2020 has accelerated a dramatic shift towards online sales and marketing — and with that change in setting, new engagement challenges have emerged. While the virtual setting makes brands rely on websites and emails to connect with the public, those are fundamentally impersonal ways to communicate. How are brands supposed to foster the types of personal connections that can ultimately convert audiences into loyal customers?
Conversational marketing has emerged as the winning set of strategies that can help overcome the past year’s challenges. With conversational marketing, the strengths of online interactions can be leveraged to design a more personalised experience. This experience guides buyers frictionlessly through the stages necessary to become customers.
This article will focus on defining in more detail what conversational marketing is, and how you can deploy it to improve your business outcomes.
What is conversational marketing?
Conversational marketing refers to a specific set of strategies that a business can use to connect with its customers, centred around creating one-on-one, interactive conversations as well as collecting insights based on those interactions.
From the customer’s end, conversational marketing feels like a real conversation. Questions are presented one at a time in a way that feels like a real person is talking to them, listening to their responses, and directly addressing what they say with relevant information or whatever response is appropriate.
But behind the scenes, the interaction is actually automated, built around conditional logic to present responses that feel like direct replies. The questions posed are strategic, designed to move buyers through the marketing and sales funnel. Let’s take a look at an example:
Q: Why is conversational marketing effective?
A: The average customer is completely overwhelmed these days with advertising that bombards them across every channel, but that sort of advertising feels like a massive group of businesses screaming out their names to anyone who walks by. Even when a prospective customer is willing to submit their contact info because they want to learn more, their experience is punctuated with a lot of waiting for people to get back to them: waiting for an email follow-up, waiting to schedule a phone appointment, or waiting for some other form of acknowledgement. Nothing about this typical process validates or respects the individual.
That’s where conversational marketing stands out. Instead of long delays or piles of irrelevant information, conversational marketing helps brands meet customers where they are needed, getting answers to their questions in real-time.
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Being able to provide customers with efficient, effective, instant gratification for their questions or issues sets a positive tone for brand interaction. Your brand is there when the customer needs you — the distance from this point to a sale is far shorter than any other type of engagement because you already have a relationship where you are demonstrating that you are to be trusted.
How to execute a conversational marketing strategy
Implementing a conversational marketing strategy is easier than you think. Basically, you are going to build conditional statements — “if a customer asks this, then we reply with that” — that issue responses in ways that directly address customer concerns. But how does this fit in with customer engagement?
You’re effectively going to create opportunities for actual conversation, and then automate how you respond. Chatbots and live chat are two great tools for creating conversations online, both of which you can use to hit the ground running on your conversational marketing.
Experts tend to recommend first taking a step back and considering the following:
- What sorts of conversations would you like to have with your audience? Some brands choose to automate some parts of customer service, while others use conversations to identify the best opportunities to strategically offer discounts. If you work in a very specialised niche or provide a very technical service, providing background information or answering common questions might work best for you. The type of conversation you have will be specialised not just to your industry, but to your brand and the relationships you are trying to nurture.
- What channels work best for customer engagement? Another way of asking this is: where do your customers — prospective or actual — live? For example, if they tend to be present on LinkedIn, finding creative ways to engage them in posts might work well for you.
Whatever form of engagement you choose doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. In fact, simple engagement might be the most natural and easiest to implement. You might decide to include a question in a call-to-action, or place a form in a pop-up. Maybe the answer you will get to give a prospect is that they should subscribe to your blog, download an eBook, or even directly schedule a call with your sales team to learn more. All of these are engagement actions that can resolve the prospective customer’s concern, while also moving them along your sales funnel.
We’ve encountered four essential ways in which conversational marketing tends to be deployed.
- Conversation starter – In this case, a pop-up or CTA asks a question that is relevant to the visitor’s interests. You can make this sitewide or even page-specific. For example, if someone is looking through a “payment” page, you might have a pop-up ask the visitor if they’re looking for help with something. Then, questions can be asked in a way that helps them find the exact information they’re looking for. Leveraging cookies or any information on previous page visits can help set conditions for these conversation starters, and render them more effective.
- Lead capture – For this use case, you’ll look for situations where it would make sense to position a request for contact information. For example, if you have a financial product that helps users file taxes, visitors looking for more information on a specific tax question might input their email into a pop-up form that confirms this is what they’re seeking. These visitors will then receive an eBook around the very issue for which they’re seeking guidance. In the meantime, you now have their email address and can follow up with them down the line.
- Lead qualification – The most critical leads to your business are the ones that are most likely to convert into customers (and an even higher priority are any leads that are likely to be loyal, repeat customers). Conversational marketing can help qualify your leads. For example, a chatbot can ask, over the course of interaction, questions that gauge how well-aligned a visitor is with your target audience. The chatbot can either drive the customer to conversion, point them to the information they need, or capture their information for subsequent follow-up.
- Lead nurture – Yes, conversational marketing can be used to reinforce relationships with prospective customers along every stage in the marketing and sales funnel. One powerful use case of this is using questions or other collected data to pinpoint where in the funnel a particular user is located, and then connect them to a live presentation. For example, if you know your user is considering buying your software, you can connect them in real-time to a sales demo showing the value that your software will bring to their company. If a live product demo sounds too flashy, you can use something simpler like connecting the prospect to a product expert or team that can help demonstrate its value to that specific customer’s needs.
Thinking like your customer is key
At the end of the day, the success of your conversational marketing relies on how well you intercept the interests and needs of your customers, because that will drive how naturally your conversation flows into providing the sorts of actions that will drive customer relationship-building. Instead of bombarding audiences with advertising and marketing copy, conversational marketing leverages the power of automation to facilitate one-on-one engagement that demonstrates brand value and meets real-time needs.
The best conversations rely on active listening. You need to understand your audience in order to make your conversational marketing effective. Now is the time to develop your personas and think about whom you’re speaking with, so that you can create the kinds of personalised conversations online that will have an impact.
If you need more help with creating your personas, or improving any other part of your marketing strategy, we can provide you with a free growth assessment to help you get started.