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7 things marketing pros need to know about chatbots

James A. Martin | Oct. 14, 2016
Digital marketing experts share insight and advice on how CMOs and other marketing pros can get started with — and make the most of — chatbots.

In a separate article posted in September 2016, Recode reported that 50 percent of U.S. smartphone users downloaded "zero apps per month" during the three-month period that ended in June 2016.

Messaging-app bots are getting more popular "at a time when people are growing tired of individual apps," according to "While big brands have long promoted easier access to shopping and customer service through their own proprietary smartphone apps, some consumers are fatigued by having to download a different app for each company."

5. Chatbots are in the 'fart app' stage

Chatbots are poised to become an important customer engagement tool in the long term, according to Schlicht of Messaging-app chatbots, however, are in their infancy, similar to the earliest iPhone apps that debuted when Apple's App Store opened in 2008. At that time, "the best app was one that made fart sounds," he says. "So you could think of today's chatbots as being in the 'fart app' stage."

The technologies that power chatbots, including natural-language processing and machine learning, haven't evolved enough to enable fluid dialogue between humans and bots that doesn't rely on pre-scripted conversations, Schlicht says.

And then there'sMicrosoft's recent Tay fiasco. Tay was a Twitter chatbot released on March 23, 2016, that depicted a pixelated young woman. Snarky Twitter users tricked the bot into making offensive remarks, including positive statements about Adolf Hitler. Within 16 hours, Microsoft pulled the plug on the chatbot, offered a mea culpa, and offered lessons learned from Tay.

6. Chatbots are the future, but they won't replace people

"I don't think chatbots will replace apps, email communications, websites or humans," says Christian Brucculeri, CEO and director of Snaps, a mobile messaging platform for brands. Chatbots will, however, see widespread, scaled adoption for specific use cases, such as helping consumers make uncomplicated purchases or quickly find the information they want. For those situations, chatbots can be a "better delivery system" than other forms of customer interaction, Brucculeri says.

"The bots you see live today may be slightly gimmicky and mostly launched to join in the wave of hype surrounding bots," says Mike Slone, chief experience officer for Travelaer, a software and chatbot developer focused on the travel industry. "But the concept of one-on-one communications with brands via messaging apps is here to stay." 

7. IT needs to get involved with chatbots — NOW

When developing chatbots, marketers should work closely with IT from the beginning, for the following reasons. 

Chatbots and security

"For maximum security, chatbot communication should be encrypted, and chatbots should be deployed only on encrypted channels," says Mike Baker, founder and principal of Mosaic451, a cybersecurity firm.


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