Jul 12, 2017

Chatbots are quickly becoming a go-to engagement tool for the under-25 set.

The machines are taking over. In fact, the ongoing popularity of messaging platforms like Kik, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat has helped to usher in a new era in which artificial intelligence like chatbots are helping to amplify marketing and branding efforts—especially with Gen Z in mind.

As lifelong digital natives, Gen Z has proven to have a special affinity for artificial intelligence, specifically because it mimics their natural tendency toward mobile communication and engagement. In fact, VentureBeat reports there are 1.4 billion monthly users on messaging platforms, with Gen Z users spending 3-4 hours a day on messaging apps alone—much of which is dedicated to interacting with chatbot technology.

Aware of the power and potential for deeper product and campaign integration across mobile, savvy brands have been creating chatbots in an effort to reach Gen Z on their level. Brands like H&M and Sephora were among the first to join Kik’s bot marketplace in 2016, where 60 percent of users are between 13 and 19 years old. From taking quizzes and searching for product reviews to playing games and asking for fashion and beauty advice, Kik users exchanged nearly 2 billion messages with bots within the first few months of the bot store’s launch. And while brands are using various techniques to engage with Gen Z across this medium, four main considerations should remain top of mind:

1. Be Prepared to Talk the Talk

When connecting with fans through chatbots, brands should consider how users naturally speak. Do they use shorthand? Slang? Emojis? Rather than forcing brand lingo on consumers, adopting a communication style that feels natural is most effective. For example, if you ask H&M’s chatbot for a style recommendation on Kik, H&M may respond: “Perf! I’ll send you an outfit inspo,” with fashion emojis. This is further enhanced by Kik’s concierge bots that allow third-party bots to join the conversation and weigh in with additional fashion or style advice, creating a group chat-like experience similar to that of a group text shared among friends.

2. Know Your Story

A backstory is crucial to making your chatbot feel human. Characters or mascots are prime candidates for chatbots because they have a personality and backstory that younger fans can relate to. For example, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sent chatbot messages to fans on Kik that matched the personality of each character in an effort to build excitement and anticipation for last year’s movie release. But if you find that your brand doesn’t have a character or mascot, creating a backstory can help further define your chatbot’s personality and craft scenario-based responses in a consistent tone and voice fans can easily identify with. For example, The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas has a flirty and mysterious bot named Rose who’s meant to embody the sexy, carefree vibe of the brand itself (including providing hotel guests with specific information or even playing a suggestive game of “Would You Rather” depending on your mood).

3. Do As the Natives Do

Knowing what users like to do on a messaging platform is important, too. Mimicking native behavior, like sharing gifs, photos, or videos is another way to make your chatbot more authentic. For example, Swelly, a popular decision-making chatbot on Facebook Messenger, group sources all-important decisions (like what to wear to your school dance or which boy is cutest), while Sephora’s chatbot shares curated product images and photo-based tutorials to its customers on Kik. In both cases, each brand is aware of the behavioral drivers that propel their specific audience and play to them in an effort to build further engagement.

4. Always Keep Learning (and Tweaking)

Learning what your users want, like, or dislike is an ongoing gut check meant to help steer and build upon the chatbot experience. Many chatbots, including the ones previously mentioned, do this in the form of quizzes at the start of a conversation or by asking questions and soliciting feedback throughout. Over time, conversations become much more intelligent and nuanced because brands are able to offer more personalized responses based on previous user data.

Moving Beyond Gen Z

As the field grows, so do the possibilities and overall generational scope. While chatbots seem like a natural extension for Gen Z, other brands are experimenting with their capabilities beyond the under-25 crowd; Shine Text gives millennials a daily confidence boost through text messagesX.AI schedules meetings for busy professionals with AI assistant Amy Ingram. And even Cannes Lions created a chatbot on Facebook Messenger for this year’s festival that offered attendees information on everything from where to get lunch to speaker scheduled slots.

All of these examples are indicative of a change in not only the way we communicate but who we communicate with. As chatbots continue to evolve so does the way we think about age and audience engagement (case in point: MTV and BET are both currently testing chatbots on Facebook Messenger for award shows and festivals with a demographic that spans 15-34).

From live to virtual, the message will no doubt continue to be the all-important driver, but it ultimately comes down to the “humanness” of an automated bot response and the value that it brings to consumers and fans. By giving your bot the ability to “talk the talk” on everything from fashion to event planning, you’re empowering your brand to potentially grow a friendly conversation into a transaction, or helpful advice into a successful repeat engagement.