You can’t put 2 marketers in a room together these days without chatbots coming up in some way.

But despite some seemingly too-good-to-be-true results and a whole lot of hype floating around, this recent marketing tactic is one that has legs.

In 2016, Facebook announced bots for Messenger, and now there are well over 300,000 bots active on their platform automating a wide variety of tasks (not just chatting).

As people increasingly turn away from certain social media sites, many companies have followed their customers to their favorite messaging apps.

Business Insider chart showing when messenger apps surpassed social media

Remember, this is conversational marketing, where the focus is on building a relationship with customers through (you guessed it) conversations. And you can’t have conversations if there are no costumers around.

But if you are still unclear as to what exactly a chatbot is (and how you could even use it in your business), you are definitely not alone. So we decided to break them down for you in less than 800 words (and don’t worry, no bots were harmed in the making of this post).

What is a Chatbot?

Simply put, chatbots are computer programs designed to have conversations with human users. Chances are you’ve interacted with one. They answer questions, guide you through a purchase, provide technical support, and can even teach you a new language. You can find them on devices, websites, text messages, and messaging apps—in other words, they’re everywhere.

Chatbots may use artificial intelligence, like machine learning and natural language processing, to perform these human tasks. Before we go on, let’s briefly explain what these terms mean:

Artificial intelligence is the broad term for the programming of machines to perform intelligent human tasks. There are many types of AI
Machine learning is a type of AI that enables computers to interpret information and learn from it, then use that context to inform a decision next time
Natural language processing is also a type of AI that processes human language and language-based data (i.e. text and speech)

But don’t worry if you’re not a top-tier programmer on the side; you don’t need to be one to create a chatbot. Nowadays marketers can use a variety of tools to build a chatbot, so a deep dive into computer science and artificial intelligence isn’t necessary.

Types of Chatbots

While there isn’t an official list of chatbot types anywhere, there are experts in the field that have broken up them up into categories, ranging from basic to advanced.

There are generally 3 types of business chatbots:

Support chatbots perform 1 main function, like help answer common questions or walk a user through a task. These are typically easy to navigate and don’t necessarily require speech functionality.
Skills chatbots follow commands, don’t require much context, and can usually be integrated with other things (like smart devices and appliances).
Assistant chatbots know a little about a lot of things. They’re usually conversational and entertaining (like our sassy girl Siri).

Keep in mind that many chatbots fall into more than 1 category.

There are other ways of thinking around chatbots, too: you can also break down types of chatbots based on capabilities.

Menu/button-based chatbots are programmed like a decision tree. Click through a series of questions, in button form, to get to your answer
Keyword recognition-based chatbots respond to what you type based on keywords and artificial intelligence. Ask the chatbot a question, and it listens for the keywords to narrow down an answer
Contextual chatbots use both machine learning and artificial intelligence to remember conversations, learn from that context, and improve over time.

However, you’d like to think about chatbots, the most important thing to know is that you don’t need to spend the time and resources to build a fancy chatbot. Sometimes a simple one will do.

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How Businesses are Using Chatbots (and how you could too)

Chatbots have a variety of jobs, including lead generation. Here are some tasks that chatbots can do.

1. Help Customers Make Purchases

This in-app chatbot by Dominos provides an alternative way to place a pizza order with their assistant Dom. It’s not all too different from ordering pizza the usual mobile way, but it’s way more interesting. And Dom is interactive and helpful as you go through the order process.

Dominos Chatbot for ordering

2. Upsell a New Product or Service

With Sephora’s Messenger bot, you can try out new products, book a makeover, provide store feedback, or be directed to a customer support representative for some human help.

Sephora Chatbots where you can order makeup

This is a great way to explore Sephora’s inventory without stepping into a store. They’ve even incorporated augmented reality (e.g. Snapchat filters) to let you “try on” their products before you shop those items.

3. Showcase Content

This is another example where what’s being accomplished isn’t all too different (it seems like you can get movie tickets a hundred different ways), but it’s the experience that counts.

Fandango Chatbots for helping you get movie tickets

Anyone who engages with the Fandango Bot through Messenger gets this cool interactive experience to watch trailers, see which movies are trending, and of course, buy movie tickets.

4. Send Music to Friends

Search Spotify’s catalog on Messenger to send a song or playlist to a friend. This is great for people who are already on Messenger and would prefer to stay on it. Plus, it saves several steps instead of navigating to the Spotify app (or via browser) and sharing content that way.

Spotify chatbot for sending music to your friends

5. Plan Trips

Kayak’s Messenger bot helps with booking flights, cars, hotels, and finding things to do. The search “Where can I go for $500?” asks for your location and gives you a handful of destinations to choose from.

Kayak chatbot for booking flights

Get Out There and Chatbot

Chatbots are still the new kid in the marketing block, but businesses have been quick to adopt this new technology and reap the rewards. Look at your favorite brands (and your competitors) to see if (and how) they’re using chatbots for their business. Maybe there’s an opportunity for you to do the same.

Conversational marketing doesn’t have to be intimidating. With a bit of creativity and the right tools, you can provide another way to connect with your customers—this time on their messaging platform of choice.

(NOTE: Need a helping hand with your digital marketing efforts? Or maybe you just want proven, actionable marketing tools, tactics, and templates to implement in your business? Check out the latest deal from DigitalMarketer, and you will be on your way to helping your business grow.)

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