• Part 3: Chatbots and the digital consumer

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    On June 5, 2017 • By

    Part 1  and Part 2  of this series delivered a basic introduction to chatbots and examined how they’re already used to reimagine the way brands and businesses engage with an increasingly digital consumer.

    Today, some further uses for chatbots are explored.


    Chatbots help organisations work around some of the challenges of contemporary campaigning. Unencumbered by the constraints of traditional platforms, chatbots can be both a broadcast and narrowcast tool delivering public and individual content.

    Chatbots are cheap and quick to build while updating takes minutes, ensuring they keep up with the most demanding of campaign schedules. Layers of sophistication can be built into each new round of messaging while aggregated data testing can determine whether how well a message is working in real-time.


    The simplest way to learn something about someone is to ask them. Brands and businesses can analyse consumer behaviours in unprecedented and surprising ways using chatbot interfaces. No need to build databases from secondary sources when you can ask consumers’ opinion directly, like AusPoliBot.

    At a practical level, if a brand wants to know how consumers have received their new product, each individual sale can be followed with a satisfaction questionnaire at an appropriate interval.


    Although both want to build a long-term and satisfying relationship, initial engagements between brands and consumers can be challenging. Individuals rarely welcome cold calls and brands can intimidate potential consumers.

    For consumers a chatbot is less invasive and quicker interaction than a cold approach, removing a level of intimidation, allowing them to comfortably ask questions and move at their own pace. While brands can learn a great deal from a short initial chatbot interaction and completely personalise further engagement.

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  • Part 2: Chatbot Commerce

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    On June 5, 2017 • By

    Chatbot commerce – utilising messaging and other natural language interfaces to connect with consumers – has the potential to reimagine the way brands and businesses engage with an increasingly digital consumer.

    Chatbots deliver a tailored digital presence to already established platforms, allowing brands to meet consumers at the right time and the right place in the digital universe.  A good example is the ABC Newsbot, which sends regular news updates to users’ Facebook Messenger app.


    In 2009 when launching the iPhone, Steve Jobs told the world “there will be an app for everything.” But he was only half right. In Australia – like the US, UK, and Europe – a select few apps became integral to our day-to-day lives, while the rest were left untouched, sitting on the app-store’s virtual shelf.

    Many brands working towards a strong digital presence were left disappointed after launching an app that worked well in theory but didn’t make it onto enough consumers’ phones.

    Meanwhile, message apps became undisputed leaders; retained on devices for longer and used more regularly than other apps. In late 2015, messenger platform engagement surpassed traditional social networking app engagement.



    Twelve months ago 30,000 Facebook chatbots were operating around the world today that number is 100,000 and next year Facebook predicts it may be in the millions. To re-word Jobs, what seems to have developed is a world where is “everything is within a messenger app.”

    Retailers in China, the EU and the US can already take credit card payment from chatbot interfaces and it is only a matter of time until the same options are available to Australian brands.

    Rob Walls, Head of Product, Visa Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific:

    “Chat is becoming the center of customer-retailer interaction. With its ability to connect consumers with brands anytime, anywhere, for customer service and purchasing, chat commerce has the potential to shake up the retail industry. Rather than invest in developing an app that consumers will need to download separately, enabling a chat commerce option in social media platforms on which consumers are already active would help retailers capture more revenue from this built-in audience. Chatbots will also be able to cultivate retailers’ deeper understanding of consumer preferences when the AI technology they are built on has access to a large and varied dataset about the consumer. This will in turn enable more accurate product recommendations, promoting end-user loyalty to their brand and driving spend.”



    Successful chatbots are accessible, compelling, simple and designed to complement – not supersede – existing engagement and communication infrastructure. Working with Etched Communications, Venn Campaigning fills a gap in the chatbot market between tech focussed developers and traditional communications specialists.

    We design and build chatbots that increase digital engagement, populate relevant primary data sets and adhere to trusted communications principles.

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  • Part 1: What is a chatbot?

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    On June 5, 2017 • By

    A chatbot is a computer program that simulates a natural language conversation with human users through messaging platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Slack, Telegram and others.

    Chatbots engage with consumers via specially designed conversation structures that use data analytics and algorithms to learn more about individual users over time. These data help to personalise further interactions as well as building aggregated persona analyses.

    At a practical level, chatbots can be used to automate everyday customer service tasks, complement traditional brand engagement and deliver specialised information. Other immediate uses include:
    • Answering questions in a speedy, reliable manner
    • Efficient delivery of critical information to consumer base
    • Consumer data gathering
    • Online form completion
    • Digital first point of contact
    • Proactive daily engagement

    To expand an example further, a consumer might ask a specialised chatbot for a movie recommendation. The chatbot can determine the user’s location and would ask what time is preferable. With that information, the chatbot can deliver relevant movie times and locations as well as links to purchase tickets. In time the bot will learn the user’s preferred genre, cinema location, time and seating. Once it has enough information the chatbot can proactively inform the user when a movie they should like is on at a time and venue that suits while showing relevant seats and pricing. Over time the process of choosing and purchasing movie tickets can be refined into an engagement of less than 30 seconds and a single click on a users phone.

    Facebook Messenger is the primary chatbot platform in Australia, and now has more than 1.2 billion monthly users and 100,000 monthly active chatbots worldwide. Facebook recently announced some great new tools for chatbot developers as well as developed further ideas for brands using chatbots for consumer engagement.

    Forbes outlines the benefits of chatbots better than we can:

    Chatbots are easy to use and many customers prefer them over (traditional engagement) because it tends to be faster and less invasive. They can also save money for companies and are easy to set up. Because most chatbots use messenger apps that are already on billions of phones around the world, chances are your customers are already plugged in and ready for your bot. Chatbots are the future of customer experience and have the power to replace search windows and many apps in the not-so-distant future.

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  • It’s all beer & skittles… until it isn’t. Lessons from Coopers and ‘Keeping it light’

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    On March 15, 2017 • By

    Andrew Butler

    March 15, 2017

    Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 1.35.42 pm

    Given the tsunami of opinion on the matter, I’ll be succinct with these three observations:

    1. Your first quick response to a crisis is the most important

    The response should have been immediate, within hours of the story breaking, and certainly once it became clear the story was escalating.

    Instead, after several days of weathering a media storm and watching customers trash their brand and their product on social media, Coopers’ Managing Director and Director of Finance hit the airways with a more considered video response, including a commitment to join Marriage Equality Australia.

    The objective in a crisis is to stop the media furor, all the more when it’s hitting the bottom line.

    The companies I know that fair the best in crises are those that identify potential crises early and treat the issue with the respect (and resources) it deserves. It’s hard to see how being unwittingly thrust into the centre of the marriage equality debate couldn’t be seen as a major problem and deserved of a well-considered, forthright response.

    2. Your CSR projects should be values-led and matter as much to your customers (if not more) as to your leadership team

    Be Consistent.

    Perception is everything. Why now drop the commemorative Bible Society beer, when it was good to go before the crisis? And why suddenly support Marriage Equality?

    People want to see a values driven company.

    I can see how support for the Bible Society needn’t be inconsistent with also supporting same sex marriage, but it will be perceived as hypocrisy by some.

    It’s a stark contrast to their initial response which supported the ‘Keeping it light’ video. A subsequent follow-up statement then insisted Coopers didn’t endorse the original video, nor had the Bible Society sought permission to promote Coopers therein.

    Remember the objective is to stop media activity, and the video supporting marriage equality simply extended the story.

    I’m not a huge fan of the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). All too often it’s used as a mitigation program for all manner of ills: “Yes I’m destroying the environment, but look over here at my Center For Children Who Can’t Read Good. Aren’t we great?”

    My preference is for a Creating Shared Value (CSV) model which looks to the heart of your business, its product and the market, and how through every day business you can benefit the people and communities you intersect (and shareholders). A CSV approach also means you’re unlikely to be caught in a Coopers-esque furor, as your social pursuits inherently align with most of your key stakeholders, especially your customers.

    The Coopers family are well within their rights to support the Bible Society. We should all defend that right.

    Additionally, the governance around your CSR projects needs to be robust. The organisations and causes you support should have a thorough understanding of the boundaries of the relationship, knowing where and when they need to seek your input and permission.

    3. Party-political donations come with risk and need to be well thought out

    The controversy has also brought to the fore, the company’s considerable donations to the SA Liberal Party. Such a one-sided political donation record (in fairness the Democrats did get some love when they were still in the game) has a very real potential of undermining commercial realities.

    Not only are Coopers potentially upsetting customers who don’t support the Liberal Party, you’re potentially undermining your relationship with Labor governments. While the political parties argue donations earn you no favours, I’d argue a sustained donation campaign can mean the difference between popping into an MP’s office for a chat versus battling their diary secretary for a month to get an appointment. That kind of access can mean a great deal. You’re better off spreading the donations fairly, or not donating at all.

    Coopers have lost some paint this week, and very likely lost some long-term customers. It’s a shame, given it was entirely avoidable.

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  • Eddie McGuire school of public relations: what to do when journos do their job?

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    On February 8, 2017 • By

    Andrew Butler
    June 22, 2016

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  • Communicating in a Crisis: Our wires are more than crossed – they’re lying on the ground in a tangled mess

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    On February 8, 2017 • By

    Andrew Butler
    September 30, 2016

    ctk2lkhuaaaoitcWe now know that 23 power pylons, the backbone of South Australia’s electricity distribution, buckled under the force of an unprecedented weather event, plunging the state into darkness.

    Over 80,000 lightning strikes hit South Australia, some striking a power station and the two interconnectors to Victoria which could supply power to South Australia in a shortage, shut down automatically to protect the national system from long-term damage.

    This has brought to the fore some vital lessons about communicating in a crisis.

    First, don’t jump the gun. Often in a crisis, one of the first tasks is getting to the root cause of the problem. Your key goals early in a crisis are to demonstrate to your key stakeholders that you’re a) on top of the problem, and then b) that you’re well on the way to fixing it and eventually c) you’re working to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Identifying the problem and getting on top of it, can take some time.

    So until you don’t know, don’t guess. And be open – you don’t know, but you’re working hard to find out.

    Secondly, many of your key stakeholders may be quite comfortable guessing at the cause – doing so quite publicly. Malcolm Turnbull, energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, ABC journalist Chris Ulman and several others made a go of joining the dots between the blackout and renewable energy. Even the radical centrist Nick Xenaphon, normally a bastion of common sense, was making mention of the renewable mix in his explanation of Wednesday’s mess.

    In these cases, it’s necessary to counter the misinformation, as Premier Jay Weatherill did, and repeat as often as needed. Complicating Weatherill’s task was a second storm front and a raft of other problems still being rectified from the first front. In this context, it was more than a little opportunistic for outsiders to be lobbing criticism and blame while emergency services were still battling challenges and South Australians prepared for a second battering.

    Thirdly, don’t let the blame game distract you from the main game. Look after those at risk, those who have been injured and their families.

    So while opportunists were pointing the finger, the Premier was hitting the airwaves and social media channels, providing updates on weather warnings, crisis relief centres, school closures and flood warnings. And of course, from the outset, he was praising emergency services and the community at large for their efforts.

    Lastly, for natural events of this scale, it’s often difficult conveying the severity of the event; illustrating that it is indeed a crisis, not just an inconvenience. Many stakeholders have an expectation that major infrastructure and services ought to be able to withstand natural disasters. Yet most design standards for built assets have their limit – a necessity if our infrastructure is to be built at a costs that’s not prohibitive. Sooner or later, those limits are inevitably tested. Balancing those expectations and knowing where the line is between underprepared and unlucky is difficult. Again – it’s an argument that forms part of the “who’s to blame discussion” and best left to when the dust has literally settled.

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  • Campaign behind referendum will need to address hard truths

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    On February 8, 2017 • By

    Andrew Butler
    April 6, 2016

    One of our key values at Etched is integrity. While we’re hardly going to embrace the opposite (though some Panamanian Law firms seem to have made a fortune from that offering) it is still an indispensable value to uphold in public relations.

    More than acting with integrity, we’ve identified it as a value because it is a core and constant pursuit. For integrity – and the supporting pillars of truth and honesty – is central to any advice we give to clients.

    Take the process of developing campaign messaging for instance.

    At its heart, this process is about finding the inherent truths in your argument that will resonate with your stakeholders, that will persuade them, and/or move them into action. It’s a process best done arm in arm with the development of visual creatives as the two are intertwined in any integrated campaign.

    To have integrity, the messages must try to present the whole truth, or at very least not conveniently omit a major fundamental truth.

    So as the nation continues to mull over the pending referendum on constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians, there are some fundamental truths we must come to terms with. And all signs to date suggest those truths will be hard to bear for much of the community.

    The Daily Tele led furor over UNSW’s suggested changes to language used to describe Australia’s colonization from settlement to invasion. Clearly the Tele and many conservative commentators were riled. It does beg the question – why?

    Equally Stan Grant’s speech last year, while widely applauded, was revolutionary for its truthfulness on issues that each of us, frankly, ought already to know as truths – albeit shameful.

    And the events that Grant chose to introduce in that speech – the sustained booing of Adam Goodes in the 2015 AFL season still divides fans – many of whom still insist their booing was motivated by Goode’s arrogance as a player – not by the colour of his skin. Dig a little deeper, and ask the same fans why they consider Goodes arrogant and it generally has roots in the fact that he’s dared to stand up for himself and his culture.

    The discussion around the referendum will need to address our forefather’s most shameful acts. We’ve apologized for the stolen generation but even that isn’t the darkest part of our history. For it is this context that helps us understand the plight of today’s indigenous people.

    Indigenous Australians were massacred, hunted, imprisoned, dispossessed and more. Australia’s colonisation – its invasion – was often bloody and far from peaceful. Yet few of us really understand it and it’s seemingly still vehemently denied.

    If in the campaign for constitutional recognition is to have integrity – we can not ignore those truths, however painful they may be.

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