“Conversational Marketing is Key for Retailers in 2021” by Matt Ramerman via Total Retail

“Conversational Marketing is Key for Retailers in 2021” by Matt Ramerman via Total Retail

It has never been clearer that mobile channels are where customers are. In 2020, consumers spent an average of 4.2 hours per day on their phones. At the same time, conversion rates for e-commerce hit a record, reaching 3.5 percent on Black Friday and Cyber Monday this past year. While that is way up from 2019, the obvious truth is the majority of marketing text messages, as is the case with all direct marketing, aren’t resulting in a transaction. In my view, this presents marketers with a quick win opportunity by shifting the way you engage with customers.

Retail as we know it has changed dramatically over the last decade thanks to technological advances and the demands of savvy customers. However, despite the evolution of their preferences when it comes to how they access products, services and information, brands are still relying on one-way, high-frequency “spray and pray” campaigns to drive conversions. Quality is stronger than quantity when building formidable customer relationships.

Take that 3.5 percent conversion rate, for example. Maybe the product and/or timing of the offer were spot on, but some of the 96.5 percent of consumers who didn’t click buy just needed some more information to feel confident in making a purchase. Maybe they wanted to see similar products at other price points? Regardless, one-way, linear mobile marketing can’t accommodate this. Enter conversational marketing.

Related story: SMS Marketing Tips for Retailers in the New Digital World

Conversational Marketing Enters the Chat

Conversational marketing is the notion of activating two-way channels (e.g., SMS, or messaging apps such as Instagram or Facebook Messenger) to support marketing campaigns and programs so consumers can respond to outbound campaigns. It’s been a step in the right direction to see brands meeting consumers where they are in their SMS inboxes. However, without allowing for a true back-and-forth between the customer and the brand, marketers aren’t getting the most out of customers’ most-used mobile channels. It’s time to surrender some control in the marketing process by incorporating consumers’ specific needs into personalized conversations and allowing them to drive the back-and-forth. To consistently engage and maintain strong relationships with their customers, retailers must apply this paradigm shift to their marketing strategy — all while reaching customers in their preferred channels.

It sounds like a lot to ask, but thanks to capabilities like artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots and conversational APIs, conversational marketing is perfectly achievable — even for the least tech-savvy end users. For example, brands can leverage chatbots within their proactive or reactive direct marketing programs and equip them with answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about current offers, products and store availability. Chatbots are powerful tools to provide customers with an open, always-on channel that can respond to their questions in real time — a key attribute of conversational marketing. If the customer’s inquiries require responses from a human, the bot can hand off the conversation to a customer service representative via a conversational API. By design, the API can transfer customer context and conversation history to the service representative to ensure a seamless transition.

For most midsize to large retailers, employing conversational marketing manually — i.e. having employees directly engage in conversations with customers — would be costly and time consuming. Next-gen messaging technology like chatbots and conversational APIs provide customers with personalized, conversational marketing experiences while being logistically feasible. In fact, Gartner estimates that by 2022, 70 percent of customer interactions will involve emerging technologies such as machine learning (ML) applications, chatbots and mobile messaging, up from 15 percent in 2018.

By taking a more human and customer-centric approach to marketing, retailers can deliver a personalized experience to drive higher engagement and customer satisfaction, which will translate to an increase in sales. Customer interaction is more mutually beneficial than the one-way, impersonal CX of traditional marketing. Brands that invest in these tactics will be ahead of the curve and well positioned to immediately reduce churn and boost loyalty through the simple concession of allowing customers to ask questions and expect answers.

A low conversion rate during the busiest shopping weekend of the year is a bleak status quo. The first step to closing this critical gap is for retailers to reimagine their marketing efforts through conversational marketing — a worthy investment as brands reconfigure their plans and budgets for a new, more interactive era.

Matt Ramerman is the president of Sinch for Marketing, a mobile messaging platform to transform your brand experience.

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