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Are chatbots about to send email marketing to the Trash folder?

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Chatbots vs Email: friend or foes? Photo Credit: Shutterstock/BlurryMe

Email is among the highest performing marketing channels. It regularly outpaces other mediums, with research showing that email drives customer acquisitions at a rate 40 times higher than Facebook and Twitter — combined. Email also ranks near the tip-top for ROI in marketing. Coming from a background in email marketing, I’ve worked hand-in-hand with global brands that appreciate and understand its effectiveness.

There are numerous similarities between Facebook Messenger chatbots and email. They are both highly targeted, direct forms of promotion. Whereas traditional ad mediums like billboards and tv seek to reach the widest possible audience, email and Messenger send a specific message to pre-selected and segmented consumers. Also, both seek to not just bring awareness to a product or service, but also to link the consumer to where they can make a purchase or complete the sender’s desired outcome.

With these similarities, the question arises: do Facebook Messenger chatbots provide a superior alternative to email marketing?

In order to overtake email, Messenger bots must first identify either a deficiency in email marketing, a clear superiority in it’s own platform, or both. If a brand has seen consistently strong results from email marketing, why move away?

In this article, we’ll examine factors such as platform functionalities, user demographics, and the intimacy of the two mediums. Part 2 of the article will dive deep into other factors including existing marketing and technological infrastructure and deliverability.

Platform functionalities: What they can and can’t do

To compare Messenger bots and email, we’ll first examine the technological capabilities and features of each medium. Why? Because the advancements in chatbots are what makes this comparison possible. While bots and email seek to accomplish many of the same goals, they do so through different structures and features.

Whereas emails present all content at once, chatbots would likely start with a proposition, update, or question. From there, the information the customer receives will vary based on their inputs and interactions. Think of email as a speech, and a Messenger chatbot as an interview. Like a speech, email is a one-way communication, with all of the information being presented in one continuous sequence. Messenger is comparable to an interview in that it exists as a series of back-and-forths with one side attempting to gather information (the bot), and the other (the human) providing that information based on the questions asked.

Email consists of a single, vertical layout of content. They can contain multiple images, lines of copy, and links. Emails can also present a variety of messages and CTAs within one communication. Size constraints, however, limit the capability of email to send larger, more engaging content such as video and audio. Also, recipients rarely complete a desired action within the email itself. Rather, the email compels the user to do something and links them to where they can do it.

Messenger chatbots, on the other hand, are built for a smaller amount of content. Imagine putting all of the content from an email newsletter into a Messenger chatbot. It would be enormous, nearly impossible, to scroll coherently through and an utterly awful user experience. A practical application of Messenger would break content down into small, easily digestible bits. The content, order, and number of these bits is determined by how the recipient interacts with the bot.

Facebook Messenger also differentiates itself from email by allowing most desired actions to be completed within the message. Without leaving the platform, users can: fill out polls; provide information; watch videos; listen to audio and, most importantly, make purchases. Chatbot platform Snatchbot provides great examples here. Theoretically, the fewer steps required for the user to reach the desired outcome, the more likely that desired outcome is to be reached. By aggregating the marketing message and it’s actionability into one place, Messenger makes itself a much more appealing platform than traditional email.

Emails vs Chatbots: an example

To gain a better understanding of how the two mediums compare, let’s examine a practical application. In this case, a reminder from a car company that your vehicle is due for a service.


An email is sent that informs the customer that their car is due for a service. A CTA links to a web page in a browser where the recipient can select their dealership and see available dates. A date is selected, booked and an email confirming the appointment is sent.

Messenger chatbot

A message is sent that informs the customer that their car is due for a service. It asks the recipient a date and time they’re available and sends appointment times based on that customer’s inputs. The customer selects the one they want (either through a quick-reply or text input) and the bot confirms the booking. The bot also configures to send a reminder message a day prior to the appointment.

Ultimately, Messenger is appealing to marketers because it provides the direct contact and accuracy of email without any of the content or actionability limitations. Bots can provide a richer, more interactive experience, and therefore become desirable. The challenge lies in identifying how Messenger features are beneficial to your customers and incorporating them into your message.

Demographics: Who’s using what?

The age of the communication target is an important pillar in comparing Messenger chatbots to email.

Young users are increasingly flocking to messaging apps over email, with users age 13–24 spending 3.5 more time in messaging apps than those over 45. As time goes on, these users will rely less on traditional email platforms than the generation before them. This gap presents an opportunity for brands to target younger groups within messaging platforms.

Older users, on the other hand, show no sign of abandoning email. They are resistant to using their mobile device as a primary tool, as evidenced by the fact that 55% of 56–67 year olds will never use mobile first to check their emails. A resistance to mobile adoption presents a challenge to mobile-first messaging platforms.

One of the most significant impacts of age difference lies in the ingrained expectations that come from experience with instant messaging and email. Older users are accustomed to receiving promotional emails. These types of messages have existed for nearly as long as email itself. On the other hand, they are unlikely to have received much promotional outreach from brands through Facebook Messenger. Introducing promotions through Messenger is a break from what they have come to expect. The immediate thought is that they will have a negative reaction to this: customers have rarely been thrilled by the introduction of promotional content to previously ad-free spaces.

While older users seem more set in their ways, brands still have the opportunity to shape the expectations of younger users. The Messenger platform is constantly making drastic changes, opening the door to introducing promotional messaging. If movement is timely and the messages properly crafted, advertisers should be able to leverage the Messenger platform as an effective method of promotions with younger users.

Intimacy of the mediums

Among the main reasons for using Messenger chatbots as a marketing medium is, ‘reaching consumers where they live’. As users spend more and more time in messaging apps, brands seek to create a presence there.

But, if you’re going to be. ‘reaching consumers where they live’, you had better make sure you knock first.

Both email and Messenger require that consumers first indicate that they are interested in receiving promotional messages before a brand can send them. Messenger chatbots cannot broadcast messages to profiles that have not already interacted with that bot. Ultimately, this is a good thing for both mediums. The more consumers are spammed, the less likely they are to open real, quality messages. Tight rules keep the ecosystem clean ensuring that it remains viable for both users and advertisers.

Additionally, Messenger is seen as a much more private, protected place than email. For years, Messenger users have interacted only with other people, and mostly those who they know quite well. On the other side, promotional emails are well established. Consumers are used to this and have the expectation that receiving those messages is simply a part of the medium.

These customer expectations represent a hurdle for branded Messenger chatbots. Messenger inboxes are personal places. That means that these bots must provide something truly beneficial to the user. Likely, this would involve leveraging the unique capabilities of Messenger. Simply jamming the same message from an email into Messenger is not enough. This would be viewed as another advertiser invasion, sacrificing the user’s’ experience for profit.

How can chatbots clear this hurdle?

Messenger requires that broadcast recipients must first interact with that bot. So, their first experience will most likely not be an email-type message. Rather, it will be activated by however they stumble upon the bot.

This could be:

  • A branded Facebook post explaining and encouraging interaction with the bot.
  • A social or banner ad linking to the bot.
  • An email that explains the bot, it’s benefits and links to it.

As such, first impressions are critical. Within that initial interaction, the chatbot must entertain the user to the point that they opt-in to continuing to receive communications through that medium.

Part 2

Stay tuned for the second part of this investigation, in which we examine the impact of factors such as existing technological and marketing infrastructure and deliverability, as well as key takeaways.

Are chatbots about to send email marketing to the Trash folder? was originally published in Chatbots Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: Chatbots Magazine

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