Social media has revolutionised the interaction between brands and consumers. Now automation looks likely to change it all again.

Personalised, promoted and powered by computer science, chat-bots are enabling brands to facilitate a completely new relationship between brand and consumer.

How this relationship is evolving was the subject of two back-to-back sessions on the Discovery Stage at Cannes Lions 2017.

First up, EMEA Vice President of Twitter, Bruce Daisley, Sille Opstrup, head of digital at Pernod Ricard UK and Sam Poullain, senior growth manager at Skyscanner discussed the consumer need for chat-bots and some of the benefits we’re already seeing.

Twitter’s Daisley says: “Customer service interactions on Twitter have doubled in the past two years and 44% of people currently tweet about good customer service. Brands are reacting. They recognise that done well, a good chat-bot can ensure a faster response time and return people to the purchase funnel, even after they’ve had a bad brand experience.”

Daisley cites Tesco as a retail brand with a more sophisticated chat-bot. “Response times are almost instant and it divides up into different content paths so whether your enquiry is about loyalty cards, online deliveries, in-store products or other Tesco brand initiatives, it will ensure you receive the right information, presented in a responsive way.”

When creating a chat-bot, Skyscanner’s Poullain stresses a need to consider the connection between the brand and consumer and to make it clear from the outset what the benefits of engagement are.

He says: “Make it clear that people are talking to an automated machine from the beginning in order to nurture brand trust. Then give people a reason to engage. Will you use your chat-bot to send out reminder alerts, recommend deals, tell brand stories or answer questions. Whatever it is, make sure the purpose is clear and the quality is high. A high quality service that’s clearly from a machine is much more important than a poorly functioning chat-bot with a quirky human personality.”

According to Opstrup, Pernod Ricard UK knew that it was onto something special after it launched a chat-bot that would help people to make cocktails at home. Over time, the brand saw a sales conversion uplift in retail of 30%, related directly to the advice and recommendations the chat-bot was providing.

Opstrup says: “The average conversion from campaign to retail is between two and four percent so we knew this was something special. I think in the near future we will see bots play a bigger role in conversational social e-commerce and be integrated into a wider range of sectors for the enrichment of the customer journey.”

After the panel discussion, Ben Parr, former co-editor of Mashable and founder of Octane AI gave his take on creating conversational storytelling for chat-bots.

“More marketing dollars will be spent on content for chat-bots for the simple reason that 1.2 billion people currently use Facebook Messenger and more than three billion people currently use messenger apps in general,” Parr says. “To reach these people brands need to develop two-way back and forth narratives that can be shared on a one-to-one / one-to-thousands basis.”

Parr calls these back and forth narratives, ‘Convos’ and recommends that brands see them as interactive newsletters, which update regularly.

“Convos should ask questions and provide answer options that express brand personality, while using the tried and tested rules of storytelling to keep subscribers engaged. This is an opportunity for brands to tell stories with video, audio and gifs and to give consumers a choice of how to engage. The click-through rates are higher and the engagement levels are higher among these type of branded chat-bot subscribers. This is definitely a medium that more brands need to be telling their stories through.”