What Is Conversational Marketing?

December 29, 2023
Written by
Jesse Sumrak
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own
Reviewed by
Ayanna Julien
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own

What Is Conversational Marketing?

Conversational marketing is transforming the way businesses interact with their customers, revolutionizing the traditional marketing dialogue into a more dynamic, two-way conversation. Gone are the days when marketing was a one-sided affair, akin to a friend who talks incessantly about themselves without pausing to listen.

A person who’d tell you everything about their weekend (the places they went, the food they ate, the sights and smells) and, eventually, ask about yours. And when they do, they transition your response back to their weekend and the to-die-for appetizer they forgot to mention.

Does this sound annoying? Well, that’s how most modern marketing looks

Brands talk and talk about features, securities, customers, case studies, and more. But when a visitor asks, “Hey, do you have so-and-so feature?” The brand replies, “Yes, we do! And we have so on and so forth.”

Most businesses have turned all communications channels into one-way broadcast marketing—speaking at the customer, who has little-to-no opportunity to respond. It’s far from a conversation and more like the “friend” who keeps talking about themself.

This is where conversational marketing steps in, bridging the gap between businesses and consumers through real-time, personalized communication. But what is conversational marketing, and why is it so important?

For starters, conversational marketing ignores conventional one-way marketing tactics in favor of 2-way conversations. It’s a way for brands to listen to customers’ wants, needs, and questions to provide more tailored responses. Conversational marketing also creates brand awareness, customer loyalty, engagement, and (eventually) more sales through, well, conversations.

Ready to stop talking at your customers and start chatting with them? Let’s first talk about how conversational marketing works. Then, we’ll dive into how you can get started.

What is conversational marketing?

At its core, conversational marketing is a customer engagement strategy that focuses on real-time, two-way communication between a brand and its customers. Unlike traditional marketing methods, which often rely on broad, one-way messaging, conversational marketing invites a dialogue, creating a more personal and dynamic interaction.

Here's what conversational marketing typically entails:

  • Immediate Interaction: Conversational marketing thrives on immediacy, offering customers quick responses and engagement. This can be through live chats, messaging apps, or AI-driven chatbots that provide instant support or answers.

  • Personalization: This approach allows for personalized communication tailored to individual customer needs and preferences. By engaging customers in a conversation, brands can gather insights and offer solutions that are relevant and specific to each customer.

  • Customer-Centric: At the heart of conversational marketing is a shift in focus from the brand to the customer. It's about listening to the customer, understanding their concerns or inquiries, and responding in a way that adds value to their experience.

  • Building Relationships: By engaging in direct conversations, brands can build stronger relationships with their customers. This interaction fosters trust and loyalty, translating to a deeper connection with the brand.

  • Feedback Loop: Conversational marketing also serves as a continuous feedback loop. Customers’ responses and interactions provide valuable insights into their preferences and behavior, enabling brands to refine their strategies and offerings continually.

    Conversational marketing represents a shift from traditional marketing’s monologue to a more interactive and engaging dialogue. It acknowledges the evolving expectations of customers who seek quick, convenient, and personalized interactions with brands.

    This approach is not just about using new tools or technologies—it's a fundamental change in how brands communicate with their audience. It's about being responsive, engaging, and genuinely interested in what the customer has to say.

How conversational marketing works

You’ve likely experienced conversational marketing without realizing it—whether you’ve clicked the automatic chat window on a website or texted a business’ phone number. However, social media is the gold mine of opportunity for conversational marketing. 

Here are some simple ways to engage in conversational marketing:

Decide where you want the conversation to take place

Depending on your industry and customer base, there may be a specific channel to maximize your interactions. That could be a messaging platform, personalized chatbot, or even Short Message Service (SMS). Whatever it is, because customers have varying preferences, it’s important to identify the channels that yield the most value for your intended audience. 

In short, becoming familiar with your customers is essential. And while it takes time to build relationships and trust, the more you know their needs, interests, and habits, the easier it’ll get to determine which channel is right for ongoing communication. 

Engage in real-time conversations

You could also engage in conversations as close to real time as possible. For instance, imagine a text conversation with your mom. If it took you a week to answer her text message, it wouldn’t be much of a conversation. It’s the same thing with your business.

However, given the complexity of a discussion with customers, the messaging might ebb, flow, and even transfer to new channels. For instance, a customer may initiate a chatbot conversation that moves to an email thread, then progresses to a phone call. This entire back and forth could happen over an hour, a day, or even a week. 

Most importantly, you’re accommodating the customer’s preferred schedule and channels. Nobody likes to be transferred around the digital world—although the option to relocate the conversation by choice is a welcome convenience.

Establish a continuous flow

Conversational marketing builds off each interaction, furthering the relationship and dialogue. That means you don’t start from scratch each time your customer messages you, nor do you hit the reset button if they choose to switch the conversation channel.

Imagine the following customer experience after they call a business’ support team for help with an issue (you’ve likely experienced it yourself):

  • Agent A asks you for details about your problem. You provide all the information.
  • Agent A tells you that another department is responsible for that problem, and they transfer you to Agent B.
  • Agent B asks you for all the details about your issue. Again, you give it to them.
  • Agent B decides the issue is probably better handled by another department, and they transfer you to Agent C.
  • Agent C asks for all your information, again, and they transfer you back to Agent A, who asks you who you are and what you want.

As inconvenient and exasperating it is, these scenarios are all too real for businesses that don’t practice conversational marketing. In the process, customers can quickly lose interest and fall through the cracks. 

The lesson: store every conversation you have with a customer and make it accessible via your customer relationship management (CRM) system. That way, no matter who responds on whatever channel, they should have the information they need from past interactions with the customer to provide a great future experience.

Conversational marketing strategy 

There’s no singular, foolproof approach to creating a conversational marketing strategy. It depends on a combination of factors: the company’s goals, product or service offerings, and customer base, but the following action plan can guide your decision-making.

1. Define your audience and determine their needs

The first step is to know your audience and know them well. By better understanding their problems—and how your company offers a viable solution—you can determine which channels to use and what information to provide. Using what you know about your customers, and their individual journeys, you can employ the types of questions and answers to present to aid in a more effective conversation. 

2. Personalize and optimize your conversations 

Personalization isn’t just a buzzword—it’s a strategy that validates customers’ concerns and helps them feel seen. It welcomes and embraces authenticity by offering unique, relevant suggestions likely to interest and engage customers. 

After executing a conversational marketing strategy that works well for your business, continue to consistently optimize its flow. Determine what works and what doesn’t. Yes, it’s a constant cycle of improvement, but it’ll generate measurable results.

3. Collect and analyze feedback 

Without honest customer feedback, it can be difficult for your company to achieve meaningful growth. Feedback points you to the weaker areas of your strategy and opportunities to strengthen them. By analyzing your customers’ opinions, you’ll better identify your areas of improvement and work toward an enhanced customer experience.

Top 3 benefits of a conversational marketing strategy

Conversational marketing isn’t a new concept, but it has become less popular compared to batch-and-blast email marketing, cold calling, and SMS bulk messaging

With a conversational marketing strategy, you can:

1. Build customer relationships

Conversations build and nurture relationships in a way Super Bowl ads, highway billboards, and social media campaigns don’t. 

Despite generating one-time sales, these tactics typically don’t build impactful connections—and relationships are worth more than any one-off purchase. These also lead to recurring buyers and loyal customers—one of a business’ strongest assets.

Conversational marketing channels like messaging apps and chat windows are great ways to personalize the communication experience—although you have to exercise judgment just as you would with a friend. For instance, you wouldn’t blast all your friends an email every time you have something to share. Could you imagine your mother finding out you’re having your first baby via a mass email to all your loved ones? 

These channels also make continued conversation seamless and easy. Instead of starting the conversation over every time, you can pick up where you left off and continue building off your last interaction. 

2. Solves customers' problems

Conversational marketing involves listening to the issues before offering solutions. For instance, taking the time to pause and listen to the customer and learning they have enough shorts might help you learn they could use some summer footwear. This helps you avoid sending an email campaign boasting a 25% discount on summer shorts, which the customer might not need or want.

Or you might realize they’re having trouble deciding between 2 different styles of shorts and need a little more information before making a purchase. The more proactive you are, the more your customers will grow to trust your brand and become loyal buyers.

3. Provides free market research 

Focus groups and large surveys aren’t cheap, and not everyone has the resources to facilitate them. Instead of worrying about your budget, take full advantage of the conversations you already have. Listen to what customers have to say. You’ll quickly realize they aren’t afraid to talk about their grievances and desires—and you get free market research from it. 

When customers raise issues with your products or services, ask them what they think would be a good solution. These conversations lead to potential ideas and validate your customers’ concerns.

Conversational marketing examples

When people hear of conversational marketing, they typically think about Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and website chat windows. However, there are a plethora of other marketing tools—like email, SMS, or Rich Communication Services (RCS) via mobile—they can use for conversational marketing purposes.

The following conversational marketing examples highlight how 2-way talk creates more authenticity and trust with consumers.

SMS messaging with Nordstrom

When Nordstrom heard that over a third of its customers prefer texting as their communication channel, it listened. Nordstrom enhanced the shopping experience by implementing a communication tool via Twilio SMS that facilitated conversations between customers and salespeople.

SMS allows customers to initiate conversations with the sales team on their schedule to start their shopping experience. At the same time, sales reps can follow up with customers via text updates on new arrivals they might be interested in and even send pictures of merchandise they think customers would like.

RCS messaging with 1-800-Flowers.com

Unlike SMS and MMS, RCS is a glossier and more interactive form of text marketing while providing the same reach. However, with RCS, a device can receive features like photos and video sharing, map directions, location sharing, typing indicators, and more. 

1-800-Flowers.com capitalized on this tool to create richer conversations with its customers. Its messages now enable customers to make, modify, and track orders, including adjusting the delivery times—all within their messaging app. Plus, customers on the receiving end of the RCS messaging never have to dial the phone or wait on hold to speak with a customer service agent. They get all the information, functionality, and conversations they need right from the comfort of their default messaging app.

Email marketing with Neil Patel

Look through the Promotions tab in your inbox. Then, open one of the emails from a popular brand you know and love. It’s likely a pretty polished email, chock-full of high-quality images, brand colors, clever copy, and powerful calls to action (CTA).

Now, look at this email from Neil Patel.

No fancy images, crazy colors, or noticeable branding of any kind—it’s just a simple CTA with a single link. The difference is that the first polished email appears as a well-done advertisement in a magazine, while Neil’s appears as a personal email to a friend. Which one prompts you to respond? And which one feels more like an authentic conversation?

Get started with conversational marketing with Twilio

Twilio’s suite of customer engagement tools provides the perfect omnichannel source for brands and businesses looking to get started with conversational marketing: Conversational marketing is far from new. It’s been around since the dawn of marketing. However, it’s hotter than ever, given the innovative technology making conversational marketing more scalable than ever before.

And while email marketing, social media campaigns, and digital marketing will always have a place in your marketing strategy, conversational marketing supplements and supports them.

Don’t wait to start having conversations with your customers. Take a look at Twilio's products and get started now!

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