Update: Around the time I wrote this post Drift Email launched. This week Drift Signatures went live. I’ve looked at both of these products, and I’m thrilled with the direction. I still stand by my comments below – Conversational Marketing is a strategy and shouldn’t be conflated with a platform – but I’m so pleased to see Drift embracing the conversational ideology across all channels, and I still think they’re the most advanced conversational platform available.
If we’re going to have a conversation about conversational marketing, the discussion will inevitably drift to Drift – the highly-capable chatbot platform that most often advocates for a deliberate shift from traditional marketing communications to messaging and bots. In fact, Drift is often credited for coining the conversational marketing category.
I love what Drift is accomplishing by disrupting the way we think about marketing communications, but anytime a single platform (or category of platforms) appropriates an industry term I start getting nervous. SaaS companies best interests are in mass-adoption, which means appealing to the lowest common denominator. Don’t expect Drift to push “conversational marketing” in any direction that doesn’t win them subscribers.
The problem with any platform-based tactic is that laziness comes built-in.
Over-dependence on a feature set means that nobody’s at the wheel of the ship. You’re just riding the current and doing the things you can do by pushing a button. However, the truth about conversational marketing is that it really is new and fresh and necessary and appropriate and effective right now, but if you conflate the term with a platform, that truth will start to get packaged together into a product and you’ll lose the finer points of the idea. until it becomes watered down, ineffective, and frustrating.
Consider this twitter exchange I observed recently:
Hey Fabien, ouch I’m sorry to hear that! I build our bots in house and really appreciate this feedback. I’ll find your conversation and make some tweaks. Thanks for keeping us honest 🙏
— Sara Pion (@sara_pion) June 1, 2018
While this is only one negative experience, and there is a lot of data to suggest that the Drift platform is outperforming more typical sales and marketing communication tactics, it does expose all the ways that Drift ignores what conversational marketing should actually focus on and instead appropriates the term to sell a product:
- It didn’t work, and Drift didn’t know it. The whole point of conversational marketing is one-on-one attention, and in this case the customer got a painfully obvious dose of one-on-none attention. Automation at early stages is fine, but you need some real-time accountability and a backup plan when automation fails. In this case, the bot failed and the best recourse for this guy was to tweet. Not great. Instead, it would be nice to have an easy command or interface to switch from bot to chat – or, even better, automatically push people to a human when the bot doesn’t have a good pre-programmed response.
- It felt like a sales pitch. I hate talking with people who only talk about themselves. Bots that only talk about you becoming a customer are equally frustrating. Conversational marketing doesn’t work without context – understanding the individual’s need or frustration. At best, until we’re no longer dependent on logic trees to program bots, a bot’s role in conversational marketing should be to segment a visitor and get them to a human as soon as possible. The early-stage goals as you develop logic trees need to be 100% empathetic. This goes against our grain as marketers because, until now, we’ve needed a conversion before we could track and gather context. Bots turn this order around and give us the opportunity to gather context in real time before the conversion opportunity.
- The Twitter reply was even worse. This is a no-brainer, but if someone complains about their experience to you, don’t make it about yourself. Think about it: this Twitter interaction is an example of actual human-to-human conversational marketing, and Drift still failed to get any context that would be helpful in meeting the user’s need, focusing instead on their own product.
Conversational marketing is still a strategy, not a platform.
Drift is an amazing product that will deliver great results when a great strategist is driving the implementation and piss-poor results when a piss-poor strategist is driving the implementation. It’s the same with HubSpot and inbound marketing, Mailchimp and email marketing, and the other 5000+ marketing platforms and products in existence today.
Conversational marketing is nowhere near ready for full automation, and I fully expect it never will be, which puts emphasis on the value of intelligent, creative, and empathetic strategists in your corner to educate you on the real value of each of these products and how they can be properly leveraged within a full, cohesive conversational strategy.