It wasn’t so long ago that having robots understand human speech was just the fantasy of movies and television. We’ve come a long way since David Hasselhoff starred in Knight Rider, solving crimes with KITT across the highways of America. In fact, having a satellite navigation system is now considered standard and we take for granted that we don’t have to wade through hundreds of maps to work out directions. What many of us don’t know is the sheer number of applications there are for what is known as natural language processing (NLP). The technology is starting to change how we do digital marketing.
NLP: The lowdown
NLP is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that deals with speech. It helps computers understand, interpret and analyse human language to make decisions and deliver appropriate responses. Coupled with machine learning, which is all about processing vast volumes of data, NLP can be a powerful addition to digital marketing strategy. Right now, NLP is most seen in voice command devices such as Amazon Alexa, Siri or Google Home as well as programs such as Google translate. Most of us have experienced talking to our smartphones or other devices, all of which use a form of NLP to operate.
Traditionally. NLP has looked at written text such as emails or documents, converting that to data and using it to make decisions. For example, this is how platforms would filter certain communications into spam folders. Human Resources departments have also begun to use NLP to search for keywords and phrases in CV’s and automate decisions on picking candidates. When it comes to digital marketing, the opportunity that comes voice and speech applications and could be extensive. As well as voice command systems, digital marketing teams and investing in new technology like chatbots to enhance communication channels with customers. Whilst a lot of development and analysis is needed to get it right, NLP in digital marketing may well be the next big thing.
Digital marketing and NLP
Let’s start by looking at the growing chatbot market. When we talk about chatbots, we mean a computer system that can conduct a text conversation with humans. The technology is built in such a way that sometimes it is almost impossible to determine whether it is in fact human or robot. For a digital marketing team, they provide an amazing way of seeing exactly what your customers are asking at any point during their journey. However, the power of NLP is in predicting what they are likely to want to know next.
The digital world is all about fast and efficient experiences. NLP has the potential to answer a customer question before they even ask it. Imagine a customer asks if you sell a certain type of shoe in a red colour. The chatbot will go to the data store and process every time other customers asked the same question. This could be millions of rows. It may find that after that question, they also ask if the shoe is stocked in blue.
Instead of simply answering the question, the chatbot might decide to provide all the colours that the shoe is sold in, saving customer time and making them more likely to convert. Chatbots can be a big aide in improving key digital marketing metrics. Beyond that, the chatbot can be used to push messages to customers at the time they need it. Have you ever wondered why customers take a long time on a certain website page? NLP will look at what the customer has searched for to arrive at the page and push a message to them asking a relevant question. For example, they may have arrived at the page after searching for “holidays in Italy” on Google. The chatbot might recognise this and send a message such as “Hi John, can I help with your Italy trip?.” The personalisation and relevance of such messages have again been shown to improve purchasing rates.
It’s all about the voice
Digital marketing teams have longed dreamed about knowing what their customers think to better serve them the right products. NLP provides what some have described as a “magical looking glass” that lets marketers analyse customer content. It is no coincidence that conversations you have with friends are sometimes followed by a relevant advertisement on Facebook.
One important development in digital marketing is in search. It is expected that by 2020, around 30% of searches will be done by voice as the trend for “information on the go” continues. The challenge for digital marketing is that voice searching is screenless. It isn’t about showing amazing designs or creative but giving a decision that matches what the customers asked for. In contrast to the typed text of a chatbot, voice searches normally consist of longer sentences and can be far more informal. Beyond that, people have many different accents and dialects. Digital marketing has a new challenge of accounting for all these variations. NLP is designed to do exactly that. Amazon are already deploying technology for accent translation and this will only improve in time. Of course, it still relies on background data being accurate, but it is a must have for the future of search.
Where do you begin?
Whilst the advantages of NLP are clear to digital marketing, having a clear objective and strategy are fundamental. Digital agencies are specialised in coming up with such processes and ensuring the deliverables align to business goals. A digital agency can help implement the necessary technology, prepare the data and develop a strategy that suits your business. Finding the same specialist resource in your own business is often a challenge which is why employing a third party to do that is the favoured approach of most organisations.