The Lounging Dutchman is a guy who brews beer at home and wants to share the fruits of his labor with other beer lovers, with one critical difference from other home brewers. This Dutchman happens to be a “full stack” software developer who programmed a voice-activated bot that makes it easy for strangers to ask what’s available. By uttering the simple request of “Ask the Lounging Dutchman what’s on tap,” complete strangers can peruse the Dutchman’s homebrew menu without touching a screen and can then stop by for a pint. Bot technology is ready and available now for home brewers and multinationals alike to connect with their customers and prospects in meaningful ways.
“Marketers need to move with their customers,” said Charles Golvin, research director, Gartner for Marketers, during the 2017 Gartner Digital Marketing Conference. “There are first-mover advantages for the taking now, but if you don’t take advantage of them, a competitor will.”
The basics of bots
Bots are consumer-facing software agents designed to execute an action or task, such as learning what’s on tap or shopping for and buying a mattress. They use voice activation and natural language processing technologies in the form of Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant. Artificial intelligence platforms such as Alexa Skills and Google Actions support bot technology. Bots inhabit new and evolving device form factors such as Amazon Echo, Google Home and Roku while also being available through popular communication applications such as Facebook Messenger and Skype. Bots enable consumers to execute transactions, such as ordering coffee from their kitchen when they are almost out, using just their voice — without touching a single screen or device.
Learn lessons from other brands
When Apple launched its App Store in 2008, many new apps provided interesting and useful utility. Brands that failed to evolve their apps in a way that met changing consumer needs or incorporate user experience feedback did not last long. The app store experience taught marketers that being first does not ensure longevity or success, and that delivering a good experience that becomes the default experience can secure a highly defensible position. Encourage internal experimentation — it is inexpensive in the early days. Monitor competitors’ efforts while evaluating first-mover opportunities.
Why marketers should care about bots
Customer interactions are moving to conversational interfaces, so marketers need to have a bot strategy if they want to be part of that future. It’s early in the life cycle of bots and conversational interfaces, which means first-mover advantages are there for the taking, especially for brands that already possess a large and robust dataset. Bot technologies rely on data to train the bot agent. In addition, voice agents are a new factor in multichannel marketing, so marketers should experiment now to determine if there are promising approaches that work.