap.
Inside retail outlets, mobile devices and robots are being leveraged to engage in the same highly targeted, bidirectional campaigns with customers, going as far as attracting passersby and starting conversations, playing games, and asking questions to acquire valuable information and insights.
Humanoid robots are being deployed by large brands, as well as mom-and-pop stores to attract, engage, and convert customers to great success. Despite the advanced nature of these robots, they are easy to setup and require no technical training, enabling marketers to build conversation-based campaigns that tell compelling brand stories, elicit reciprocal story sharing from customers, and capture valuable information and insights from every shopper.
The future of marketing is conversational…
Whether it’s Mastercard partnering with Subway, or Starbucks launching voice ordering, retailers have already embraced conversational marketing to great success. Brands that adopt the new framework of conversational marketing will create the chance to establish brand value with their customer base faster, collect richer data and insights, and drive loyalty and revenue at every opportunity. Those who continue to drive one-directional communication at their customer base may soon find themselves scrambling to manage attrition to brands that offer the unique, personalized experience that conversational marketing enables.