I have been thinking about bots a lot lately. I am still discovering my way around the industry, and in fact, the industry is still trying to figure itself out. There are lots of theories floating around about the correct use case for a bot versus an app versus a website, etc…
According to Ted Livingston, the founder of Kik, the value in chat bots will be, “For the first time ever, bots will let you instantly interact with the world around you.” The use case example he gives is ordering a beer and hotdog from your seat in a stadium instead of waiting in line and missing part of the game.
Peter Rojas, in his article about the right context for chat bots, also discusses the right context for bots and explains, “It’s also about making it easier to have that interaction while having the minimal amount of disruption or interruption to whatever it is you’re already doing.” In other words,”I don’t have to stop what I’m doing and switch modes.” He is talking about the value of being able to interact with the word without switching to a new context or UI, like opening an app, or a new tab in the browser, etc…
Ana Rosenstein, in her medium post titled, “A Home For Bots,” brings up an additional point, “I constantly have to switch mindsets. Going back and forth between communicating with a bot and chatting with a human takes work.” She is making the argument for a bot only messaging platform, which I happen to think is also a huge branding opportunity.
My point in referencing these quotes is to address an important and inherent challenge around bot marketing and growing adoption and users of your bot. Right now, bots are still a bit of a novelty, and because they are so familiar to early adopters who are developers due to their similarity to a command line interface, they can get artificial exposure. After all, there is minimal competition today in Bot Stores, and the people looking are very open to trying new things…However, for bots to ever take off in the mainstream, we have to address the challenges of marketing and promoting bots that will exist in the mainstream.
Considering my personal affinity to digital marketing, I am probably thinking about the challenges of growing bot usage more than most people. I have had conversations with several experts and creators of bot platforms, and they all seem to be stuck on the “how we are going to grow.” Even the biggest experts today seem to rely on PR and social media to get adoption…but that will peter out before anyone realizes what hit them. Ultimately, mosts bots today are really being used to interact with your existing audience, not to find a new audience.
So, what I want to address is the Chicken or Egg problem bots will face.
It seems, the core value proposition and predicted use case is “not having to switch context” to interact. The idea of not having to leave a group chat to look up showtimes, or not having to wait in line at a stadium to order a beer is very attractive. The general theory is that use cases that don’t come up more than once a month will likely be good candidates for a bot, but if it’s a constant use case, like using a gps on the phone, opening an app is a more appropriate use case.
The challenge is, outside of early adopters, folks won’t really go looking for a bot without a specific need. However, just to search requires switching context and even if it didn’t, authorizing a new bot and engaging with it will require switching context in your mind as well.
Think about it this way. You are chatting with your friends about doing something tonight. One friend recommends a movie. So, you need to call up the fandago bot for showtimes and to order tickets. The problem is the very first time you want to use fandago, you need to a)find out the bot exists, b)authorize the bot to interact with your messaging app, and c) query the bot for showtimes and d)enter billing info, etc… Given that challenge, I would rather just open the app, or search online. I am already switching context, so being in the messaging app isn’t ideal.
The general argument against this concern is that, it’s only the first time…but once you initiate the bot, you are good to go for the next while. This is a valid argument, but it’s still a chicken or egg problem.
The most effective marketing today is context aware and does it’s best to eliminate friction and bring you to exactly what you want, when you want it. Literally, the best opportunity for Fandago to find users for its bot is when someone is searching for showtimes already, or just planned a movie outing with friends. However, the barrier to get started initially is a bigger barrier than the existing options, like the fandago app.
You are already switching context, which lends itself to using existing options over setting up new ones.
Sure, you can make the argument when it’s not the right time, for me to authorize a bot for “next time”, i.e. a big poster at the movie theater with a scan code for FB Messenger or Kik. But, in my experience, that type of advertising is not very effective and might become cost prohibitive.
The bot community needs to find ways to discover and engage with bots without knowing they exist, at exactly the moment you need that bot, without having to switch context or UIs.
I think bots talking to bots behind the scenes is a good opportunity and I think if a messaging platform just for bots emerges, we will see discovery functions built right in. We know there are going to be general bots that query other bots, but I think there is still going to be a limitation without me first initializing or authorizing those other bots.
This is a problem the app world also has, and in a more defined way, since you actually have to download an app, register, login, etc… in order to use it. Facebook and Google both have app deeplinking ad units and deep linking is arguably the solution for app engagement.
This brings me to two important points. First, app deep linking is potentially more convenient than authorizing a chat bot, so I think the big opportunity might actually be for app developers to build lite versions of their apps as chat bots that deeplink into their apps.
The second is that creating the ability for chat bots to deep link with each other is probably the holy grail of both bot monetization and bot user growth. Today, this is a clear violation of Facebooks TOS, and might be for other messaging apps as well.
My take is that chat bot deep linking has the potential to open up the entire universe of digital advertising to chat bot creators, and I for one want to try to be the first to market with a solution in this space.
Just picture a scenario where someone searches for showtimes for a movie, and right from Google, you can pay for tickets via messaging by both authorizing and deep linking to the payment link for the amount of tickets you want within your messaging app.
To me, that use case is the holy grail and can turn into a new generation of search ads both within other bots and within the broader digital advertising community.
If you want to learn more about my plans around chat bot deep linking and digital advertising, drop me a line at david at davidmelamed.com