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Purna Virji, Microsoft

Purna Virji

Senior Manager of Global Engagement, Microsoft

Named by PPC Hero as the #1 most influential PPC expert in the world, Purna specialises in SEM, SEO and the future of search. With over a decade in search, she is a regular keynote speaker at conferences across the globe such as MozCon, Hero Conf and BrightonSEO, and writes for Moz, Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch.

An award-winning former journalist, Purna was the CEO of Purview Marketing prior to joining the Bing Ads team. In her spare time, she’s an avid traveler, aspiring top chef and amateur knitter. Say hello @purnavirji!

Marketing in a Conversational World: How to Get Discovered, Delight Your Customers and Earn the Conversion

Capturing and keeping attention is one of the hardest parts of our job today. Fact: It’s just going to get harder with the advent of new technology and conversational interfaces. In the brave new world we’re stepping into, the key questions are: How do we get discovered? How can we delight our audiences? And how can we grow revenue? Come to this session to learn how to create deeper relationships with your audiences via conversation.





[00:00:05] Hello guys.

[00:00:08] Let's start by taking a little stroll down memory lane. Let's go back 10 years in the past. The year is 2007. The iPhone was first introduced. Apps we take for granted today, like Uber or Instagram, don't exist. But probably the craziest fact to me was that about 20 ish percent of people in the UK were still accessing the Internet via a dial-up. Do you remember dialup? This sound. Doesn't that feel like a lifetime ago you guys? It does. But yet despite all the advances in technology, and apps, and the way we reach our audiences, we're still doing things like this: [slide on screen of a giant add]. We're pushing, we're interrupting. And I get it right, attention is so difficult to get and to hold on to that we find ourselves doing thing as marketers that we hate as consumers. There has to be a better way. Advances in AI have really made it possible for us to engage our audiences in a way better way. Our marketing has to do better. We need to start saying goodbye to interruptions and hello to conversations, and we can do that via chatbots. So that's what I'm going to walk you through today. I'm going to walk you through how to use AI, and chat bots, and passing assistance to create deeper meaningful relationships with your customers. So we're going to cover how our technology has been evolving. We'll talk about how we need to evolve our engagement with our audience and then how our strategies need to evolve to keep up.

[00:02:17] Let's start with evolving technology. Now, I'm a big believer that to understand the future it's always good to look at what's happened in the past. So let's go back now 20 years ago and take a look at how, over the past 20 years, the fate of companies has been determined.

[00:02:37] So I tried to look at the top five companies in terms of market capitalization across the world according to Fortune. And if we looked back at 1997, it was all about like GE, and Dutch Shell, and Exxon Mobil, and Coca-Cola. All companies that were a big part of our lives then. If we look back 10 years ahead, in 2007 - I think petrol prices must have gone up a lot - Exxon Mobile was number one at that point. Still GE, still Royal Dutch Shell, some cellphones results coming out too. AT&T just got iPhone at that point, so it shuffled around, but the companies were very very similar. If we look at the companies that are there today, in the top five, it's a humongous shift. It's all tech companies. Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, Apple. All of them are right there in this one. So it just makes sense that whichever company is dominating around us in our lives tends to be the one that's in the top five. It makes perfect sense. But have we stoppe to think about how, as a brand, if we're pervasive in every aspect of people's lives, how profitable that could be?

[00:04:01] Let's take the case of pizza. If you think back to how you used to be able to order pizza even five years ago, what were the options? Phone or maybe website right? Phone or website, that was it. But if we think about say, ordering Domino's or Pizza Hut today, how many options do we have? We can use phone and website of course. But now I can also use my digital personal assistant. I can send them a text message. I can interact with their chat bot via Facebook or Skype for example, and be like "hey Domino's, I'm on my Easy Order." It'll come home. Let's look at what it does to a company's profitability to be there in every aspect of our lives, right where we are. So I just used Amazon Finance to go ahead and look at the stock price of Dominos since the beginning of time, since they had it, and look at what's interesting: if you look post the iPhone, so post-2007, there was a little dip. But then they figured out how to use it, and look how profitable they've become. Dominos has been an amazing example of using technology to engage really well with their audiences and that pays off my friends.

[00:05:17] So, let's see how we can do the same thing if we want to interact with different companies. We can't just rely on the mainstays of today. We want to be everywhere, and that means thinking beyond screens. I don't need a screen to order pizza for example. I can do it through my Amazon Echo. Looking at apps. Now, this was really interesting; somebody pointed this out to me and they said that the different apps in our phones, they are the interruptions, because I've got to stop what I'm doing in one app to go and do something another app. It's a completely different user experience as well, and a lot of companies are fed up with creating apps and pouring all that money and resources into something that people barely use. Let's think about our own behavior. How many apps do we tend to use most often? It's barely a handful. And websites as well. Now our whole jobs have revolved around sending traffic to websites. But what happens when the website isn't always necessary? For example with Skyscanner I can go ahead and research and book my flight through their Skype or Facebook messenger app, and I don't need to go to the website. So we have to think beyond that.

[00:06:34] There's three new players in the game: we have chatbots, skills, and digital personal assistants, and all of these are powered by AI to have very human-like interactions. Now one of favorite examples of how AI can be really great and human-like, is this one. Any fans of Rembrandt in the room? A few! Now hopefully you will be surprised to hear that this isn't an actual Rembrandt painting. This is called The Next Rembrandt and it was created by an artificial intelligence, which is sort of blowing my mind but here is what it did. So, Microsoft Research looked at all the different works of Rembrandt, including his use of lighting, his use of subjects, and on its own it created a brand new painting. The most amazing thing about this was that, if you've ever looked at a painting you've seen that there's a little 3-D effect of the paint on the canvas right, this AI printed this painting out and used the different layers of ink to recreate that 3-D effects of paint on canvas. How crazy is that right? This is all super super human-like. AIs are great at being human. And yes it has stumbling blocks but it's really getting there.

[00:07:56] So if we think about personal assistants to [inaudible], they are meant to be your agent, or your person across all the different areas of your digital life, with your permission of course. And their only goal is to know your likes, your dislikes and your patterns, so that it can serve you better and make your life more productive. Then we have bots and skills on the other hand, that are the agent on behalf of the brand or the company. They can engage with the consumer either directly - say via a chat bot or a skill - or they can interact with the human via the personal assistant. You don't always have to engage with it.

[00:08:40] So let me show you an example. Let's say I have continued to fall madly in love with Scotland in this trip here and I want to come back, and I want to go to another city that I've been through before - Glasgow. Now like most people I tend to book my flights really early, but I save my hotel until the last minute and then I panic. So imagine if I went to Cortana and I said "Hey Cortana, ask my travel company to book me a hotel out in Glasgow." She says "Ok, your trip to Glasgow coming up on August 23. Last time you were there you stayed at the Contoso hotel, do you still want to stay in that one?" I'll say, "yes of course, that's perfect, I'll do that one.".

[00:09:24] "Great choice. Do you want to use your credit card ending in 1 2 3 4?".

[00:09:28] "Yes Cortana that's perfect. Let's do that.".

[00:09:32] "OK. You're all set. I've also emailed you the confirmation." So she spoke to my travel company, say Expedia, Skyscanner, you name it, on my behalf, booked all of this, and it was so easy. A task that takes several minutes at best can now be done in under a single minute.

[00:09:51] So it's no wonder if you think about Business Insider's predictions that they say 80 percent of businesses want chatbots by 2020. It's not a fad. It is really something worthwhile for businesses because it saves them money and time on customer service. But most importantly it's better for the consumer. We can get our stuff done so much faster and there's none of that annoying thing, like wait time for dealing with that automated system on the phone. We all universally dislike it. A natural question to ask at this point is "hey, how is this going to change SEO? Is it going to destroy SEO?" Because isn't everything new going to come and kill SEO? It is nuts, that pattern of articles. But in search we're used to these really big shifts. We're used to facing them and we've dealt with it with grand aplomb throughout, so this time we can see the shift coming even before it comes to us and we can prepare for it. So what will this really do? I think it will just expand our roles beyond websites. We're going to have to look at ways that we can engage with our customer through things like chatbots and personal assistants as well.

[00:11:10] So let's look at how our engagement is going to evolve. The main thing is that it's changing the conversation from a one-to-many to a one-to-one, and that allows for a lot of personalization and a much stronger rapport. In fact, another really funny prediction that I actually laughed when I saw it was that by 2020 the average person is going to have more conversations with their bot than with their spouse. And my husband is in the audience and I think he will celebrate. That's right. But bots are fantastic for everyone, no matter the size of your business. In fact small businesses can benefit even more from having a chatbot because it takes a load off the actual human employees for answering things like common questions, or doing repetitive tasks so that the humans are free to do something else. And they're great for every stage of the funnel. If you're thinking about it only as a sales tool, there's a lot more you're missing out. So let's think about how bots can be fantastic at the Broadcast and Awareness stage, for Wngagement and actual Conversions, for Remarketing and Retention, as well as the good old customer service and Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

[00:12:25] Again I'll give you the example. Let's pick a bookstore, something like WHSmith for example. WHSmith may know that I'm a big fan of Rand Fishkin and I read all the books that he's written. So, it can come out and ping me with a message which is sort of helpful, like "Hey Purna, Rand's new book is releasing soon, would you like a sneak peek of the first chapter?" Now like most normal fans of Rand I would be like "YES please! OMG, OMG!" I would want that. So do that. It would write back to me like, "Okay great. I'll email it now." And it also knows from my shopping patterns that I'm a sucker for a sale. Even if something's on sale and I don't need it, I will still buy it. It can say "Hey Purna, you can save 15 percent if you preorder it today using the code 'I love Geraldine' - who's Rand's wife - and hurry! The code expires in 24 hours." How guaranteed would this be to work on somebody with my behavior patterns? Pretty good right? I'm like, "Thank you, preordering it right now" and I would be right there. So it worked because it was super super relevant and it changed the conversation from a "Buy now!" to a "What do you need right now?" So it gaged my interest, it gaged my previous patterns, knew how I would like to shop and it gave that to me. So by going from aggressive to being more helpful you can make your marketing something that people are going to want to consume.

[00:14:01] So let's look at how we can start the conversation across all our channels, even beyond search. But let's start with search for a second. This is what we're used to seeing if we do a search right? You put in a keyword, you see a list of results. Beyond that there's no further interaction with the search engine, right? Well at Bing, we wanted to shake that up a little bit. Now this works in the UK too, I kindly bothered somebody earlier to make sure it did. If you have your computers in front of you - it doesn't work on mobiles yet because it's an early early early stage - do a search on because it doesn't work on Google. Sorry Juan Felipe. Do a search for the words "Monsoon Seattle" and what you will see under the regular old business listing that we're used to seeing, is this little guy. "Questions? Ask the Monsoon bot for help." So if I hit chat with it, I could suddenly start asking questions like "hey where's the best place to park? Do you have any vegetarian options?" I could even ask questions in really normal conversational language and I would understand. So I could say like "hey can I bring my dog?" and it would understand that I'm asking whether the restaurant is pet friendly or not. And it would respond yes or no. Super super interesting. What do you think that would do for your local SEO? For people to be able to engage with your business listing? Quite cool, right? It's in early stages but if you wanted to see and learn more about it you would go to this link right here, but so far it's only in Seattle yet and only for restaurants, though of course we've got plans to expand this beyond. It's still early so we're testing this out.

[00:15:52] Of course that's fantastic for business listings, but what if we want to go beyond that? I'm going to give you a sneak peek into something that actually you can't access online. But this is a super sneak peek exclusively for you guys. It's about how advances in artificial intelligence like, nerd-speak alert, machine reading comprehension - which is the machine reading things online and understanding it in a way that a human would want - how that can botify the web.

[00:16:21] So Monsoon had to go and create their business bot for their business listing, fantastically helpful for them. But what if there was a website and Bing could create the chatbot for you on the fly? So something called Bing Infobot is being tested and is in early stages. We're testing it with larger sites like Wikipedia, Web M.D., All Recipes, only a handful right now with a small amount of people. But, say if I did a search for the history of Singapore and Wikipedia had come up as the first result, I could suddenly see the options to be like "hey do you have questions? You can ask Infobot on Wikipedia." So this is not Wikipedia's bot, this is Bing's Infobot that went on the fly, and I could now start asking it questions and it could peruse for me and give me the answers. So if I said "hey what's the ethnic breakup of Singapore?" It could suddenly start giving me that. It saves people time, and we're becoming really lazy. I remember asking somebody the other day "why do you guys like Uber?" Now if I ask you guys, "why do you like Uber?" What would your answer be? Well most people give me very logical answers, like I like Uber because it's cheaper, it's cleaner, the drivers are friendly or something like that. Right in the US it's much cleaner than a New York yellow taxi. No no no. So you prefer Uber. But the real reason is not that it's cheaper, cleaner, friendlier, it's none of that. It's because we don't have to take out our wallets and pay at the end. We prefer it because you get in, you reach your destination, you get out, you're done. This is how lazy we have become. We want the seamless experience which is what this type of thing can do here.

[00:18:14] So if you want to be right there when people are looking for you, there's a few things that you have to consider. The first one is the importance of brand. Now you guys are already doing a lot of excellent work in terms of brand building and brand marketing. I'm going to show you why it's so much more important when it comes to this new conversational world. Now if I did a search on, say, Google Assistant or Cortana, I would say "Hey Cortana, how much are flights to Paris this weekend?" She would give me a regular answer. It's the regular search that we expect, right? It would say: here are different websites, here are different prices. But what if I knew to invoke the Skyscanner skill? I could suddenly say like, "Hey Cortana, ask Skyscanner how much are flights to Paris this weekend." Look at the difference. I don't see any other listings. Now I only deal with the Skyscanner bot through the skill that I invoked, and I could just look on that website. I'm not distracted by competitors. The value to Skyscanner for me to have top of mind awareness of their name and choose them is humongous. What are the odds that they get the sale now? Pretty high yeah. So remember your branding.

[00:19:30] Another way that you can get your bots discovered is through good old search. You know it's normal that bots are going to have the same issue that apps did, right? Apps discovery was always an issue. So all of our bot providers are trying to take this into account and overcome that. So both Google and Bing let you go ahead and do a search for different bots. On Bing we go one step further, and if you see the blue thing where it says "Add bot," I can click on it and enable it in my SMS messaging app. So it makes it super easy to enable them right from search. Now let's look at email for a second. Most of you run email marketing. Can you guys tell me what is the average open rate for marketing email? It's actually about 15 to 25 percent on average. Good numbers? No, it's pretty crap actually. What about the click-through rate from email to the website? Anyone want to take a guess at that number? It's actually 2.7-ish according to MailChimp research. Good number? No.

[00:20:53] Let's think about this. Raise your hands if every time you get a text message you receive you check it within 10 minutes. Almost all of us. Right? Keep your hands up if you respond as well within ten minutes. The majority of us. Messaging is just a really fast medium. It's not like emails or advertising where you're constantly inundated with all of the info, chatting is something that is really great. Now I'm not saying we want to go ahead and use our chatbot to interrupt people and ping them all the time, because God knows that would be even more annoying. All you want to do is give people opportunities to want to engage with your chatbot, because we know that the experience will be far more effective if it's in a chatbot than just in an email. That's because you can look at your email and then forget about it and not take the action because you just got 20 more emails and you forgot the earlier email. I could make my call to action in my emails be like "Hey message us to get a 20 percent off coupon!" That could incentivize people to go ahead and interact with my messenger bot and once I've interacted with it I would be open to the new cadence of communication that I could create with the bot.

[00:22:02] The second thing is through my regular good old social media. We go on social media to share all our updates with our lives. Why not use it to share updates for our business? You can send people to your chatbot, whether through regular post or through your social media advertising. You don't always have to send them to your website. You can be like, "Hey! Come and chat with our chatbot instead." The advantage to that is that it is [inaudible] interaction and yu know you're already on Facebook, you're interacting with the Facebook messenger, it's all the same ecosystem. It feels just natural. So that's another advantage to it. You can also have your online ads lead to your chatbot too. So for example, if we had a special sale - 10 percent off everything - the normal call to action would have been "Shop now! Buy now!" Something like hitting them over the head to take an action. But what if we just changed it to "Chat with a stylist now." It's almost like we're being helpful and giving them something rather than just getting them to ask for the action that we want them to take. So you can always find ways to get people to chat with you because once people chat with you and you get that ball rolling you have that top of mind awareness, you have the better engagement stats that you can get.

[00:23:18] So at this stage if you're like, "Okay I love it, how do I get started?" I'm going to walk you through it.

[00:23:24] The first thing you have to remember though is my favorite quote by Brandy Brown: "Perfectionism is the thing that's preventing us from taking flight." Super true right, especially somebody Type A and crazy like me. Take the pressure off. Your bot does not have to be perfect. A lot of people are hesitating to even build their bots, they think that this is such a big endeavor and has to be really great. Don't worry about that. Just get started to test it out. Bots aren't supposed to have those in-depth conversations like the movie Her, and Facebook research found that bots that sounded very robotic actually help the engagement rates because we have lower expectations of a bot. So if you try to sound too human it works against you. And the fact that even today's basic conversations work means that as these platforms get more sophisticated, marketers will adopt them. They're making a huge difference. In fact some of the banking clients that we work with are super keen to go ahead and create chatbots for some of their repetitive tasks. Have you ever had to call your bank for a balance inquiry? It's a simple question, but what happens? They have to put you on hold, then they have to ask you like 800 security questions and then they are there to share your balance with you. So three to four minutes. Painful for us but even more for the bank. Think about the cost to them in terms of customer service time. So a bot can be super helpful there.

[00:24:59] So here's my 4-step plan for designing your bot.

[00:25:03] The first one is you want to identify the goal. Talk to customer service reps at your company or think about your customer as well. What could make their life easier? What are repetitive things that they're doing? Try to find the one problem that you're trying to solve. Shockingly chatbots can't solve world peace yet. So start with just one single thing - that can help you to get started. Also identify the platforms that your customers are on. For example, maybe they are using Kik, Skype or Facebook Messenger. Figure out which ones so you know how to create your bot.

[00:25:43] Then my favorite step, is you want to brainstorm without any limits. You want to think about this one question. If anything was possible, what would I do? And even if the answer is, "I'm going to fly in Brad Pitt from Hollywood to sit next to me and create my Chatbot" put it down. Still a good idea. Nothing is off limits. Then you can try to narrow it down to "What would my customers really love from this list?" And hopefully it would be Brad Pitt. Let's see if he's free.

[00:26:15] Then you bring it back down to reality. This is the part where, okay what's the first step that I could take to create the magical thing that my customers would love? What's the simplest way to start? Then you want to think about - is it a bot only? So just chat? Or is it a skill as well? Where you would have to have some voice controls added onto it, which is super simple - you create the bot and then you can just enable natural language understanding and you can talk to it there. And then what should my KPIs be? Is it engagement? Is it conversion? Is it repeated chat? That's what you can think about measuring.

[00:26:53] And then you bring it to life. You choose the platform, you create the structure and then you launch and monitor. Now people always ask me like, "Purna, how long does it take to create a chatbot?" And to that I give you the search engine answer that everybody loves. Which is: it depends. Don't you guys love it when we say that? No. The correct answer is actually: it can take anywhere from 10 minutes to several months depending on how complicated you want your bot to be. If you want a really easy way to get started and test chatbots, you can use something like, wherein you plug in your URL for your FAQ page - which I think almost all of us have one - and what it does is that it reads the URL and it understands the different ways that people could ask the same question in natural language, and it spits out conversations in a chatbot form. So it's super easy to get started. There's no coding required which is awesome for me because I'm not a coder and I could get started with a chatbot in 10 minutes on my own. If you're looking for more resources you can go to and you can go ahead and find different ways to test your bot, or sample structure or anything like that to help you get started.

[00:28:16] The main thing, if we recap, is you want to start building a simple AI powered bot or a skill. You want you promote it across all your different channels. And you want to measure and engage across multiple different touch points. And yes this is new technology. Mistakes are definitely going to happen with anything new as you learn to walk. You're going to stumble. It's natural. But while caution is necessary, avoidance is not. One day a chatbot is going to be your very best employee. It's going to be your best salesperson, your best customer service rep, your best analytics person all rolled up into one. It's possible. The proof is in the pudding.

[00:29:02] Let me talk to you about 1-800-Flowers. They created a chatbot last year for Facebook Messenger and they gave an interview with Digit 8 two months after they launched. And they said that 70 percent of the orders coming from that chatbot was from a brand new audience. They were able to reach a younger, different demographic through their Chatbot. 17 percent - that's really big. Or Sephora. They said that once a user engaged with their chatbot on Kik they averaged 10 messages per day. That's incredible engagement. Or my favorite example from Taco Bell. They have a chatbot on Slack! They have taken 10 million US dollars in orders via just a Slack chatbot. Ten million dollars.

[00:29:59] So my question to you is: Are you guys going to be the next success story? Thank you so much, Edinburgh.

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