When you open the new Quartz news app, it takes a few minutes to get your bearings. This is not your father’s news app. There is no infinite scroll, and there is no standard headline matched with a big image to capture your salivating attention, and get you to click. Instead, what you’re faced with is the familiar setting of your messaging app. Instead of being a reader, you’re now a part of – what seem to be – a chat. The usual bubbles and back and forth. Quartz sends you messages like “Good morning” followed by “Apple has a sneaking suspicion that someone (*cough* the NSA *cough*) is hacking all of its servers.” That message is followed by the scary face emoticon or another message bubble that reads “next.” Being logged into the app with your profile, and based on your choices of messages to read more about, the app then decides what news you’re most interested in. It learns. Quickly and over time. You’re not chatting with anyone. You’re not simply reading another news site. You’re engaging with a bot. It is – at times – a strange sensation to be engaged in a personalized back and forth with a bot, while at the same time experiencing the feeling that this bot “knows me” and is able to create an even more personalized experience.
The bots are coming. The bots are coming.
So, what exactly is a “bot”? From Wikipedia: “An Internet bot… is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone… Bots are routinely used on the internet where the emulation of human activity is required, for example chat bots. A simple question and answer exchange online may appear to be with another person, when in fact it is simply with a bot… While bots are often used to simply automate a repetitive online interaction, their ability to mimic actual human conversation and avoid detection has resulted in the use of bots as tools of covert manipulation.”
Marketers hate bots.
Bots have been the bane of marketers for nearly as long as online advertising has existed. Bots have been responsible for tarnishing online measurement and analytics forever. Bots are on the frontline of ad fraud. According to MarketingLand, bots will cost marketers over seven billion dollars in 2016 alone. From the news item: “ANA concluded that on average, bot impression fraud had cost the study participants roughly $10 million each. In total, the study’s authors estimate that bot fraud will generate $7.2 billion in losses for marketers in 2016 on a global basis.” Bots have evolved. They have become increasingly more sophisticated. Bots have become super-sophisticated by being able to replicate human behavior, in a much more undetectable way. They’re doing much more than simply mimicking pageviews or clicking on search ads (which was bad enough). They can now exploit cookies to appear human, they can impersonate mobile devices to consume media, and have systematically fooled some of the better ad tech into thinking that this was all done by human beings.
Marketers better love bots.
In the past short while, we’re beginning to see the rise of bots as an engine of powerfully good marketing, personalization and better service (look no further than the Quartz app above, as an example). So, while marketing professionals have loathed what the word “bots” have meant to date, the term (much like “hack”) now has very positive and useful connotations and application for brands today. Chatbots are currently leading this first wave of growth, and many business leaders believe that this is the next generation of conversation and connection (check out this Business Insider article: Evernote founder says he’s found the most exciting thing in tech since the iPhone). TechCrunch recently published an article titled, Facebook’s Messenger Bot Store could be the most important launch since the App Store, that stated: “Today, Facebook Messenger has 800 million monthly active users – more than 100 times the number of iPhone owners when Apple launched the App Store. Messenger’s current active user base exceeds even the total number of iPhones ever sold. Messaging apps now have more active users than social networks.” Facebook‘s ability to clear the brushes for brand’s customers to engage with bots is staggering, because of this access (and let’s not forget that Facebook also owns WhatsApp). The ability for consumers to ask brands questions, order services, buy products, get customer service, additional information, and more is not something to quickly dismiss.
Big bets are being placed on bots.
More from that TechCrunch article: “If 800 million Facebook users start discovering bots in Messenger after F8, it will vindicate those who have been saying bots are the new apps. There’s an entire ecosystem, akin to the App Store in its scale, to be built. When you can quickly and easily interact with Dominos, United Airlines and Capital One on Messenger, and will you ever use their bloated native apps again? The current bot landscape feels a lot like the web in 1995, or mobile apps in 2008.” Personally, I could not have it better than that. With that, comes an entirely new (and needed) conversation about how brands will do this, collect this highly personalized information from their consumers and be able to maintain it in a secure and ethical way.
Brands, what is your bot strategy?