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Conversational Marketing

Chatbots and Conversational UI in 2023

Andrew Siskind

Remember back in 2018, when the hottest take in the marketing blogosphere was that chatbots are the future?

Well, we're in the future now. So where are all the chatbots?

While investment in chatbot technologies and their usage by consumers is increasing, most of that growth is happening in consumer-facing arenas like tech support and online ordering. The chatbot revolution for inbound marketing we were promised just... never really materialized. 


Well, from our own experience implementing chatbots for our customers, we can guess it was for three main reasons:

  • Chatbot capabilities were overhyped
  • Chatbots were difficult to implement and maintain 
  • Chatbot adoption by users was lower than anticipated

So, five years on, where do we stand on chatbots, conversational marketing, and their value for marketing and sales?

Maybe "bots" was the wrong word

For a long time, marketing and sales chatbots (like the one built into HubSpot) have been pretty good at executing simple logic trees and helping users fill out forms or find information quickly. 

Some chatbot providers, like Intercom and Drift, even incorporated conversational AI into their tools in the form of natural language processing (NLP).

These chatbots never were, however, actual robots. 

When chatbot technology first hit the scene, it was often conflated with AI-driven smart assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. Those bots have gotten pretty good at figuring out what you want and giving to you.

So, marketers got excited. We started giving our chatbots names and personalities, and expected them to be the next big thing. 

But in reality, the chatbots that are available to marketing and sales teams aren't like bots at all. They were never intelligent. Instead, they guided users through linear narratives just like a choose-your-own-adventure book.  

Enter "Conversational UI"

For all those reasons, the term "chatbot" has fallen out of fashion among the companies that provide these technologies. The new preferred term is "conversational UI." 

This is more than a buzzword. Thinking about chatbots as conversational user interfaces actually helps create a whole new way of thinking about these tools and their usefulness for marketing and sales. 

A conversational UI is any interface that takes the form of a text message thread. Chatbots fall into this category, but so does live chat, and so too do non-traditional use cases like the short-lived Quartz Brief app (RIP), which let you read the news in a chat thread.

Conversational UIs are not replacements for your website. But they are better than traditional web experiences when it comes to a few important things:

  • Helping users find what they're looking for quickly
  • Gathering information from users
  • Surfacing important links

Learn more about Conversational marketing from a certified expert, HubSpot's Brian Bagdasarian. Check out the interview.

Use cases for conversational UI in 2023

Intercom is one of the best conversational UI tools on the market right now. As an Intercom partner agency, we have experience using their software to meet our clients' marketing and sales goals. 

Here are some of the use cases we're currently recommending: 

Increasing conversions

With modern conversational tools, you're not limited to back and forth messaging. You can add all sorts of modules to the chat, including forms and meeting schedulers. 

Conversion flows in conversational UIs can be much lower-friction and offer fewer bounce opportunities than old-fashioned forms. Give users the option to select whether they want to get in touch, how they'd like to get in touch, and let them finish by scheduling a meeting with your sales team right from the UI.

Plus, with CRM integrations, you can make sure all the data customers enter gets ported right back to their contact record. 

Intercom Meeting SchedulerImage Source: Intercom

Navigating blogs or help centers

Conversational UIs are a great way to help users navigate big, labyrinthine resource libraries such as blogs or help centers. 

You can use a chatbot to invite users to select the topic they're interested in, search for a specific resource, or promote the most useful or most popular resources on your site. 

Not all users will engage with chatbots, so this isn't a replacement for a well-designed resource center. But it is a great, easy-to-implement stop-gap that can help your users navigate and engage with your content without getting lost. 

Image Source: Intercom

Promoting content

One of the neat features of Intercom is the ability to include graphical calls-to-action in the chat interface. This is a great place to add a little advertisement for your latest lead-generating resource (like a report or webinar) and increase the ROI of your content marketing efforts. 

Image Source: Intercom

Qualifying leads

Many of our clients have problems with unqualified users filling out their contact forms or taking up valuable time on their BizDev teams' calendars. Unfortunately, solving this problem usually means either increasing friction of the conversion flow (i.e. making the form longer) or manually qualifying contacts on the back end. 

Chatbots can help solve this problem by qualifying leads up front. For example, if your business only serves enterprise clients, you can ask in the chat flow how many employees the user's company has. If they select a number below your threshold, you can redirect them to a lower-priority conversion funnel.

Image Source: Intercom

Conversational UI is the future!

We didn't learn our lesson. Here's another hot take for us to check up on in five years: we think conversational UIs are going to become a must-have tool for marketing and sales teams. As users get more used to seeing that little chat bubble in the corner, adoption will increase, and so too will the value of these solutions. 

Need a hand implementing yours?

Let Salted Stone help you figure out your conversational strategy. 



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