By Chris Frascella published March 23, 2018

Conversational Content: How to Market Through Text Messaging and Chatbots

conversational-content-text-messaging-chatbotsConversational interactions between content consumers and brands – via SMS text-style messaging and chatbots – are redefining how marketing teams can engage their audiences.

When communication technology provides greater immediacy and convenience to content consumers like this, changes in expectations are likely to follow — many of us who manage brands learned this lesson through the growth and evolution of social media.

And, as those of us who adhere to an inbound methodology know, when there’s an audience that actively wants to hear from you it’s important that you be prepared with the right content for that moment. Learn how to prepare your brand.

Messaging fits content marketing mission

Our raison d’être as content marketers is to craft content experiences that provide value while simultaneously amplifying our brand story to our audiences.

Messaging and chatbots represent the next logical extension of this mission, and you may not think about them as content distribution channels yet, but you need to be.

Messaging and chatbots represent the next logical extension of the #contentmarketing mission, says @cfrascl. Click To Tweet

Marketing automation software provider HubSpot recently released functionality to make it easier to repurpose content for chat or messaging. That means a lot of marketing teams and agencies are going to be fumbling with how to make use of chat and messaging as a content marketing channel.

Other indicators come from the likes of Buffer, Gartner, eMarketer, Dell, Neil Patel, and this awesome resource from TOPBOTS (some of these bots are glorified “repeat past order” buttons, but some represent content delivery mechanisms).

Drive deeper relationships

Last year, Forrester wrote an article on messaging apps published in Forbes, which includes a quote that should resonate with all of us who subscribe to CMI’s content marketing methodology: 

Messaging apps will introduce a paradigm shift for marketers where interactive and contextual conversations will replace ad broadcasting. New conversational interfaces will drive deeper relationships between consumers and brands.

Three phrases leap out at me from that quote: “interactive and contextual,” “replace ad broadcasting,” and “drive deeper relationships.” These concepts are the spirit of smart content marketing. You are creating value and building a relationship over time. You are not going for the quick and often fruitless hard sell.

We need to keep up with customer engagement norms, and, moreover, we need to capitalize on the opportunity for interactivity and personalization in a one-to-one content delivery channel.

Capitalize on opportunity for interactivity & personalization in 1-1 content delivery channel. @cfrascl Click To Tweet

How to adapt content in chatbot world

You can’t just duplicate existing content in your conversational scripts. Though the goals and methods are the same — contact by permission rather than interruption, create value to build a relationship, and use interactivity and personalization to drive engagement — their implementation looks different when you shift to conversational content.

Contingent permission

Chatbots are initiated by the audience, thus permission is automatic. SMS or texting, which require users to opt in, allows you to reach your content consumer via a native app on their phones. Though unsubscribe rates are close to 2% at best (far greater than for email outreach, which is well under 0.5%), SMS boasts an average open rate north of 80% and response rate of 45%.

Over 80% of text messages from marketers get opened, says @SHIFTComm. #research Click To Tweet

To retain permission to access your audience through this high-priority channel, you need to be mindful of both content and timing. (Timing made the difference between 1.8% and 8.5% unsubscribe rates in the previously mentioned research.)

SMS messaging is great for reminders or follow-up, as you are more likely to know where the person has been or what their interests are. It can also be valuable for pushing out alerts, depending on the perceived value and timeliness of the alert. This brings us to how value looks different in conversational content.

Structure and rewarding choice (aka engagement)

Each message appears below the history of your messages, triggering a reminder of the value you’ve provided (or failed to provide). As such, it’s important that each message is valuable, relevant, consistent, and timely to justify your continued access to audience members’ phones.

SMS messaging needs to be mindful of both #content & timing to justify continued access to phones. @cfrascl Click To Tweet

If you haven’t segmented your audience prior to beginning your SMS campaign, ask questions through SMS. Be sure that any question (or short set of simple questions) results in an immediate and relevant payoff for the recipient (e.g., ungated resource, discount code).

Let’s explore this effective example from Hyundai’s Kona vehicle model.

hyundai-kona-bot

Asking about the consumer’s preference for city, outdoors, or unique experiences is a great way to start the conversation. The recipients will answer honestly because they want to receive content that is most relevant to their interests. And now, Hyundai has an indicator of what content to send that person.

TIP: The maximum length of an SMS message is 160 characters.

To really capitalize on a conversational channel like this, you must immediately provide one piece of relevant content. Hyundai would need at least three pieces of content before it sent that Kona message.

Be ready to provide a piece of relevant #content based on the response to your brand’s text, says @cfrascl. Click To Tweet

TIP: If you send a link to content, make sure the URL is short and easy to click.

After getting a consumer to answer a few questions over the course of three to six weeks, you can connect them with extremely well-targeted content (and you may have even learned something about where they are in their buyer’s journey). And from the recipients’ perspective, if the content you’ve delivered fits with what they told you they were looking for, they will be eager to continue consuming it.

With SMS and texting, don’t send multiple messages in sequence. Give your recipients a choice that’s easy to respond to in your first message. After they respond, be explicit in your second message about how the value you’re offering (a link to an article, a discount code, etc.) speaks directly to the choice they just made. Then leave them alone for a few days. A best practice is about one to two messages per week, but your personas’ respective appetites may vary.

SMS & texting: don’t send multiple messages in sequence. Send 1 to 2 messages per week, says @cfrascl. Click To Tweet

Though SMS marketing should be text-based, short, and sent with appropriate regularity, chatbots keep the text shorter and often send multiple messages in quick succession. Chatbots also convey tone primarily through images:

chatbot-images-example

Each of these chatbot messages has fewer than 100 characters, but still conveys personality and builds engagement to motivate the consumer to engage. The bot’s premise is to recommend content based on what the consumer reports as valuable. The Epic Reads bot boasts a 57% click-through rate, 35% user return rate, and an average of more than 50 messages per user from start to finish. (Note: Epic Read’s messages have a slight delay between them to politely (though not necessarily accurately) simulate the time a human would need to type and send the next message.)

Ongoing interaction

This last point is only relevant for chatbot-based marketing efforts. Even if you don’t use the conversations to gather more data about your leads, you should ask questions or phrase your interactions in a way that demands a response. For instance, Lionsgate, in promoting its Power Rangers movie, uses one of the characters as the voice of its bot. Conversation opens strong with a question before it hits a wall:

lionsgate-chatbot-example

While ultimately it doesn’t matter what the user says, it’s not clear how (or if) the user is supposed to respond after the chatbot’s last statement. I would not be surprised if engagement dropped off at this point, which is a shame because it’s so early in the conversation and the bot eventually gets into a good response-asking rhythm.

It’s important to remember that, though responses to chatbots may be trivial, they make the conversation feel distinct.

National Geographic’s Genius-inspired bot offers a different example of an interaction. The Genius chatbot has answers at the ready based on whether the user does or does not have plans for the evening:

national-geographic-genius-chatbot-example

Like Epic Reads, the Power Rangers and Genius bots have a personality – the groaner comedy of Alpha 5 and Genius’ Albert Einstein with his courteous inquiry.

In review

Conversational content maximizes engagement when it uses questions to simulate choice and cultivates relationships by providing immediate, convenient, and relevant content when consumers respond to those choices. Keep messages short, as the medium is designed for quick consumption on a mobile device.

If you are building a chatbot:

  • Give it a personality.
  • Allow for slight delay between messages to replicate human interaction.
  • Incorporate even trivial questions to ensure a conversational feeling.

If you are using SMS text messaging:

  • Keep it under 160 characters.
  • Pay close attention to the timing of unsubscribes.
  • Avoid sending more than one to two messages a week.

Is this a waste of time? Are chatbots and SMS marketing an unsustainable, flash-in-the-pan fad?

Is conversational content going to irrevocably disrupt more traditional digital marketing strategies?

Cite your sources in the comments.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Is Your Marketing Ready for 2018?

Join us for in-person conversations with thousands of content marketers – and learn a lot about content conversations – at Content Marketing World Sept. 4-7. Register today and use the code BLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Chris Frascella

Chris Frascella manages content creation for marketing-oriented SaaS companies such as Velaro Live Chat, Decisionaire, and StatusCast. Connect with, follow, or email him to introduce yourself and keep in touch. Horror movie recommendations (whether truly terrifying or just plain awful) always welcome.

Other posts by Chris Frascella

  • David Wang

    Great article Chris. I’m definitely an advocate for businesses using texting and chatbots when appropriate. No more mass blasting and more conversation is key. I think it’s still new to some businesses and they are not sure how to go about creating a texting program. It’s all about education and you did a great job here.

    I also wrote a short eBook on how businesses can effectively create a text messaging program with goals and measurement for success. Check it out and let me know what you think.

    http://info.zingle.me/free-ebook-understanding-business-sms-a-text-messaging-guide-for-businesses

    • Chris Frascella

      Thanks David!

      Although texting is not new, as a content marketing channel it’s new enough that some people are still skeptical about it. It’s great that you offer advice for goals and measurement, especially for folks who probably aren’t clear on what their expectations should be.

      Given your experience in this space, is there anything you’d recommend in terms of best practice or what to avoid, beyond the guidelines I’ve offered above?

      • David Wang

        Yes, I speak with many of our customers regularly and here’s what I’ve learned:

        1. Integrate Texting into the Overall Marketing Strategy – For increasing reach, our customers have integrated social media and texting and have seen great boosts in followers and gaining new contacts through keyword-based text engagement to learn more information. It gets the conversation started with customers. Also find other ways to promote texting (website, flyers, email…)to get customers familiar with it and eventually they will start using it.

        2. Blend Bot and Human – Always start basic with human interactions. After a while you will see a trend in similar requests and questions, this is where you can start building out chatbot capabilities to handle common issues and leave the complicated stuff for humans to handle. This blend provides the best experience for customers and maximizes employee efficiency as well.

        3. Relevancy and Timing is Key – SMS is more personal than email, so it’s important to be focused and targeted as well as timely. Integrating texting into the CRM helps with automating content and promotions to customers based on purchase history, preferences and even website browsing activity. You mentioned HubSpot but also Salesforce has added SMS as well.

  • Scott Aughtmon

    Hey Chris! Great job at putting together this post. You offer some really interesting ideas and perspectives.

    I need to think more about what you wrote and decide if I really consider these tools an opportunity for content marketers or whether I consider them to be tools that are better used for sales related purposes.

    If these tools are useful for a form of content marketing, then I would say that content marketers need to master: how to create bite-sized content, tap into the power of stories, and harness the principles of content serialization.

    Otherwise, I think it will be difficult to use these tools in effective ways that don’t annoy the end user. Anyway, take care Chris!

    • Chris Frascella

      Thanks Scott! I think customer service/support is the most obvious applications of these technologies, so I disagree that “better used for sales” precludes their relevance from content marketing (as being better for support doesn’t make them less useful for sales). I do think you’re right that content serialization has a valuable application here, as this is a long-standing relationship with the user through a single, ongoing conversational thread.

      • Scott Aughtmon

        You might be right! Like I said, I need to think more about what you wrote.

        I think it’s always good to think out of the box about things, so I think your post is important to get us all to think in different and broader ways about content marketing and these tools.