The top conversational marketing trends in 2021

Marketing compass

The global enterprise messaging industry accounts for 2 trillion messages annually. Messaging is a great medium for engagement -- it’s instant, and users tend to be much more responsive compared to other media. Also, users tend to utilize messaging apps dozens of times every day. Therefore, brands that do messaging right will see much higher frequency and intensity of engagement than with other media.

Most messages are delivered today using good old-fashioned SMS messaging. However, this sizable enterprise messaging industry is about to change in significant ways. Newer messaging channels are emerging with far greater capabilities -- namely Whatsapp, Rich Communication Service (RCS), Google Business Messages (GBM) and even a new messaging channel launched by Gupshup called Gupshup IP (GIP) Messaging. The common theme across all these channels is that they are all based on data messaging using the Internet Protocol (IP messaging).

Richer media formats with IP messaging

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While messages in the future will support rich interactive formats, currently they are mostly text-based. Therefore, brands will have to figure out ways to engage users in a meaningful conversation, rather than just view banners or video commercials. 

IP messages include rich media, such as images, audio, video and files. For example, a bank can send a scanned copy of a check along with the transactional alert. IP messages have structured layouts that reduce clutter and enhance visual appeal. IP messages include interactive, clickable buttons that enable users to respond with a single click. For example, a bill-pay alert with a "Pay Now" button, banking alert with a "Report Fraud" button, flight confirmation with an "Upgrade" button and so on. 

Current messaging workflows will segue into two-way conversations

IP messages enable two-way conversations. Conversations enable users to select from available options, take actions in response to the message content, engage in a multi-step flow to troubleshoot a problem, get details about a promotional offer before making a purchase, etc. Businesses can use either human customer support agents or AI-enabled chatbots to engage in customer conversations. This enables users to ask questions and get replies in natural human language.

Mass personalization is no longer a dream

IP messages enable a high degree of engagement and personalization. Businesses can develop a detailed, personalized user profile and customize their interactions accordingly. Users get fine-tuned control, enabling them to determine who, when, why and how frequently a business can send messages to them. Each message is sent to a unique individual; therefore, each customer interaction can be customized to that person. This offers brands the ability to tailor the service to each customer. This will require brands to capture context, build user profiles and maintain history. The user should be able to order pizza, or just about anything else, by just saying "usual" after the user has some history with the brand.

Customer is in control

IP messaging lets consumers consume content at their own pace. There’s less room for intrusive advertising in conversational marketing than in other media. Messaging platforms are very sensitive about spam. Any messages that lead to user annoyance will get filtered out. On some messaging platforms, bots will not even be allowed to initiate user conversations -- only the user will. 

Therefore, brands will have to create a pull effect to get users to initiate conversations. Users control the flow of the conversation to get their specific questions and issues addressed. The responses can be personalized based on many criteria: what stage of the persuasion cycle the user is in, the geographical location of the user, prior history of conversations, voting history, social connections, etc. 

Since the users control the conversation flow based on personal preference, they are inherently engaged throughout the conversation. They can focus solely on the issues they care about without being distracted by information they’re not interested in. Also, their conversation history influences future conversations that become even more relevant and engaging over time.

Newer use cases like product search and support get conversational

Marketing is not just about image, awareness and lead generation: it’s about all touch points that customers have with your brand. Brand bots can help users find the right product from their portfolio. For example, Sephora just launched bots that help users find the right cosmetic product from its extensive SKU list. 

The bot should be able to query user requirements and suggest the best matching product for that user, along with the option to get detailed product information. This bot is like the local bookseller whose advice customers rely on to buy the right book. For brands, this can be a great opportunity to upsell and cross sell products. 

Brand bots should be able to handle customer complaints and issues from existing customers. A bot that sells but doesn’t support will disappoint customers. A bot that says "that’s not my department" will create a poor impression. Bots enable brands to reduce or eliminate phone wait times for their customers.

Rapid expansion into brick and mortar businesses

Conversational marketing is no longer the realm of digital natives or enterprises: it can be applied to traditional brick and mortar businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, book shops, gas stations, etc. The rise of progressive web apps is making it easier for these businesses to create a conversational interface with their customers and a safe engagement experience as the world normalizes post-COVID.

Anthropomorphic bots - the face of the brand

Is Alexa beginning to feel like a person? Very soon, your bot will become the primary interface for your brand. Users will visit your bot more than they will visit your website, app or store. This will be true before, during and after the sale of your product. Your users will interact with your bot more than they see your ads or even interact with your product. In fact, they will likely interact with your ads and product through the bot. In the bot era, the bot is the brand.

Marketplaces will be a thing

Bot stores are emerging that will help users discover bots. These will be both platform-specific as well as cross-platform bot stores. Brand bots should be listed in each of these. Additionally, a new advertising model will inevitably emerge where popular bots will, for a fee, refer other bots.

Image Credit: donskarpo / Shutterstock

Beerud Sheth is the Founder/CEO of Gupshup, the global leader in cloud messaging and conversational experiences. He previously founded and led Elance (now Upwork, a publicly listed company), the pioneer of online freelancing and the gig economy. 

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