“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that." What the rise of chat bots means for B2B brands

Mark Miller, marketing manager for MarketPro, explains the upcoming trend of chat bots and how they could affect your job as a B2B marketer

The web and the Internet of Things are welcoming a new wave of chat bot programs and artificial intelligences designed to communicate with users in a variety of different ways. Chat bots bring the potential to quickly, accurately and positively engage current and potential customers on-demand; even when they're key decision makers at prospective business clients. And unsurprisingly, forward-looking brands and innovative marketing minds are already looking for ways to capitalise on them.

Several big players are already onboard the chat bot bandwagon, with mixed but mostly positive success. Facebook, for instance, recently unrolled bot communication capabilities in its messenger platform much like its current app offerings and plugins, and is enabling developers to create chat bots of their own. These integrated bots could have a variety of uses, from gaming to education to web browsing to marketing. Microsoft has also recently announced its intent to start creating and enabling others to create chat bots on a wide scale, though it had a modest PR hiccup when the A.I. of one of its social media chat bots got manipulated to start spouting wild and inappropriate messages on Twitter.

Potential applications of chat bots for business marketing

You don't have to be working with a huge corporation to appreciate the capabilities of this emerging tech. As a relatively new technology, smart and responsive chat bots haven't been fully realised yet in terms of marketing potential. But it doesn't take an innovative digital genious to think of some of the more obvious potential  applications. Here are just a few:

  • Personalized, private messaging and conversations: 1-to-1 conversations have been the Holy Grail of prospect engagement for years now, and with chat bots it's finally a possibility. Instead of blasting out messaging into the ether and hoping the right people see it, you'll be able to share customized, relevant messaging directly with businesses you're hoping to work with. And whenever or wherever they are, your brand will always be there for them when they reach out to you.
  • A mine of customer data: Imagine if you could get the voices of hundreds or thousands of your customers coming in on a regular basis, telling you about themselves and how they'd like to interact with you. Assuming you have a robust analytics system in place, that's exactly what a chat bot can provide. You can find out what consumers are talking about, and in what context—and that's powerful.
  • Remarkable content and experiences: When it comes to interactive content marketing, it's hard to think of a better channel than a chat bot. A well-designed bot can be more than a tool—it can be an experience that entertains, informs, comforts, excites,and inspires people that engage with it.
  • Customer service navigation: If you've ever called in to a large company about a customer service need, you've probably gotten frustrated by the long chain of steps you have to take to identify your need and get on the line with a representative. A bot can help your customers quickly navigate to the appropriate resource, and may even be able to give them the exact help they require if it's a common issue.
  • Making basic orders and purchases: Straightforward orders, like from a menu or catalog, could easily be taken by a well-developed bot. Imagine, for instance, ordering a pizza through a short conversation with a bot on your messenger app rather than calling in to the restaurant, getting put on hold, then trying to clarify your order with a busy worker in a loud kitchen. Now scale that up for a B2B perspective, and you can see the potential.

Overcoming a tarnished reputation

Internet bots are not an entirely new development for B2B marketers; in fact, they've been around for some time and have often been a thorn in the side of our profession.

The fact that they can act and appear near-human has interesting implications and potential when it comes to providing better customer experience and growing sales. But it also means that marketers themselves can't always distinguish between who's a real, potential customer online and who's a simple script. That leads to misleading data and wasted ad dollars spent trying to market to a nonexistent person.

For instance, if you've ever managed a corporate social media account then you've undoubtedly been followed and messaged by a social media bot promising you thousands of subscribers for a few measly dollars. That can warp your social analytics and skew your engagement and ROI measurements. Unfortunately, filtering out bot accounts is a difficult process, especially on a large scale. And it only becomes harder as they become more intelligent and human-like.

Bots are also costing advertisers big-time. They're a major contributor to digital ad fraud, tricking ad engagement counters of all kinds into thinking that they're getting valuable click-throughs and viewability when in fact it's just a program manipulating the system. A study by the Association of National Advertisers estimates a staggering $7.2 billion in global losses to bot fraud this year. This has become a particular problem with programmatic and video advertising.

Given all the costs and headaches bots have caused in recent years, it's understandable why marketers would be wary to adopt them. But much like any technology, web bots have the potential to be put to good or bad use; it all depends on who's directing them. B2B marketers who write off bots entirely due to their history as a marketing obstacle are selling themselves short and ignoring a huge, unsettled frontier for growth and development.

Your job security

Robots have developed a somewhat notorious reputation for replacing human workers in other industries, and have been doing so for some time now. That generally leads to more overall productivity—but if you're one of the people who's been let go due to breakthroughs in automation, it's hard to see the big-picture benefits.

So, are bots about to "take" your marketing job? Not likely any time soon. The robots currently being developed will be best suited as a compliment and addition to current marketing functions; not as a replacement. It will be some time, if ever, that web bots start to significantly impact marketing employment.

However, as more systems and customer interactions become automated, you can expect your responsibilities to shift and evolve accordingly as you move your career forward. Expect a growing necessity to become more creative, innovative, and strategic in your jobs rather than focused on day-to-day execution and implementation.