Who will build the million dollar brand bot?

Now is the time for a brand to invest in creating a transformative chatbot, writes the head of creative at Betaworks

Right now is a rare window of opportunity for brands to do something transformative. A brand that makes a truly great chatbot will leapfrog competitors and pave the way for the future of more efficient brand communication.

Why bots and why is this an opportunity? Moving forward, mobile is everything. And on mobile, messaging is everything. And on messaging, chatbots will be the interface for brands and services to connect with their customers. It may seem weird now, but in two years time if you can’t chat with your favorite brand then you’re going to a competitor. Not having a bot will be the equivalent of not having a website. And in the same way that brands that invested in long-term ecommerce platforms have benefitted enormously the same will be true of bots.

We’ve seen a spate of brand bots launch recently. From more service-based bots like Domino’s, where you can order a pizza but can’t chat about pineapple, to some that try to inject some form of brand idea, like the Casper SMS bot that you can only chat to at night. Both great starts. But I’m waiting for the big one. I’m waiting for the million dollar brand bot.

Wait. A million dollars on a bot? Are you crazy?

Not at all. Similar to when Burger King tried lots of digital experiments with Crispin, and when Old Spice changed tack completely, the effect of getting this right could change the perception of a brand for a generation. The right bot could take a stuffy old brand and modernize it. Or, similar to how brands like Toms or Warby Parker have come from nowhere, put a new brand instantly on the map.

But still, a million dollars! How else do we spend money? When I was at JWT, we spent $400K on a pitch, which we won, but could have easily lost. We did one TV spot and then the account moved on after two years. Fairly typical for the advertising business—no questions asked. When I was at Google Creative Lab, we spent $450K on a table. It was a very nice table that showed a cool game we made, but it was….a table.

How about transformative TV? In 2016, a 30-second Super Bowl spot cost $5 million. Production costs and agency fees could add around another $1 million to that—or more when you consider Amy Schumer and Seth Rogan et al. don’t come cheap. At least, the argument goes, this is money that continues to build brand.

A million bucks will also get you some Facebook views for your video. Although we’re not really sure exactly how many. Bare with us. You’ll be fine.

Only a handful of Super Bowl ads get it right. So how do you get it right with a brand bot? How does a million bucks get you a transformative bot?

Firstly, your brand has to actually want to talk to customers. Some don’t, Rolex is a great example. Your brand has to be confident about its public persona. And agile. As a rule of thumb, the brands that are good at social should be able to make a great bot.

Figure out the personality of your brand bot and then go for it. Be helpful, be entertaining. Write and write and write. Think about "scenes" that can act as subtle sales funnels. Think about FAQs. But go further, deeper. Like improv, create hooks, avoid dead ends.

A good bot could be the perfect salesperson, both long term and short term. They would have extensive knowledge, adapt to customers, never get bored—and serve a million customers at the same time. Done right, it would be the most efficient form of relationship marketing. Successful bots like Poncho the Weather bot have over 50% customer retention.

But it’s not just sales. A great bot could act as brand research. Send out new marketing content, see how people interact with it, iterate and repeat. Again, at zero cost.

If you get it right then the bot becomes the thing you actually do a Super Bowl ad about. Perhaps some forward-thinking brand is already doing this and we’ll see an ad driving people to a bot in the 2017 Super Bowl. That would be cool, maybe too early, but if this hasn’t happened by 2018 then someone’s definitely dropped the ball.




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