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The future of Gen Z marketing has chatbot written all over it

If their social media habits are any indication, Gen Zers want brands that can engage them with personalized messaging and instantaneous responses to their questions. Guess who’s able to do that? Chatbots.


Gen Zs expect a lot from brands. They expect them to align with their personal values. They expect incentives and offerings that are personally relevant. Just as importantly, Gen Zs prefer brands able to engage them in real time, at a personal level. If your typical Gen Zer has praise (or criticism) for your brand on social media, or an idea for an all-new collaboration they want to share with you, there’s every chance they’re going to respect you more if you’re able to get back to them in the next few minutes with a thoughtful response.

That’s a lot on anyone’s wish-list — especially that last bit. After all, even marketing teams need to sleep sometimes (last we checked). But for the typical Gen Zer reaching out to you on social media in the middle of the night, sleep isn’t an excuse. Asleep or awake, you need an effective means of responding to Gen Zers’ praise, critiques, asks and requests in real time, especially if you’re looking to engage their long-term trust and loyalty.

 “How can I make this happen?” you ask. We’re glad you did. In a word, you need chatbots.

Gen Zers want personalized service 24/7

It doesn’t matter how many marketers you’ve got working in your organization, or how skilled they are. Gen Zs constitute the largest and most diverse generation in history. They participate with their favorite brands on social media with the same level of fervor -- or heckling --you’d reserve for a professional sports team.

 And like sports fans, they don’t like being let down by your brand — or feeling like they’ve been left unheard. According to a joint study by the NRF and IBM, 76 percent of Gen Zers view "responsiveness" as a metric of your brand’s “authenticity.” If your company can’t respond immediately to their feedback, whether online or offline, that can be bad news for your business.

Gen Zers hate lagtime. They’re 60 percent more likely than the average consumer to hang up a phone if their call isn’t answered in 45 seconds. The same goes for digital: Gen Zers are far more likely than Millennials to drop a brand or a product if they experience poor online response times. If you’re slow to respond to their questions and feedback, it’s only a matter of time before they move onto another brand that’s faster and more responsive.

The long and the short of it is this: The degree to which Gen Zs require personal brand engagement isn’t something that can met by many marketing teams out there.

Chatbots to the rescue!

When used correctly, chatbots can put these problems to rest. Gen Zs are willing to interact with a well-spoken (read: human-like) AI chatbot familiar with their wants, needs and purchasing intents. Take the case of Microsoft-developed marketing chatbots such as Zo, Xiaoice, Rinna and Ruuh — each of them targeted towards a specific country, and all of them geared towards engaging a late-teenage audience.

In Microsoft’s own description of its Xiaoice chatbot, “[Xiaoice] can chime into a conversation with context-specific facts about things like celebrities, sports, or finance but she also has empathy and a sense of humor. Using sentiment analysis, she can adapt her phrasing and responses based on positive or negative cues from her human counterparts. She can tell jokes, recite poetry, share ghost stories, relay song lyrics, pronounce winning lottery numbers and much more. Like a friend, she can carry on extended conversations that can reach hundreds of exchanges in length.”

That’s quite a long list of accomplishments for an AI avatar who engages consumers via IM services like WhatsApp, WeChat, Slack or Skype. But when it comes to passing for human, there's no need to take Microsoft’s word for it. In fact, millions of young men in China have confessed in their instant messages to Xiaoice that they’re “in love with her.” It’s an odd phenomenon, but facts are facts.

Nor is Xiaoice’s/Microsoft’s success at engaging Gen Z consumers the only successful chatbot story in town. Take the case of Kik, the bot-enabled sales platform that lets shoppers interact with brand-developed chatbots from the likes of Sephora and H&M in the here and now. As of today, the platform has driven billions of marketing conversations between chatbots and human customers, 60 percent of whom fall between the ages of 13 and 19.

Chatbots can already cater to Gen Z consumers in near-endless ways. They can take your Starbucks coffee orders in just a few back-and-forth texts, allowing you to skip waiting in line. They can offer recommendations for recipes based on your grocery purchasing history at Whole Foods. Chatbots on Hipmunk can assist you when making your travel plans. Marvel’s own “Spiderman” chatbot even leaves Marvel fans with the “uncanny” sense they’re dealing one-on-one with the masked web-slinger of comic book legend.

And these are just examples of chatbots already in operation.

The “chatbot marketing revolution” hasn’t happened quite yet. But give it time.

For your typical marketing team, especially those tasked with interacting at the scale (and with the dedicated passion) that Gen Z requires, chatbots might well be the answer. Though a recent study by eMarketer revealed that out of 500 marketing organizations surveyed, only seven percent use AI-driven chatbots, that number is almost certain to grow over the course of time (though human marketers will hardly be going out of style either).

The future of personalized digital marketing looks increasingly like a blend of artificial intelligence meets human empathy and conversationality. Brand chatbots have all the time in the world to talk to consumers online. That’s good news for Gen Z, and it’s good news for the brands seeking to engage them.

John Wheeler
John Wheeler
Contributor, Gen Z Insights

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