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Conversational ads: The future of two-way interaction is now

Although marketers’ preferred advertising mediums have changed over the decades from print and radio to television and online, how they use ads to interact with consumers has remained largely unchanged. It’s always been a one-way street with the brand presenting itself to the consumer in an effort to compel the audience/browser to take action.

The proliferation of powerful mobile devices and apps enabled advertisers to move away from the static banner ad to more dynamic ad units. While rich media formats offer more interactivity within an ad, there is no real interactivity between the brand and consumer, and engagement rates are declining. But thanks to rapid advancements in natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning that have given rise to conversational AI technologies, marketers can realize the vision of creating true two-way interactions that engage customers in brand journeys and prepare them for push-based re-engagement.

Start a conversation

Facebook’s Click-to-Messenger conversational social ad unit and Google’s AdLingo conversational display unit are two platforms marketers can leverage to create AI-powered conversational display ads that offer a customizable user experience that consumers will find much more engaging. This enables a brand to create a personalized one-on-one experience based on real-time conversations with a consumer, and do so at scale. 

The critical component of Click-to-Messenger and AdLingo is that a brand can embed its conversational assistant inside any interactive display ad unit. Instead of having to draw consumers into their own website or app, consumers can start a conversation while they’re viewing and interacting with a display ad. That interaction is seamlessly moved to the conversational AI platform, and the consumer can ask questions, conduct research, and provide feedback. They receive the help and information they need immediately and without navigating to other pages. Each conversation is user-driven and mirrors the experience of speaking to a sales associate while standing in a store aisle, or on the phone with a customer service rep. Just as importantly, customers can share their experiences with their friends in the same application.

Get the message?

The word “messaging” is a broad umbrella, and not all messaging apps and platforms are as effective as others. It’s important to draw a clear distinction between posting updates and comments to the Facebook feed and Facebook Messenger. There are more users on the Feed, but Messenger can be tightly integrated into a brand’s call to action, it is less cluttered, the audience is more diverse, and more people use Messenger on mobile. Messaging apps contribute to a higher percentage of user engagement time vs. traditional mobile apps. Particularly on a mobile device, these apps offer a very valuable opportunity to re-engage a user, even when the brand isn’t necessarily top-of-mind.

The email has become negatively impacted by spam and phishing attacks and isn’t engaging younger audiences as much as it does older demographics. SMS is limited due to restrictions on the size of messages, a largely text-only experience, clunky-to-no support for rich media and the fact that it’s being increasingly impacted by spam and phishing attacks.

Rich Messaging Solutions such as Facebook Messenger deliver better user engagement and ROI for brands. They are more interactive and allow for measuring and reporting intent, sentiment, and needs of the end consumer. This enables brands to apply machine learning to collect, analyze, and use the ever-growing volumes of customer data they’re collecting (always with the customer’s explicit permission) to create highly personalized engagements. The resulting “conversations” are the key to driving long-term engagement. 

Conversational commerce on a global scale

This is not a hypothetical scenario. Consider just how popular the social media messaging app, WeChat, has become in China. Users can interact directly with third parties to do almost anything from making purchases, sharing photos and videos, hailing a car from a ride-sharing service or booking a restaurant reservation. 

The technology has gained traction across Europe too. Quandoo, one of the world’s fastest-growing restaurant reservation platforms globally, offers consumers a wide variety of dining experiences from Michelin-starred restaurants to local favorites. Restaurateurs use Quandoo’s reservation management platform to drive transactions and engage with their customers via Facebook Messenger.

The Quandoo-Facebook Messenger combination that offers search and discovery via natural language commands is much easier to use than a mobile app like Yelp! or OpenTable. It also facilitates conversations among all members of a party when everyone’s weighing in on where to eat, when to meet up, how to get there, and when posting reviews. It’s a much more engaging experience than what a mobile app can deliver, and that also enables Quandoo to more quickly expand its potential customer base.

We’ve seen this before, a mobile technology gains wide adoption in Asia and Europe, and by the time it gets to the U.S. it’s a billion-dollar opportunity. We saw that happen with mobile devices, SMS, ringtones, music services, and now mobile advertising. This presents the opportunity for U.S. companies to get ahead of that wave.

The technologies exist that enable you to create and leverage ads within online platforms and messaging apps that drive personalized conversations between you and consumers. While the consumer is engaged, the technology works in real-time to score all input for sentiment and intent to continue the interaction, or seamlessly hand-off to a human agent when appropriate. You can offer persistent, personalized, messaging-based experiences across a large, and ever-expanding diversity of “conversational surfaces” to improve initial customer engagement on social media feeds, draw them into your sales funnel and build long-lasting relationships.

Mahi de Silva is CEO of He can be found on Twitter @Mahi.

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