Ask L2 is a weekly series where we answer questions about digital retail. 

Question: How should brands use chatbots on messaging platforms?

Facebook Messenger has emerged as the top contender for brand investment among US messaging platforms, benefiting from access to 1.86 billion global Facebook users and Facebook’s data stack and engineering capabilities. Eighty-one percent of brands currently allow customers to message them on Messenger.

In April 2016, Facebook rolled out Messenger chatbots, allowing brands to deliver automated customer support, e-commerce, and content to consumers. Brand adoption of these chatbots is low (2%), but early movers are implementing them to personalize customer experiences: Sephora’s Messenger bot allows customers to book in-store appointments, The Macallan’s Messenger bot helps select a whisky based on taste or occasion, and Bud Light uses its Messenger bot to remind users when they might want beer during big football games.  

Messenger’s most similar look-alike is Kik, a Canada-based messaging platform with 300 million global registered users. The platform, which targets teenagers, has prioritized chatbots and currently offers more than 6,000 of them (compared to Facebook’s 30,000). American Eagle Outfitters’s gift guide chatbot on Kik replicates the experience of talking with a salesperson and the CoverGirl bot creates the impression of a conversation with a well known influencer.  

With one billion global users, WhatsApp presents an opportunity for brands. However, the platform has been slow to cater to businesses, which has lead to sparse brand experimentation (particularly in the US). Brand activity in non-US markets, however, demonstrates the platform’s potential. Dutch bank ABN AMRO receives about 3,000 WhatsApp messages a week, even though it hardly promotes the channel. And in South America, 50% of Hellmann’s site visitors signed up for the brand’s WhatsApp campaign, which connected consumers with chefs who provided recipe recommendations based on the food in the consumer’s fridge.

The future of messaging is already upon us in China. WeChat, China’s top messaging platform, enables commerce and messaging within one ecosystem. Facebook has followed suit, rolling out new features within Messenger that optimize the platform for more seamless commerce experiences in the Chinese market. First mover Absolut Vodka has already leveraged the option to drive conversions—its chatbot geolocates users and gives them a personalized code, redeemable for a sample drink at participating local bars.

Yet even with these rollouts, brands have barely scratched the surface of messaging’s potential. In 2017, successful brands will be defined by an integrated social strategy that leverages messaging to provide personalized, automated service to consumers.


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