While they haven't become the all-encompassing business tool which some had envisioned as yet, chatbots have proved themselves to be incredibly effective for both marketing and sales, with some 300,000 chatbots now active on Facebook Messenger alone.
With the rising usage of bots, some have suggested that email may be finished - but is that an accurate assessment? Are chatbots really ready to make email marketing a thing of the past?
True to the sci-fi tropes of robot apocalypse, chatbots versus email marketing may become the biggest digital outreach clash of the century. But does it have to be? Email marketing and chatbots both come with their pros and cons, and which platform serves you best will depend on your industry, your audience and your specific brand.
In this post, we'll take a look at what each platform offers, and why you should implement one over the other - or, in many cases, both.
Where Chatbots Beat Email
One of the most enticing benefits of chatbots from a marketing perspective is that messages sent via bots have much higher open and click-through rates than email.
Chatbots can have CTRs ranging from 15%-60%, and even the lower end of that spectrum well surpasses the average email marketing CTR (which is only about 4%).
Perhaps the reason CTRs are so much higher for bots is because they conform to users’ preferences to deliver a personalized experience. Again, this is a big gain for marketers - with access to all the data users provide while interacting chatbots, marketers are better able to target them with future offers better aligned to their preference.
A less obvious benefit that chatbots have over email marketing is that users have to provide very clear consent to receive messages.
How many times have you received a newsletter in your inbox without knowing how you even got on the list? This is common for users, and it'll often prompt them to either unsubscribe or usher every message straight to their spam folder. And while chatbots have a particularly high churn rate (that the average retention rate for bots is only around 4%), the users you do retain tend to be very engaged.
Why? Because they made an explicit choice to begin a discussion with the chatbot, indicating that there’s real interest in the service, an element that's commonly missing from sneaky newsletter signups.
When users actively engage with the bot, you know you’re targeting a party who actually cares about what it has to say.
And speaking of engagement, user responses provide immediate feedback which you can implement quickly to iterate your chatbot and make it more effective. Users spend more time checking and responding to instant messages than email because it’s the primary medium for communication right now.
This makes chatbots the ideal vehicle for drawing attention to time-sensitive events or deals.
Email Strikes Back: Where Emails Excel
With all the benefits detailed above, you might be eager to completely rethink your strategy and built a bot right now. But not so fast: email should not be thrown by the wayside just yet.
One of the most obvious benefits of email marketing relates to usage behaviors across generations - more than half of people aged over 55 say that they won’t turn to mobile devices first to check an email, indicative of broader disinterest in mobile as their primary device.
It’s safe to assume that this demographic isn’t eager to respond to instant messages very quickly like their younger counterparts, and older generations are already accustomed to getting promotions through email.
Second, email is the only true, open platform.
Think about it - not everyone has a Facebook account, not everyone is on the same operating system or device. But everyone has an email address. It’s basically our key digital identity, which is required for registering for any other account we use online. This means there’s less friction in finding an audience, and you can potentially reach - at least in a technical sense - everyone on the internet.
Building a bot, meanwhile, requires carefully picking the platform(s) it will exist on, the potential reach offered by those platforms, their technical limitations, and the demographics favoring each. It can be a messy process, but all you really have to worry about with email marketing is accounting for variable screen sizes.
Email is also easy to share. While building sharing into a chatbot conversation model is certainly possible, few do so successfully - but all a reader has to do to share a particularly good email is hit the “forward” button. Maybe that’s why, despite its age, email is rising again as a key editorial platform among young (yes, you read that right) people. Just give your readers a reason to share - like an awesome deal - and you’ll easily expand your reach.
So Which is Best?
There’s no 'one-size-fits-all' here - whether your business should prioritize email marketing or chatbot marketing depends on the business itself, as well as your audience.
Those set to benefit most from email are brands whose audience skews older, or those who want as big a reach as possible. But iterating for a highly engaged audience through an email newsletter can be difficult, so they better be prepared to do it well. Email is also ideal for those who want to push out longer form content.
On the other hand, brands with younger audiences should definitely consider the benefits of chatbots.
Through bots, brands can quickly reach their target audience, on the platforms they use most often. Startups can also benefit thanks to chatbot users’ immediate feedback, enabling them to implement feedback, and tailor their messaging quickly. The interactivity offered by chatbots can also be a big boon for eCommerce businesses who want to facilitate purchases by using the latest technology.
Of course, you should also feel free to try both chatbots and email. This way you can enjoy the benefits that each platform has to offer - for example, you can take advantage of email’s big reach and audience by promoting your chatbot in your newsletter, highlighting its unique benefits and encouraging users to sign up.
You might also consider nurturing leads via email by providing readers with resources to help them make a purchase decision, using your chatbot to answer any remaining questions they have and close in on a sale.
Chatbots and email don’t have to be enemies; they can make an excellent team. Maybe, in future chatbots will become a more significant consideration, but right now, its worth considering their fit before going all-in on a chatbot strategy.