A recent McKinsey report on consumer behavior during the pandemic shows that, based on data from the US, ten years' worth of e-commerce adoption happened in just three months last year.
This represents a huge and very sudden jump from offline to online that forced companies to adapt across all areas of business. For marketers, it means a new set of challenges added to an already crowded digital space. Competition increased even further, ad running costs have skyrocketed with no sign of going back down, and barriers to entry are very low. With virtually the whole business world moving online, too many players are operating in the same maneuver space as before.
Going about marketing strategies and expecting consumer behaviors to be the same as in the pre-pandemic world has become insufficient.
Adaptation is vital in an ever-changing world, and for Antony Chacko, the way to respond to consumers’ new needs is through conversational marketing.
In the latest episode of Ungated Marketing, the founder of Alpha Marketer, an agency specializing in WhatsApp marketing, chatted with Fernando Amaral about WhatsApp, the opportunities it brings to marketing’s table, and how to succeed at the conversational game.
From Chat to Messaging Platforms
Conversational marketing wasn’t born out of a pandemic-driven need for innovation. It’s been around as a marketing category for a while and was made popular to sell companies on the idea they needed a chatbot on their website. However, for Antony Chacko, it makes more sense to talk about conversational marketing in relation to messaging apps like WhatsApp, where people actually have conversations, whether with a real person or a chatbot.
For him, the e-commerce example is a great way to make this case. He explains: “[In] any e-commerce company, there is typically an 85% [cart abandonment rate.] People add [items] to the cart, fill in the form, but in the last two minutes, 85% of people will not buy.” This happens because people have doubts, but, as opposed to a physical store where they’d be able to ask a salesperson for assistance, there’s typically no one to ask for help in an online store. Sure, some businesses already have a chat option in place, yet such a solution isn’t scalable. Chances are, if a customer abandoned their cart, they’ve also closed the tab on that website. “But at least if you have a platform like WhatsApp, you will start a conversation. And the conversation, even if people abandoned the website, you can carry over [to] their phone.”
Steering Customers to WhatsApp
To get the conversation going and benefit from a WhatsApp conversational marketing strategy, businesses need to point their customers in that direction.
Antony shares the two ways that have been working wonders for his agency’s e-commerce clients.
First, there are “click-to-chat” WhatsApp ads on Facebook. Antony explains that “in Facebook ads, you can have an objective of sending messages. And with that, you can basically tell Facebook to show an ad [with] a video or an image, and when people click on it, it will open your WhatsApp directly.” Once the user has been directed to the app, there are “pre-qualifying questions you can give which people can select. And that is a message they will be sending to your WhatsApp,” where the conversation will continue.
Alpha Marketer's second option to spark conversations on WhatsApp is running ads that point users to a landing page. Once on that landing page, they can consume all its content, but there’s a catch. “We remove the ‘buy now’ button, and we replace that with a ‘buy now on WhatsApp’ [button].” It might not sound like a huge difference. However, it turns the buying process into a conversation, which can yield great results. As Antony puts it: “What is happening is we [have] a second layer of a net of all the people who added [something] to the cart. We have their contact information now.” This means that, even if users abandon the WhatsApp buying process, businesses have a window to pick up where they left off and continue the conversation. “[They can] ask ‘why are you not buying? What is stopping you from buying?’ and answer the objections then and there,” increasing the chances of a successful purchase.
How to Design a Conversation
After successfully steering customers to the desired channel, companies must design a great conversational experience that will create value for the customer.
At Alpha Marketer, as Antony shares, they kick off the process with a conversational intelligence step. This consists of analyzing customer interactions with customer support agents or sales representatives on different channels — live chat, e-mail, and phone — to understand conversational trends such as frequent objections or questions. For him, this step is so important that “every marketer should do it,” even for other work areas like writing copy or running ads. Once that information has been pulled, Antony uses a word cloud to upload the information and better grasp exactly which words customers most commonly use.
After that, Antony uses three steps in his conversation design framework.
The first is asking a question to engage with the customer. It can be an open-faced question like asking for their name or contact information or a question that gives them an answer option to choose from. If that’s the case, then the second step is to create the buttons for each option. Then, depending on what the customer clicks on, the third step is to point them to the solution they’re looking for.
The whole conversation can be made up of several questions, but it comes down to “asking questions and then looking at understanding the input and then going with the [correct] recommendation.”
Additionally, Antony advises on keeping the conversation simple at first. “Have a basic chatbot that addresses a basic question and most frequently asked questions. [...] Initially, many people make the mistake of building a super chatbot, which is like a hundred notes, and it ends up breaking. So rather, keep it short and observe how people are responding to it and closely monitor the chat. [Then] craft conversations based upon that — it’s an iterative process.”
Automation and Chatbots
A WhatsApp conversation can occur between a customer and another human being; however, most of the time, when talking about WhatsApp conversational marketing, we’re talking about having a chatbot in place. Hence, the need for conversation design and to craft the best experience possible.
WhatsApp chatbots offer businesses the possibility to engage in conversation with customers 24/7, which other communication channels, even web-based chatbots, can’t live up to.
Antony explains that “[with] a web chatbot, you end up asking for people's email [and they] may choose to give it or not. But if a conversation dies on the website, it's done. It's very difficult to get that person back. But with WhatsApp, the beauty is it's 24/7, and you have the phone number to follow up the next day or next week or next month.”
What’s more, chatbots can be automated to send out regular messages or campaigns. And because that’s taking place on WhatsApp, they will always reach the customer right at their phone, on an app they very likely use on a daily basis.
Diversified Content Possibilities
A further point in favor of WhatsApp, and something to consider when crafting a conversation, is its content possibilities beyond written messages.
If you think of your own usage of WhatsApp, you don’t just exchange texts. There are emojis, GIFs, photos, videos, and voice notes — all of which can be applied in a business context as well.
When it comes to the latter, Antony shares a use case of an Alpha Marketer client who was using WhatsApp in English to communicate with a mostly Hindi-speaking customer base. They weren’t able to fill out the form requested of them to buy something; however, that didn’t deter them from buying. “People [were] actually sending voice notes, saying ‘I want this product and my address is [this one],’ and they actually tell their address in their local language. And then, ‘please send it. I will make the payment on delivery.’”
WhatsApp’s content possibilities are so rich that some businesses build their online stores exclusively on the messaging app. Antony explains that “[Alpha Marketer has] clients who have very niche products, maximum ten products on the e-commerce store. For them, we [build] the entire e-commerce store on WhatsApp.” These stores work by being a full WhatsApp chatbot, as he further adds, “and when people interact with the chatbot, for each product, we show a demo video, plus all the instructions, key FAQs, and we are able to support it with multimedia, both images, and videos.”
In addition to opening up business opportunities, such content is much more shareable, making it more likely to be sent from one person to the next. So, customers are presented with more engaging content. And, if they like it, that content becomes more likely to be sent along to the next person who could potentially become a customer.
Measuring WhatsApp’s Success
So you’ve steered your customers to WhatsApp, and you’ve created a conversational experience tailored to both your customers’ needs and your business goals. How do you know it’s working?
Antony usually looks at response rates and open rates.
Response rates are relatively straightforward since WhatsApp is about starting a conversation with people. So, a big metric is how many people reply to a WhatsApp message and how many conversations are triggered.
Open rates on WhatsApp, however, are different. “Unlike email, [for example], we are looking at how many further conversations we can have. Because in email, mostly you will send an email, and then the next option is to click and go to a webpage. Here, instead of a webpage, we are dubbing WhatsApp [messages] as a web page. So, for example, if [my goal is to] take you to a product page, I will compress that product page into, say, five messages. And if I send a WhatsApp broadcast to somebody and I want them to slowly consume five small pieces of content, in one piece, there'll be the demo of the product. Then there'll be one piece where they can see some testimonials of the product and one piece where they can see all the FAQ's.”
WhatsApp vs. Other Channels
In terms of pitting channels against each other and comparing how they perform individually, Antony favors looking at how they can perform together. In his own words, “we want email, we want SMS, and we want even Facebook ads to work with WhatsApp. So if you look at [WhatsApp] as an interactive website, the whole game changes.”
SMS, for one, is often seen as an alternative to WhatsApp. Yet the two can very well work side by side.
Antony mentions that a use case he often sees against WhatsApp is the misuse of the broadcast feature that allows businesses to send a message to several contacts at once. He explains that “you can be banned. If you get a lot of blocks from your customers, your number gets mined,” which can happen if a message blast feels like spam. What he advises is, using the broadcast feature less frequently and, instead, use SMS to get people to WhatsApp.
In e-commerce, for example, you can send a customer an SMS thanking them for being a loyal customer and inviting them to a VIP sale that is going on. “I'm not selling, I'm asking you permission. ‘To check out the offers, click here.’ There is an element of curiosity as to what is the offer, and if they click, it opens WhatsApp,” where the conversation, and eventual purchase, can go on.
E-mail can be used in conjunction with WhatsApp just the same, and even direct ads can point people in the WhatsApp direction, as mentioned previously.
As to why this should be the effort at all, if other channels are involved anyway, Antony’s answer is very clear. “The big picture is, even whether it is internet, all we are trying is to mimic the offline. [...] We want to see people. We want to talk to people. We want to have conversations. We want to touch. We want to feel, right? [...] We should have a conversation, and WhatsApp is facilitating that.”
Though e-commerce companies are Alpha Marketer’s client base, and their motivations are focused on using WhatsApp to drive direct sales, Antony believes any business can benefit from a WhatsApp conversational marketing strategy.