eStartup EPISODE 5: Marketing

Yeah! It is time to think how to do it, nobody can escape from this. What needs to be done should be clear by now from EPISODE 0. If not, go back there! So, within this episode I will share some of my thoughts and findings about how to setup your online marketing in a smart way.

First, let’s remember something:

The forecast about the internet traffic in the next years (not too many, probably less than 5 years) is that the most important part of the traffic (close to 90%) will be generated by eCommerce (that’s online business), Social Media (that’s about online promotion of the business), IoT (that’s about automation of the business) and mobile (that’s about accessibility to the products and services). Traditional websites will become almost insignificant so, if you believe that having a website means that you are online, you are wrong.

At this point I guess that all of us agree that online doesn’t mean a nice presentation website. Probably we also agree that online promotion (digital market) is the way ahead. I hope that there is also enough clarity on the market segments and target groups to be reached. If so, then it is time to do it. Until some years ago using ads was the only viable option but, of course, something else emerged as a result of the rapid development of new NLP technologies (Natural Language Processing) and due to the huge penetration rate of global messenger apps. Yes, I am talking about chatbots. So, in this article I will try to share with you some thoughts about these two methods. Of course, as I always did within this series, everything at minimum possible cost.

From the start I must be honest and I have to tell you that, all in all, this important part of your business will not be 100% for free. I mean it can be but what you can accomplish for free will be far away from your expectations. Secondly, it is important to mention that there is no “bullet-proof” recipe for the success. The world of digital marketing master minds is somehow divided. There are a lot of fans of each of the two methods, there are also a lot of them saying that the success can be achieved only if the two methods are combined. Without being an expert in the matter, I believe that the combination is the right thing to do. Third, there are multiple studies revealing that the cost of chatbots is by far lower than the cost of ads for the same volume of leads generated (or even higher volume). Well, this is absolutely true in our case since for a startup or a small/medium business the cost of a chatbot can be zero (as I will show you later in this article).

So, let’s proceed! Why did I tell you that you should combine the methods? Well, just think that your prospects needs to find out that you have a chatbot because I assume that you don’t have them all in your contact list. The best way to make them aware of your chatbot is through ads. And ads are not for free. Of course, you have to design a very targeted ads campaign but eventually you will have to pay for it.

Besides the ads campaign you can also use your social networks accounts/pages. I mean business social media accounts, not personal accounts. If you don’t have such business pages I strongly suggest to start with this. I fact you must do this, otherwise you cannot run your ads campaign later. I also suggest to find out which are the most popular channels for your target groups. I mean Facebook has by far the most important penetration rate but you may consider other channels also depending on the specific of your business and the geographic regions you target. For some businesses LinkedIn is also very good, in some countries Twitter is very popular and Instagram vs. Pinterest penetration rate can offer some surprises sometime. However, this evaluation is not rocket science, the internet is full of studies on this topic. Just google “facebook penetration rate in …” and you will find tons of information already prepared on multiple dimensions. I can only suggest to choose reliable sources like global market research and consultancy companies. Also, very important, do not forget to register your business with Google My Business, it is relative new. This will dramatically improve the way in which you will be seen on google. Anyway, any business social media page you may have will not serve the purpose of reaching your target groups, this cannot be achieved through ads. At this point take another look on the social media studies I mentioned before, there you will find the right answer on which social media platform you have to focus for your ads campaign. Also maybe will not be wrong to review one of the previous episodes (episode 3: fine tuning) to remember a bit about SEO and how can you improve your seobility.

Now, let’s go back to the ads. Designing good looking ads is a science it self but, if you have a bit of artistic spirit, you can do it your self using a dedicated tool which Google is offering for free (Google web designer). I encourage you to download it and play a little bit with it, is not too difficult to learn how to use it. However, although I cannot advice on how your ads must look like, remember what I wrote in episode 0:

do not try to be the best of the best, focus on being one-of-a-kind

That’s about all you can do for free in order to have a nice online presence and to improve your chances to be found through internet searches. From this point forward you have to spend some money on your campaign, I assume that you have some budget lines allocated for this in your business plan. If not, you have to go back to the business plan and see what’s wrong there (again, episode 0). I believe that the money you have to spend on marketing and promotion represents the best practical view on the concept “spend money to make money” and the line between “spend” and “throw” is really thin. It is also very important to set a reasonable level of expectation regarding the outcome of your campaign. Do you want that the ads campaign to be your main engine for lead generation or to use it in order to increase the awareness of your business? My personal opinion is that the second option is more reasonable in terms of cost/performance ratio and using such campaign in combination with a good chatbot will allow you to generate valuable leads at a reasonable cost per lead.

Next step, the chatbot! Free chatbot to be more accurate. Yes, it is possible. Let’s set the main principle on which the chatbot must be build:

  • one bot – multiple channels
  • structured bot vs. conversational bot
  • spend time to teach your bot, this is a continuous work
  • take care of sensitive aspects (privacy, politically correctness)
  • business processes integration

Surprisingly (or not), in this episode I am not talking about WordPress and plugins but about Google. The chatbot industry is already pretty mature, you can find a lot of options to build yours for free. What you have to pay attention to is the charges on the number of messages processed by your bot. Be very aware that this is something that you can’t control (since you can’t control what the user will say nor how much the user wants to talk) and be aware that your bot will answer to each and every message sent by any user of a messaging platform. So, although building the bot may be free, the live usage of it may cost you. Another important aspect is related to the capacity of your bot to learn, the so called artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing engine (NLP) behind your bot. For these two reasons I believe that the best choice is to use Dialogflow which will allow you to develop the bot on Google AI and NLP engines (which are by far the most advanced) and also (for small and medium businesses) allows unlimited messages. All what you need is to have a Google account. The only thing that is not for free (you must apply for a pay-as-you-go plan on Dialogflow) is the sentiment analysis engine … but you can live without it!

Probably the most critical aspect is related to the channels on which your bot must be active. I am sure that you will want to be active on FB messenger, Whatsapp and other popular channels (may be Twitter, Telegram, Skype, Whatsapp). Logically, you have two options here, one is to be able to have a single bot distributed over all of these channels, the second is to build one bot for each channel using dedicated bot platforms (I guess this is the craziest thing to do but technically is possible). From this perspective, Dialogflow is also the best option, it provides multiple channel integrations (for free!). The only channel you may have to pay for is Whatsapp Business API because the integration is made through a third party (Twilio) which will charge you for this. However, this may be changed in the near future when Whatsapp Business API will be available on a larger scale (today, when I write this article it is not yet available for direct integration but can be accessed using this workaround).

Now, building a structured chatbot is very simple. You will only have to follow a strict conversation diagram based on key words and the bot should reply with limited and selectable options. For sure you can start with this and there are multiple platforms which allows you to do so, including good looking designs of the bot replies. Dialogflow also allows you to do that. But the latest research on chatbot results shows that structured chatbots does not bring too much into your business, in fact in some cases can even harm your business because the prospects (potential future leads) may get angry with the limited conversation capabilities your bot can provide. So you have to focus on creating a conversational bot able to cover a wide range of conversations (including small talks) and also being able to learn from each conversation. Although the AI and NLP engines of Dialogflow (provided by Google) are pretty well developed to learn and match words, phrases and intents, be aware that you need to spend some time to grow and teach your bot. There is this saying in the software industry: “regardless of how advanced your testing procedures and tools are, you will never overcome the imagination of the users”. So, you can imagine how large is this imagination when it comes to free talking! Teaching your bot (meaning that you have to confirm that what the bot was able to learn by itself through AI and NLP and to indicate how to treat what the bot was unable to learn by itself) is a 15 minutes/day job and may be also fun to do it. This time will be shorter and shorter as your bot grows and the number of unmatched phrases, words, intents will decrease. However, do not ignore this aspect, a conversational bot that is not trained enough is even more dangerous than a well structured bot. In one of the future episodes I will try to give you some hints about how to build and teach a decent conversational chatbot.

Since we are talking about conversations … you also have to be aware that human conversations are not always nice and pleasant. This should be an important concern when teaching your bot. You have to teach him how to treat sensitive topics. It is obvious that you cannot control what the users will say but you have to control how your bot will reply. My advice is to teach your bot not to be engaged into conversations about sensitive topics (such as religion, sexual orientation, racism, topics related to terrorism and others). Maybe is not very polite but for sure it is healthy to provide a political correct answer when such topics are detected in the conversation. Not to mention that it is also possible that your bot to be automatically deactivated by some messaging platforms if it gets engaged in such conversations.

Privacy should be another major concern when operating chatbots. During the conversations your bot may collect personal information from your users. You are responsible about how this information is further processed and used and also you have to be able do remove any and each of the records containing personal information or to provide a detailed report on what information you collected when the users will ask for this. Yep! GDPR! Here the concept of one-bot-multiple-channels will really be helpful. Imagine the nightmare if you have one bot for each channel. Again, Dialogflow provides you with the solution by offering full, detailed, searchable and exportable logs of all conversations. Finding and extracting the information containing the personal data of a user is a matter of minutes.

Last but not least, the most spectacular chatbots are also doing something for the users, not only chatting with them and providing them with information. I mean the bot can, for example, select products from your online store and place orders. Or they can book appointments and many others. This means that the platform you are using to build your bot must allow secure integration with your e-business environment (this is the so-called fulfillment of an intent) and this is also something that you can do with Dialogflow. I will dedicate an episode to this topic, later in this series.

Well, enough about digital market for the moment. I hope this article was helpful for you and remember that you can always ask.

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