In many ways, it’s strange how the rise of conversational and ChatBot marketing has happened at more or less the same time as the rise of voice assistants like Alexa and Siri. While both signpost a future where AI is at the centre of our digital lives, their vision differs on a couple of key details.
On the one hand, ChatBots ask us to spend more time entering text into our devices on the basis that communicating with a business should be no different to talking with our friends on WhatsApp. On the other, Amazon et al want us to introduce little black boxes into our homes and bedrooms that’ll reduce our screen time close to zero.
It’s a striking divergence - and more than a little confusing for inbound marketers looking to keep on top of the latest trends in search and conversion optimisation. Should you optimise your content for voice search? Or should you take the time to build chatbots that - for now - are limited to text-based input and output?
Here are a few thoughts on voice assistants versus ChatBots for inbound marketing.
How are voice assistants used in 2018?
Firstly, it’s important to remember both voice assistants and ChatBots are new, disruptive technologies, and no-one can say for sure how consumer attitudes to them will shape up in the long run.
However, we do know a few things about how consumers are using them now.
A PwC study carried out in February 2018, for example, found that almost two-thirds (65%) of US consumers aged 18 to 64 have used voice assistants. Furthermore, in the 25 to 49 age group, an impressive 65% of users speak to their devices at least once a day. However, the way they use voice assistants - and their attitudes towards them - followed some consistent patterns:
- Despite their range of capabilities, voice assistants are mostly used for basic tasks. Some 35% of respondents said they used their devices daily to check the weather or news, compared to just 10% who used them to buy products online. (A full 50% of respondents said they never use voice assistants to shop.)
- When consumers do buy products and services online via voice assistants, it’s normally for commodity items like food (cited by 34% of respondents) or Uber rides (21%) rather than more complex purchases. Just 3% had ordered clothing via voice, for example.
- Almost three in four consumers (74%) use mobile voice assistants in the home rather than in public. Why? Because talking to Siri in the street “just looks weird”.
Finally, it’s worth noting there’s not, at present, an established paid advertising platform for voice assistants like Alexa and Siri - and the results of the PwC study don’t point to much demand for that. The opposite, in fact:
“Consumers were vocal about the need to trust the assistant to fulfill simple tasks in order for them to be open to more ‘invasive’ types of personalisation.”
So what about ChatBot marketing?
Returning to ChatBot marketing, it’s striking how many of the above limitations can be interpreted as opportunities for brands that use ChatBots to support their activities on the web, mobile and social media - on the screen, in other words.
The most obvious example is in conversational commerce. While the PwC study makes out there’s not much appetite for consumers to shop via voice assistant, another 2018 report - this time from Juniper Research - claims the retail industry stands to benefit more from chatbots than any other.
Specifically, the report cites “benefits such as cost savings, up-selling, marketing and cart recovery” as factors that will drive ecommerce transactions via ChatBots to $112 billion (£88 billion) worldwide by 2023, at which point some 70% of ChatBots accessed online will be retail-based.
This is because ChatBots - unlike the current generation of voice assistants - represent an effective way to simplify and streamline transactional interactions, and facilitate two-way conversation where the user would otherwise have been forced to find information for themselves.
It’s not really a surprise that only 3% of consumers buy clothes online via voice. By the same token, it’s easy to see how a ChatBot on an ecommerce website - which might be capable of showing the user pictures and videos, taking their orders, listening to their feedback, messaging them when their size is in stock - is a very different proposition.
Looking to the future of conversational and ChatBot marketing
In summary, we think there’s plenty of room for voice assistants and ChatBots to co-exist in future, and inbound marketers would be remiss to focus their efforts on one at the expense of the other.
That said, we also think it’ll prove counterintuitive in the long run to pretend voice assistants and ChatBots are two distinct trends, with two distinct paths laid out before them. Both use AI and natural language processing to give prospects and customers the best possible experience, whether that’s via voice or text input. And that’s never not going to be the ultimate goal.