The Rapid Rise of Bots and What It Means for Marketing

Bots are on the cusp of moving away from something that only existed in the realms of science fiction to becoming a reality. While we remain some time away from robots being in every home, bots or chatbots as they are also known are increasingly commonplace online.

The rapid rise of bots has given us much to think about. Already this year we’ve seen an arms race of sorts as technology companies look to launch bots, with notable launches from HubSpot, Intercom, and Drift, while Microsoft showed there’s still work to be done and much to be learnt.

For those unfamiliar with this emerging technology, bots are software applications that run automated tasks. The tasks are typically simple and repetitive, but importantly can be completed quickly. For instance you can ask a bot about website traffic, a lead generation figure or if a company uses a particular software, and receive an answer in seconds.

Bots accomplish tasks like these by combining machine learning, natural language processing and artificial intelligence to turn language into structured data. Not only do bots understand language, but they learn from it, and in theory get smarter with every interaction. This is an incredible technological feat that is rightly garnering attention.

The current wave of bots are being built to capitalise on the trend of people using messaging services like Facebook Messenger, Slack and WhatsApp (apps which have considerably more monthly active users than social networking sites). These services are the interface people use to interact with bots by typing a question, but in all likelihood we’ll continue to see new and creative interfaces as communication services evolve.

Here’s three areas to consider when thinking about bots from a marketing perspective:

1. Perpetual elimination of manual tasks
It’s fair to say there’s much hype around bots at the moment, but the reality is humans are continually looking for ways to eliminate manual tasks, and the rise of bots are just the latest incarnation of that. In a marketing context we will see bots replace tasks, such as retrieving and displaying data or searching for information. You should consider bots an enabling technology that will replace tasks, but not jobs. They are a time saver, rather than value creator.

2. Difference between data and insight
Bots are ideal to turn to when seeking to answer a clear cut question, but anything that involves judgement, empathy or shades of grey is where a human will always be required. Bots provide data and answers, but a human is needed to distill data into actionable insight. Bot technology will help complete simple tasks quickly and efficiently, but they won’t close a deal or dream up an inbound marketing campaign. Data is to knowledge as insight is to wisdom.

3. Ethics of bot design
There’s much lively discussion regarding just how “human” a bot should be. For example, should it be clear when somebody is interacting with a bot? What type of personality should a bot have? And when should a bot leave the conversation? How organisations approach the challenge of designing bot interactions is going to play out in the coming years and it’s going to be fascinating to observe. I expect to see some high profile cases of bots behaving badly or inappropriately, but these will be the exception, rather than the rule.

For me, the true value of bots lies in not what they can do for us, but the possibility of what we humans can do with the time they help free up. Enabling organisations to deploy greater human capital on the most valuable work and challenging problems is its real promise.