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More than 4,000 digital marketing execs crammed into a former brewery in East London for the sell-out MAD//Fest conference. Many tuned into a special MEF session: Conversational Commerce: A Two Way Street. Tim Green was there…

In my role as features editor of the MEF, I have moderated many many public events. But I can honestly say that MAD//Fest was the first at which every audience member was wearing headphones.

Were we really that boring?

Happily not. In fact, this was an industry conference version of a ‘silent disco’. Beaming into the audiences’ collective ears was the sound of our conversation (well, I hope it was).

Good job too. Since the ambient noise at the event was deafening. MAD//Fest London was a sell-out. There were 4,500 digital marketing professionals crammed into the small and very trendy Old Truman Brewery in East London. It sounded like they were all talking at the same time.

In our corner, we got stuck into an extremely though-provoking discussion entitled Conversational Commerce: A Two Way Street comprising three expert speakers.

  “What comes out loud and clear is that there’s significant desire from consumers for companies to engage them more through messaging. This is true not just for things like service appointments, but also for marketing content – as long as it is personalised and timely.”

  • Paul Louden, Regional Director UK & Ireland, Sinch
  • Alan Ranger, VP Market Development, LivePerson
  • Liz McCord, Principal Product Manager, Vodafone

The aim was to give brands and agencies a vivid insight into the imminent rich messaging revolution by tacking questions such as:

  • How much time are people spending inside chat apps?
  • What does the drive towards rich messaging mean for branded app development?
  • What results are possible when using conversational commerce and AI-driven chatbots?
  • How are brands currently using these channels?

To kick off the discussion, Paul Louden shared some highlights of Sinch’s just-published Mobile Consumer Engagement 2020 report. He revealed how 71 per cent of people mute or silence notifications – and that 51 per cent download zero apps in a month.

This is bad news for any brand relying on the native app as the primary mobile route to its customers.

And yet, at the same time as people are muting or deleting apps, people seem to want more messaging. For example, 70 per cent say they would find alerts about fraudulent activity related to their bank accounts ‘very useful’. But only 35 per cent currently receive them.

Louden said: “What comes out loud and clear is that there’s significant desire from consumers for companies to engage them more through messaging. This is true not just for things like service appointments, but also for marketing content – as long as it is personalised and timely.”

As one of Vodafone’s RCS advocates, Liz McCord sees evidence of this all the time. She shared her experience of running a rich messaging campaign for McDonald’s in South Africa.

“They got a three per cent redemption rate,” she said. “And any marketing person knows how successful that result is. The CCO was absolutely ecstatic.”

McCord also revealed how Vodafone’s experience with marketing to its own customers has been transformed by rich messaging.

She said: “In Italy we run a weekly promotion to customers through our own native app. One week we ran it through RCS. It was 11x more effective – so effective that the Italian team has now stopped using the app for these campaigns.”

Is this evidence that RCS engagement is nearing a tipping point? Perhaps not. The channel still needs to be more widely adopted (though McCord alluded to progress in the US and imminent support from Telefonica and Orange).

But what about awareness? Half way through the MEF session at MAD//Fest London, I asked the audience (of around 80) how many had heard of RCS. Around 60 hands went up.

Three-quarters. Is that good?

Well, it depends. It is probably much more than if the general public was asked. But for an audience of digital marketing people, should it be higher?

Louden remarked candidly: “Marketing is still email driven. Even SMS is innovative for some. But RCS is really taking off now. I truly believe it will be a game changer – the de facto way to communicate.”

Of course, RCS is not the only show in town. From the stage, Alan Ranger reminded the audience that it has many channels to choose from.

Liveperson has worked with most of them: WhatsApp, Apple iMessage, Google.

He outlined the sea change that rich messaging conversation – often though bots – will bring about.

“When we started, the channel was all about customer care,” he said. “But now a company can invite customers to have a conversation. It’s a marketer’s dream. And it’s new for many brands who previously would never have talked directly to customers. They would have  left everything to the retailer.”

He gave many powerful examples of successful campaigns. He showed how the Australian Open University ran Facebook ads which let recipients start a message session from inside the banner.

The result was a 40 x lift in engagement and a 5 x reduction in cost per lead.

Even more powerful was Ranger’s example of how to start mobile chats in the physical world.

In the US, shoe maker Tamara Mellon fitted out a bus as a mobile shop. Customers can try the footwear on, and scan the barcode on the sole to start a message chat with an agent. They can even buy with Apple Pay.

“People queue up outside these trucks, and spend thousands in one visit,” said Ranger.

Can other brands follow in Tamara Mellon’s designer footsteps? Well, at least the conversation has started.

Tim Green

Features Editor, MEF Minute


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