What is conversational marketing?
Conversational marketing has been quite the buzzword recently, huh?
A conversational growth strategy can be valuable for your business…but first we have to strip away the jargon behind phrases like “conversational growth strategy.”
Conversational marketing takes advantage of the power of one on one conversation. It’s a form of one to one marketing that—when properly used—can fill gaps in your marketing to answer your audience’s questions in real time.
But conversational marketing, as the term is being used today, isn’t just literally talking to your audience and trying to sell them stuff. There’s already a word for that—sales.
Instead, conversational marketing is about the rise of a new type of marketing technology—and about trends in how people talk to each other online.
But what is it actually?
What makes it different?
How can you do it?
How can you do it well?

What is conversational marketing?

Conversational marketing is an approach to marketing that lets businesses have one-to-one conversations with members of their audience. That makes it easier to answer questions in real-time—which improves lead generation and sales.
The definition of conversational marketing is intentionally broad. But even though there’s little mention of technology in that definition, most people referring to conversational marketing are talking about chatbots and live chat.
Let’s do quick definitions:

  • What is live chat? Live chat is an application you add to your website that lets visitors message a member of your team directly. That means you can answer questions in real time, and save visitors the trouble of digging around your website.
  • What are chatbots? Chatbots are software programs that mimic natural language and conversation. They can also be pre-programmed with responses, which lets you get many of the benefits of live chat without needing someone to actively monitor chat windows.

If you visit a website and have trouble finding what you need, live chat and chatbots can be extremely helpful. Especially if your question is highly specific, it’s faster to just ask a question than it is to find an answer on your own.
Live chat marketing has been around for awhile, and it tends to be most helpful for people who are already close to making a decision (and just have a few final concerns).
Chatbot marketing, on the other hand, is relatively new. Because chatbots don’t take a real person to run 24 hours a day, you can keep them active…24 hours a day!
A lot of websites are using chatbots to greet every visitor and collect some information (including contact information).
In a way, this type of chatbot marketing is a less annoying form of pop-up.
Although pop-up lead capture forms are universally annoying, anyone who’s used one knows that they convert crazy better than other types of calls to action.
Data from Sumo shows that pop-ups, done well, can hit pretty high conversion rates. The top 10% of pop-ups in their sample converted at over 9%.Pop-Up Conversion Rates

Source: Sumo

If you throw in retargeting pop-ups, exit-intent pop-ups, and pop-ups that only appear on scroll, the effectiveness of pop-ups is pretty high.
But they’re still annoying.
Chatbot marketing is relatively new, so there isn’t a lot of data on their conversion rate relative to pop-ups and other forms.
Still, a chatbot has a lot in common with a pop-up form, in that it triggers a message that goes to website visitors. Because that message is in the form of a conversation, though, it may be less annoying.
And because conversations allow more interaction, you might be able to collect information and address key concerns at the same time.
The potential here is huge. You could:

  • Collect information that lets you build a sales pipeline full of qualified leads
  • Offer better customer service and a superior buying experience
  • Address a pain point—which would be impossible if visitors were just filling out a form
  • Ask qualifying questions so that sales teams can better understand potential customers
  • Improve your sales cycle and save sales rep time—while giving a more personal experience that mimics face-to-face marketing

Even though conversational marketing is still young, it looks promising.
But where did it come from? And why has conversational marketing strategy risen to popularity over more traditional marketing methods?

The history of conversational marketing
(or, how traditional marketing collapsed)

50 years ago, the marketing world looked different.
Most “marketers” were doing some form of advertising. TV ads, sponsorships, public relations, and direct mail ruled the day.
If you were a marketer, you were probably involved in some form of ad buying, copywriting, creative, or press release. Maybe you worked to negotiate endorsement deals or sponsorships.
Today’s marketing world is extraordinarily different. A marketing department today may still have copywriters and designers, but it also includes social media experts, paid search specialists, video production, SEO, and (of course) “growth hackers.”
What changed?
The history of conversational marketing goes back to the collapse of traditional marketing. As marketing channels became more and more saturated, everyday life got cluttered with marketing messages.
If you were getting mail at some point of the 90s, you remember the piles and piles of junk.
Marketing just wasn’t working the way it used to. And the internet, a hot new channel with an uncertain future, was opening new doors in marketing.
Enter “Permission Marketing.”
This phrase, coined by marketing legend Seth Godin, speaks to the fundamental difference between new marketing and old marketing. Traditional marketing was “interruptive.” It reached people in their everyday lives while they were trying to do something else.
It interrupted them from doing the things they really want to do.

Permission Marketing

Source: Amazon

Do you really want to sit through a television commercial to watch your favorite TV show?
Of course not. Commercials worked because there were few alternatives and a largely captive audience—but in a world that would soon develop online streaming, their days of effectiveness were numbered.
Permission marketing is instead about creating experiences that people want. It means having permission to market to people, yes—but done well it’s even more than that. It’s the idea that people should actively seek out your marketing, because that’s just how good it is.
This idea of “create things people want” is what led to the rise in content marketing—another fast-growing marketing trend..

Content marketing search trends, according to Google
The Google Trends report for content marketing

Content is diametrically opposed to interruptive marketing. And as online channels made it easier to search for information, content marketing took off.
But it doesn’t solve everything.
Imagine for a moment that you’re doing research on ecommerce platforms, because you want to create a website to start selling stuff. You’re searching around, you land on a company’s website, and everything looks good.
But there’s one little, nagging question you can’t answer.
You search their help documentation and still can’t find it. You read reviews—nothing. Nowhere online can you seem to find the answer to your incredibly specific question.
You could submit a contact request and wait for an email response (BORING). That’s going to take a while. Plus, what if you have follow-up questions?
Enter—conversational UI.
Conversational user interfaces can come in a few different forms. Technically, voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Google Home use a conversational UI. In a marketing context, live chat and chatbots tend to be more common.
Here’s a quick conversational user interface definition:

  • What is a conversational UI? A conversational UI is an interface that users interact with using natural language. When conversational UI is powered by artificial intelligence, it uses natural language processing to understand the meaning behind user’s language (rather than simply defining each word).

With live chat and chatbots, you can answer people’s questions immediately. You can address concerns. And because the people who ask questions over live chat are likely to be more engaged, you can convert more customers.
The last time I used live chat is instructive. I was interested in getting a copywriting course from the fantastic copywriter Joanna Wiebe. Just one problem—the course deadline was fast approaching, and I needed to set up a virtual credit card with the right amount of $$$ to pay. I wasn’t sure if there was sales tax.
If there was tax, my card wouldn’t have enough money to pay with. So I really needed to know.
Fortunately, the landing page for the course had live chat. And even better, Joanna responded to my question within minutes.
And I bought the course.
payment processing machine

Conversational marketing leads to sales

Conversational marketing is a new trend, and the phrase “conversational marketing strategy” is definitely in danger of becoming a buzzword.
But it’s also part of a larger trend of permission marketing. As outbound marketing falls out of fashion in favor of inbound lead generation (which uses tactics like content marketing, personalization, email marketing, retargeting, data analytics, and A/B testing), conversational marketing is on the rise.

5 benefits of conversational marketing

1. Respond in real time

Sometimes a question can’t wait. Or shouldn’t.
You know that feeling when you’re looking for an answer to a question and it just feels like it should be easier to find? Your questions seems like it should be a common one, and yet you can’t seem to find anyone answering it.
Often, this is the kind of question that an expert could answer in just a few seconds. But it seems impossible to find the answer online.
Boom! Enter conversational marketing.
Live chat means that people can get instantaneous (or at least very fast) answers to their questions.
And if you don’t have the resources to have live chat running 24/7 (after all, people need to sleep), chatbots can help people out in the meantime.
Why do people like your website? Is it…

  • Because it’s aesthetically beautiful?
  • Because it’s got fancy, interactive parts?
  • Because it represents your brand well?

It’s none of those things. Research shows that by far the biggest reason for liking a website (76% of people said this) is that the website makes it easy to find what you want.
When you use conversational marketing, you make it easier for people to find what they want. Which means they like you more—and have the information they need to have before they become a customer.

2. Mine chat logs for voice of customer language

Where do great marketing messages come from?
Before I answer that, let’s talk about where they don’t come from.

  • Great marketing messages don’t come from the brain of a marketing executive
  • They don’t come from the brain of a copywriter
  • They don’t come from a 4-hour “brainstorm” in your largest conference room

Great marketing messages come from your customers.
The legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz once wrote: “There is your audience. There is the language. There are the words that they use.”
He’s in good company. Because legendary ad-man David Ogilvy (in many ways the inspiration for Don Draper’s character in Mad Men) once said: “Unless you have some reason to be solemn and pretentious, write your copy in the colloquial language which your customers use in everyday conversation.”
Marketers of old knew that great marketing comes from listening to your audience. What happens when you use the same words that they use?

  • You catch their attention, because you say things they’re already thinking
  • They feel like you understand them (because you do)
  • They understand the value you offer. They know what you can do for them.

Ogilvy and Schwartz were marketers of a different time period. But the “old ones’” advice is still at play today.
The school of “conversion copywriting” draws on old-school lessons and applies them to modern marketing.
Imagine for a moment that you needed to create the copy and message for a rehab a