“Here Come the Marketing Bots” is a great headline from a recent MIT Technology review, which summarises the hype we have seen about marketing bots so far in 2016. It brought a smile to my face since PR Smith, my co-author of “Emarketing Excellence,” expressed similar sentiments in 2001 when we published the first edition. He explained that, in the future, bots would provide personal assistants to select the best product, given their knowledge of our preferences and questions they asked us.
It may have taken 15 years, but artificial intelligence, connectivity, and processing powers have now developed to the stage where it’s become reality—brands can develop bots now that give consumer assistance. Likely you’ll know already about Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, IBM’s Watson, and the latest addition, Facebook’s Bot Engine for Messenger, which went live in April. It was starting to look as if Google was a little late to the bot party, but this all changed this month when the tech firm announced a raft of new services at Google I/O 2016.
Online publisher TechCrunch says that chatbots have suddenly become the biggest thing in tech, explaining that: “They unlock the ability to provide personalised, interactive communication akin to talking to a human customer service or sales rep, but at scale for much cheaper than call centres.”
But this isn’t some futuristic technology. The APIs Facebook is building into Messenger enable services to be delivered now—a feature already being used by service brands such as the Hyatt hotel group.
Google’s New Bot
The announcements at Google I/O show that Google has been busy taking its next steps in machine learning and artificial intelligence based on “assistant.” This is a natural-language conversation-based tool designed to control smartphones, smartwatches, and other devices. It’s not a new product or service as such, so we were told not to refer to it as “The Google Assistant,” rather it’s an underlying technology.
Google’s assistant appears to be an amalgamation of OK Google and Google Now. However, it appears to be much more of a conversation, rather than a one-way stream of commands. But it will be used also in “Google Home” for controlling appliances, which was announced at the same time.
Officially Google said: "The assistant is conversational—an ongoing two-way dialogue between you and Google that understands your world and helps you get things done. It makes it easy to buy movie tickets while on the go, to find that perfect restaurant for your family to grab a quick bite before the movie starts, and then help you navigate to the theater.”
For more detail and examples see the official Google blog post.
How Seriously Are Businesses Taking Digital Channels?
While there is often great excitement at the opportunities that come up through new developments, the fundamentals of marketing are often missed. This month at Smart Insights we published our “Managing Digital Marketing in 2016” report, which surveys approaches that businesses use to plan and manage their digital marketing investments.
As in previous years, it shows that, shockingly, nearly half of businesses do not have a digital marketing strategy, yet they are doing digital marketing. Perhaps, this is not surprising since we also found that 44% of businesses didn’t have a marketing strategy to align their digital strategy with.
The structural integration of digital marketing was also shown to be a challenge, with only 5% of companies believing they had a satisfactory level of integration.
Given the need to develop digital marketing skills of staff, implement new technologies, and update corresponding processes, it’s no surprise that many businesses are running digital transformation programmes to improve integration.
Of the companies we surveyed, over one-quarter (30%) of businesses already have a transformation programme in place, with many businesses (34%) looking to launch their digital transformation programme within the next 12 months.
Other Platform Developments In May 2016
Alongside the announcements from Google I/O, the other significant platform developments announced in May are:
Facebook broadens its dynamic ads categories and adds them to Instagram.
Facebook’s “Dynamic Product Ads” launched early in 2015 and have proved popular with retailers, with more than 2.5 billion unique products uploaded, according to Facebook. The ads are essentially a form of retargeting where products related to items users have browsed or put into baskets are re-advertised within Facebook. The ads have now been renamed “Dynamic Adverts” and new category options added, beyond shoes, computers, or books to hotels such as this Marriott example.
Facebook has also enabled the use of dynamic ads on Instagram, which should be a boon for brands targeting millennials since they can now feature products such as fashion or jewellery.
Twitter is building a new system called “Omnisearch.” This is designed to improve the quality of search available and, the company hopes, encourage more people to search on the platform. It will improve the quality of matches from Twitter’s search and let users search for things they can’t currently specify at the moment, like only surfacing Tweets including gifs, for example. You may also be able to search Periscope broadcasts, “moments,” or Vines. Twitter says it wants to “provide search as a service, allowing us to build entirely new kinds of products.”
Google improves insights from Google Search Console. Finally, some welcome news for search marketers as this new feature gives them back some insight lost more than three years ago. Then, Google stopped reporting on keywords from organic searches when it blocked reporting of encrypted search terms, labelling keywords as the opaque “not provided.” Now Google says marketers will be able to see information on the quality of keywords such as “bounce” and “conversion rates.”