Ever since audiences woke up to the transparency of advertising techniques, marketers have gone to greater lengths to engage demographics and slice through the over-saturated market by being more 'human'.
Brands have constantly been exploring new ways to create human connections on digital platforms, and the advancement of new technologies, such as voice assistants and chatbots, has brought along with it a whole host of scenarios for marketers to navigate. So what exactly do these platforms and technologies offer? And what do they mean for you as a student marketer?
The rise of digital assistants such as Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana, Apple's Siri and Google Assistant has seen consumers all over the world babbling away to their tech in search of everything from the weather forecast to the nearest pizza place and nightlife reviews for the university town they've got their eye on. In the UK alone, 37% of smartphone owners admit to using voice tech at least once a month, and in the US the figures are even higher, at 69%. According to Saeley Jnr Johnson (Mindshare) 69% voice assistant users don't just want search, they want to have a conversation with their tech. Voice tech is growing, and more importantly, it's driving emotional connections.
Right now, the options for paid voice search are but a glimmer in the eye of their creators, but at the rate tech and consumer behaviour is evolving, stale and impersonal content won't be enough to carry you through. It's been estimated that by 2020, 50% of search will be voice (James, Bing) and if you can't beat the conversation, you'll have no choice but to join it.
Chatbots are an ever more common means for brands to interact with their customers. Defined as computer programmes designed to mimic online human conversation, it's predicted that by 2020 85% of interactions with brands are likely to be driven by chatbots (Gartner Report). Often confused with artificial intelligence, the responses are pre-programmed and result in a less-than-flawless illusion of speaking to a real human. Yet, this lovechild of advertising and customer service is working, and consumers are lapping it up.
According to Facebook, there are 100,000 monthly active bots on the Messenger platform. These cutely-named digital helpers are assisting users with booking appointments and researching accommodation, continuing to provide real-time customer service. Click-to-Messenger adverts are the perfect way for brands to provide round-the-clock customer service without employees slogging away behind a keyboard. Bing has even started testing the use of chatbots in the paid and organic search engine results pages. If successful, these tests could trigger a whole new process of customer service within search, without users ever having to land on a website.
But what does all this mean for student marketers?
"Companies will need to think about the actual voice of their brand? They have to think about how their brand sounds, and the words and language that their brand uses when communicating with customers? The personality of their brand as it's presented to users."
- Martin Reddy, PullString
These latest advancements in tech reaffirm consumer desire for more human conversation when engaging with different brands. And it's this need for more human advertising that is affecting how we communicate with each other, and ultimately how student marketers should be connecting with their audience. To ensure your brand has the human touch, you need to be warmer in your marketing to spark conversation. Strengthen your university's brand tone on your website. Answer prospective students' questions with your advertising before they have time to ask them. Consider the personal motivations of your target audience and address them as individuals.
Whether it's an engaging blog crafted to resolve the biggest dilemmas faced by potential students, or a perfectly executed Facebook campaign split-testing landing page messaging aimed at parents and students, the key to it all is producing useful content that resonates instantly and sparks a human discussion.