Mari smith recap

Conversations 2019 Meet the Speakers: Mari Smith (Recap)

We know that Messenger can cut half the time out of your marketing efforts, and it can help close a deal quicker than most other forms of marketing. But do you know how to create an automated conversation without sounding too much like a bot? 

Mari Smith, often referred to as the Queen of Facebook, sits down with our Head of Marketing, Sid Suri, to discuss why to use Messenger automation and how to bring a more human element to your Messenger bot.

Meet the Speaker: Mari Smith

Mari was originally hired by Facebook to tour throughout the United States with the company, teaching business, and is currently working with Facebook on a new Blueprint certification program. In addition, Mari serves as a brand ambassador for many leading global companies. She is an expert webinar leader, dynamic live webcast host, author of The New Relationship Marketing and co-author of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day.

Wanting more tips and advice to grow your business? Come to Conversations 2019!

Show Notes

Mari Smith: I’ve been a big fan of ManyChat for several years since you have been pioneers in Messenger Marketing over the last couple of years. I’ve really, really enjoyed the journey that you’ve been on because it’s kind of an interesting arena. And now we’re eight months into 2019, and Mark Zuckerberg did this whole pivot earlier this year saying, “The future is private.” Because of this, they’re absolutely doubling down on Messenger Marketing, along with bringing in Instagram Direct and WhatsApp. We’ll predominantly talk about Messenger today, or just messaging automation. I know that in your experience as CMO of ManyChat, Sid, you’ve had a lot of different questions and conversations that come up around, “What is this whole thing with chatbots and AI and Messenger automation?” So let’s dive into our discussion here.

Sid Suri: Yeah, absolutely. You know, the Mark Zuckerberg F8 keynote was super, super exciting. I mean, as a Messenger Marketing company, I don’t think I could have written that keynote for him any better. If somebody had said, “Hey, could you write Mark’s keynote for F8”, I would have said, “Okay, the future of Facebook is messaging.” And that’s what he did; it was amazing!

MS: Exactly.

SS: For those of us who have been beating the Messenger drum, whether it’s WhatsApp or Instagram Direct, or, in the future, SMS and iMessage, for those of us who have been essentially saying, “The world is going to messaging, the world is already in messaging in many markets,” it was a great validation, and really just a great sign of things to come. So we’re super excited here at ManyChat. We’re going to continue building a great product and watching the excitement unfurl. 

MS: I agree.  F8 is Facebook’s Annual Developer Conference, and it’s held around April or May every year. As Sid is talking about, immediately following Zuck’s keynote, they brought up Asha Sharma, who’s now head of Messenger. And they’re doing all kinds of things with Messenger, they’re literally talking about rebuilding it from the ground up so it’s the world’s fastest, lightest messaging platform. They’re building what they call a social network around the messaging platform. So, marketers, pay attention: This is where it’s at. This is the future we’re going to be talking about right here. 

SS: Yeah, absolutely. And this is a great segue into our first question because I think the most common question we get is, “Hey, where is this Messenger thing going? Where is Messenger Marketing going? Should I invest in it?” You know, nobody asked those questions when email came around. Because I think email had just a very natural sort of translation to the mail that they always knew. I get mail, I send mail, I put it in the post office, it takes three days to get there. But whatever, I’m familiar with the concept. Now there’s email, it sort of flies over the wires and gets to somebody instantly. So people didn’t question it as much. But with Messenger and Messenger Marketing, people are asking, “Hey, is this thing here to stay? What’s it all about? Where’s it going?” I would say that’s probably one of the biggest questions we see amongst people who are maybe not as familiar with it yet. And I’m just wondering, is that something you’re hearing in your community, and what would you say to that?

MS: Yeah, Sid. I think, honestly, it’s very early days. I know ManyChat’s been around for a few years, and you guys have a wealth of experience being the number one platform here. But the thing is,, there’s a big shakeout going on between consumers and businesses. Because those that are actually getting it right — the marketers, the businesses, the brands — they’ve got this really perfect balance between providing solutions, such as speedy realtime answers, via bots. And then incorporating the conversations element of it, bringing in the human beings as soon as necessary, as soon as the person is maybe needing a more complex answer or just wants to talk to a human. And I think that’s the downfall for marketers (and we’re going to get into this in a little bit) but they maybe treat Messenger like, “Oh great, I have another channel that I can just push my masses through.” And I tell you what, the subscribers will unsubscribe in a heartbeat if we overdo that.

To your question of where’s Messenger Marketing going, to really anchor this point that Zuckerberg is making, this mantra, beating his drum of “The future is private”: Just yesterday we saw that Facebook is now going to be bringing in Instagram Direct to the Messenger platform. This was already announced in the beginning of the year with that whole interoperability. (For folks that don’t know what that is, it’s basically if you prefer Messenger and you want to message someone who prefers Instagram or WhatsApp, it’s all intertwined, and you can message people on whatever app you want.) This is going to start happening very, very soon. This is it, this is the future right here. This privacy focused future that Zuck is building.

SS: Yeah, absolutely. I think the tagline he gave was “To move from the digital town square to the digital living room.”.

MS: Yes.

SS: I think that’s super exciting for marketers, because, on the one hand, anybody can go and get their microphone and start shouting in the town square or the digital town square. If you walk through the square in San Francisco, you’ll see a lot of shouting going on. But the digital living room is a really exciting concept because you are now essentially getting access to the very intimate, the very private sort of emotions and conversation that people have. And it’s not going to be for everybody. I don’t think every marketer with a bullhorn is going to be let in. But if you’ve got something valuable to offer, if you’ve got something that they care about, you actually have a much better forum if Zuckerberg’s vision is realized. So it’s super exciting from that standpoint.

MS: You know, what you’re reminding me of, Sid, here is in my book, which I wrote many years ago now, “The New Relationship Marketing,” relationship marketing as a term has been around since the 1980s. And that’s where it’s focused, on the long-term relationship of a customer, as opposed to traditional sales and marketing, which is more transactional focused: Close the deal, get the sale, move on. So the new part that I put in my book is this digital component. It is how we foster relationship marketing through digital transactions, through digital channels. And that’s the main key right there, how the marketers are really going to win the day. They’re not losing that human touch, but having that intimacy. If we’re now going into the living room, we’re going into the one-on-one communications within their mobile device. And I say, a messenger conversation is like having somebody’s cell phone number and being able to text message them because it’s that intimate.

SS: Exactly right. That’s exactly what it is. So building on that theme about intimacy and one-on-one conversations, what would be your vision for a great experience? If you could design the perfect marketing experience, what would it be?

MS: I’m so glad we’re going to talk about this, Sid, because, in all transparency, my friends, I am working out what ]Mari Smith’s brand of messaging looks like. And I’ve had a few different goes at it, and I am right there with a lot of folks who are saying, “Oh, how’s this really going to work? And in no way, I’m going to use it just for broadcasting.”

So my vision, and this is for me — everybody’s going to work out what’s good for their own brand — is a highly engaging, interactive to the nth degree. Fun, entertaining, even a little bit humorous. The idea that my audience would actually look forward to interacting with my bot, and they would come to Messenger and think, “I wonder what cool tips, ideas, hacks, breaking news, and fun stuff Marie has for me today.” Boop, boop, boop, “Oh, there she is!” And it’s like, they wouldn’t dream of unsubscribing now. That would be my vision for my brand. Of course, it’s going to be different for every company.

SS: Yeah, and I think that’s spot-on. And a lot of what you said is all about having some value to add.

And if you have something valuable to say, if you do your research on who your audience is and what they want to hear from you, then you’re going to have that great engagement, and you’re not going to get those unsubscribes. And I think everybody can learn from that, from what you’re probably already doing, right?

MS: Well, it’s interesting because what’s kind of been fodder for that vision is just listening and looking, and seeing what kinds of questions are people asking me.Whether it’s on Twitter, or Instagram, or Facebook, whether it’s private or public. There are so many areas where people want to maybe clarify some urban legends, some myths, and some information that’s going around that isn’t quite accurate about Facebook or the family of apps. Or that we get a lot of requests for technical issues and people being locked out, or they’re in Facebook jail or lost a password, or whatever it might be. A lot of tech support! They literally think I work for Facebook. So I know that I could handle a lot of that with a very well programmed chatbot, right? “If you’re looking for tech support, click here,” and I could give them all kinds of answers and solutions. But more importantly, like you were saying, is making sure that we’re dialoguing. We were talking about this in the green room, about dialoguing with the people who are your prospects, who are your customers. But still being nice, and giving value to those who will probably never be your customers. Like in my case, people looking for tech support, I can just provide as much as I can. Guide them, go over here to the Facebook help, and then you know, move on. 

SS: Sure. So you know, I get asked a lot from people, “Oh, what are you doing these days? Where are you working?” And I tell them, and a lot of people say, “Oh a chatbot. I don’t want to talk to a robot, I want to talk to a person.” And there are a lot of people that sort of get annoyed, or they have a mental resistance: “Well, could this thing really help me? Is it going to be able to answer my question?” Maybe they’ve had a bad experience in the past, but you know, all technology evolves. How do we win those people over? What would you say to the population out there that is just not ready to talk in a more automated way?

MS: I love this question, Sid. You’re right, because I know, behind the scenes, people will tell me that, “I subscribed to like half a dozen bots” and then they’re like, “It got overwhelming and I unsubscribed.”

And that’s fine, we’re still kind of in a testing ground as marketers and businesses. And I think one of the main keys, and I’ve heard this a lot, is the number one priority is to never pretend that it’s not a bot. Don’t pretend like it’s a real human because people will sniff that out in a nanosecond. It’s a set up for failure. So be realistic. 

Someone else I wanted to cite is … I just got back literally late last night, from speaking at the Impact Live event, and Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot, he was a speaker there as well. And what I loved about his talk, it’s like, oh my god everybody’s talking about disruption, disruption, disruption. And he’s like, “I think that word is like really overused, same as like machine learning and AI.” It’s like they get overused and watered down. But what Brian did, Halligan, CEO of HubSpot, he talked about experience disruption. And I put that in my notes for this particular conversation because what if we could disrupt the experience of people interacting through chatbots? Such that, as I mentioned earlier with my own vision for my bot which didn’t take a lot of programming, is to really have people feel elevated and joyful, and love interacting with the bot. And I just think that’s a real key takeaway there for marketers tuning in, is how can you just stand out and really put the focus on the end-user, on the prospect, the customer, as opposed to making it about you pushing your message out.

SS: I love that. Disrupt the experience. Did you think about that last night on your plane ride over? No rest for the weary, for Mari.

MS: I know, my body clock was like … I went to bed at 3:00 AM, oh my gosh. It is. I’m a warrior. You just do what you got to do.

SS: Well, we appreciate the warrior spirit. I love that. I love to disrupt the experience, I think that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. Where the experience until now has been a passive sort of blast. You know, I mean if you think about a website, right, it’s just sort of one-size-fits-all, it’s a blast experience. Emails are a blast experience, landing pages are a blast experience. And I think, I mean I’d love to get your thoughts on this, I think marketers have to some extent, maybe been a little aggressive with … Not aggressive, but they’ve been sort of, you know, they’ve taken what they know with email and landing pages, and they sort of put that into Messenger so it becomes this sort of one-size-fits-all. You know, let’s just blast stuff out like we used to do.

SS: And I know Facebook, recently, has sort of clamped down on this stuff a little bit. They’ve made, this might be getting a little technical, but I’ll be quick, what’s called subscription messaging. But the ability to send regular content to your customers, they’ve really clamped down on the rules around that, like who can do it, who can’t do it. And it just made it harder, because I think they’re trying to sort of push marketers away from this one-size-fits-all blasting. And you know, given that you’re sort of the guru a little bit on relationship marketing, I mean, what would your advice be to those folks? And do you feel like marketers have become too aggressive?

MS: Yeah, so I love this topic too, Sid. Because there’s a reason that Facebook really implemented that rule, I believe it was as of July 31st. And if you don’t know what we’re talking about here, friends, is you go into your Facebook page on desktop, go into your settings, look under messaging, and you’ll see there’s a place there to apply to get permission to send what are called subscription-based broadcasts. Now, that’s set up for, let’s say you have an astrology daily tip, or a weather app, or … Excuse me. Or something that would be non-promotional, you don’t have the permission from Facebook to actually just like, “hey sign up for my stuff.’ That’s actually the opposite of that, and that’s why, in essence, this rule is there.

Because the last thing that Facebook wants is to put anything in between the consumer, the users, the billion-plus, one and a half billion that use Messenger. And businesses, where there’s revenue there, and obviously there’s also commerce. There are conversations that can really help more businesses want to use these apps and platforms. And so, it’s kind of a delicate area to manage that relationship. So yes, go ahead and sign up for your subscription messages, but make sure that you use that very, very carefully.

The challenge here, with the aggressiveness, is I think that some marketers have come into the chatbot world and they’re treating chat messaging, messaging conversations or broadcast, just like email. And like you said earlier, Sid, that’s push marketing, it’s not an intimate experience. Email is not, it’s a little more input intimate than, you know, a public group chat because it’s just one-on-one. But it’s not interactive, it’s not two-way, it’s like, here, read my message. But the last thing we want to do is that.

So, I know Andrew Warner of Bot Academy, I think is a good friend of yours, ManyChat. And quoting Andrew here, he says, “Chat will eventually overtake email as the [crosstalk] most popular way for businesses to reach customers.” Which I think is brilliant! You know why, because it’s like we live in an instant gratification world, universe. People want short, simple. And I know that the Millennials and the Gen Zs — 21 and under — they don’t even bother setting up their voicemail. They are all about the short text, the short messages back and forth, emojis, you know? So as businesses, if we can adopt that kind of strategy, the more intimate and short way forward.

And I think, really, a way that people can get started here, Sid, is to start with a very simple bot. I was talking about earlier with my own audience: Study your inbox, your current Facebook page Messenger, and other areas. Maybe your Twitter DM, your Instagram DM, LinkedIn DM even, and look at what are the frequently asked questions? What is your audience, your community, your customer, what do they already want? Maybe for a certain type of business, they just want directions, and pricing, and product information. That’s super easy to program and set up. Maybe you have a more complicated business and people might want more in-depth discussions, which is where you’re going to go ahead and lead them down a path that will get them to talk to a human quicker. What do you think about that?

SS: Absolutely. And that’s something that we’ve always emphasized, that you sort of need this smart blend of automation and human.

You really can’t expect the automation side to be this big solve for everything. But at the same time, you’re never, as a small business, going to be able to scale if everything needs a conversation, right?

You don’t have a call center like those bigger companies, with a thousand people waiting to answer chats, or emails, or phone calls. So you need that sort of something that can sort of go back and forth. So you’re answering the questions that matter, and sort of automating the ones that are just building people up to the point where they need you. I think that’s spot on, that’s definitely something we preach. I do think that messaging will take over email much faster than we think it will. I mean, internally here at ManyChat, we don’t use any email, like almost nonexistent. I emailed you because we’re part of two different companies. But internally, 95%, 99% of my communication is on Slack, and it’s short messages, and it’s emojis, and it’s memes. And if 10 years ago you had told me the future of American business or corporate communication is memes, and emojis, and short messages, I would’ve said you’re crazy. If I showed this stuff to my dad he’d be like, “What are you guys doing over there? Get serious, this is not work.”

MS: That’s funny.

SS: And that’s inside of like … And you know, Slack, of course, one of the fastest-growing enterprise software companies of all time.

And that is taking over corporate messaging, taking over corporate communication. So the roadmap is already there, it’s a trail that’s already been tread on. And I think it’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when” this becomes the de facto way we talk to businesses. So I think we just all need to be prepared on how we’re going to facilitate those conversations for the best way possible.

MS: Agreed.

SS: I think you brought up a great point about humanizing and relationships. I think that’s maybe the next step. It’s not something I’ve thought a ton about, but, so I would love to hear your perspective. It feels like the next sort of step for marketers to up their game. From a sort of where we are today to sort of maybe ninja-level of Messenger Marketing.

MS: I love that, ninja level. Yeah, you know what’s interesting, Sid, I was really thinking about this. I really, in some ways I wish we could create a different name than bot, or chatbot, or even AI, or machine learning. Because it’s not even artificial, it’s programmed by humans. Okay, yeah, and then it can learn. But it’s like, remember the old — I’m dating myself here — but the old acronym GIGO,  garbage in, garbage out? But if you put good in, good out, right? So the poor human experience, if somebody’s not having an optimal experience through interacting with a chatbot, it’s not because of the bot. You know, don’t shoot the messenger, ha, ha, pun intended, right? But it’s actually the humans that have programmed it. Like we need to go, “Wait a minute, how can we put ourselves in our customer’s shoes,” as I say.

I really just mentioned “Conversational Marketing,” a terrific book, just came out, by David Cancel. And there is a part in there, he says, “You know what? The solution is simple, we let ourselves just go a little bit crazy, where we were all over and just obsessed with data and analytics and tracking every detail, that we forgot about the people we’re serving.” But the solution is simple, and this goes for Messenger Marketing as well, that we just need to get back to basics as marketers and salespeople. And we need to return to the core of what the buying process and the business process is, it’s a conversation, a conversation between buyer and seller. And that, I think, is one of the key takeaways here. It’s not about you being a marketer and pushing, that is so old school. It’s being an opening, being a context, being available for, “Hey Mr. Prospect, Mrs. Prospect, how can I serve you? What’s on your mind today? How can we solve your problems?”

“Oh yeah, actually what we offer does solve your problems, let’s help walk through that process.”

SS: Absolutely, I love that. So are there any examples out there, people who are doing this well? What’s the inspiration? What can we learn?

MS: So, oh my gosh, I honestly said, this is my goal, is to have a list of amazing chatbot examples. I’ve asked some of my community to submit some and really being in a shakeout. There’s one, I was trying to find his name, and I had subscribed to him some time ago. He does real estate leads, he does a really great job. We were talking offline a bit about, you had mentioned Pond’s Cream, about interacting with a bot and it’s like going to make a recommendation based on your skin type. I know Sephora cosmetics does a great job with, setting up a beauty consultation that’s on the kind of the brand level.

I want to give a shout-out to actually a couple of fellow speakers I believe, that are coming to the Conversations Conference, we’ll mention that in a minute, is Kelly Noble Mirabella and Carrie Gottschalk. They did a really great job of hopping in with real humans. I’ve interacted with both of their bots, excuse me … And within a few seconds they’re like, “Oh hey, it’s really me here.” And you know, I do my best to do the same, and sometimes with volume that can be challenging though. And I think that’s really the way of the future, especially if you’re a personality-based brand like myself.

But regardless of the size of your business, depending on how you want to scale, right, if messaging and Messenger, and we’re going to include Instagram Direct and WhatsApp in this conversation. If that’s for sure the future, which we already know it is, then where you’re going to have your sweet spot, is deploying a team which you can eventually grow, of very well-trained customer service agents. Or it could be our sales or marketing, they’re all fused together. They’re customer-facing and they really understand your brand values. And can interact, with forward-facing, interact with the audience, so the community.

SS: Awesome. Well, thank you for bringing up the conference. I think, yes, Kelly and Carrie are coming, but more importantly, you’re coming —

MS: I am!

SS: And delivering a keynote. So we’re super excited about that and we’re super excited that you’re able to fit us in, I know how busy you are. And you’re sort of traveling, and speaking, and learning, and writing, and Facebook Live-ing, and all the things. So we super appreciate it. The conference, just for the listeners, is in Austin, which is a wonderful and really fun city. September 13th through the 15th, and it’s all about Messenger Marketing. We’re going to be talking about Messenger Marketing, sort of big picture, where’s it going, strategies, tactics, case studies, all the way down from the big to the small, lots of speakers, yourself obviously. We’ve announced all of these speakers already online, but the first-day keynote, the closing keynote, sort of the celebrity keynote is going to be Randi Zuckerberg who happens to be the sister with another Zuckerberg folks might have heard about. She actually invented Facebook Live, which is kind of crazy.

MS: She did, that’s right.

SS: And she’s a really very vocal, very outspoken, sort of powerful woman in tech and media, and has done a great job with sort of evangelizing more responsible tech. So we’re super excited to have her. But yeah, it’s going to be a great time, and you know, you’re going to be delivering a keynote. And do you want to just tell people a little bit about what you’re going to talk about?

MS: I sure will. I just real quick shared … There’s Molly! I shared my screen right quick here, just to give folks a quick peek at the page and all of the great speakers that are coming. So I’m actually going to be talking about Facebook marketing in a changing world, and what marketers need to know. And so, we talked quite a bit today about Facebook’s, well Mark Zuckerberg’s, new mission of going private, going ephemeral, which means disappearing like stories, and going encrypted. Now there are some key executives who’ve actually left the company because they don’t buy into Zuckerberg’s vision, and those include Chris Cox, Chris Daniels’ former head of WhatsApp. Certainly, Kevin Systrom and his partner Mike, a co-founder of Instagram, and the two co-founders of WhatsApp. So, now this is normal usually in acquisitions, they go on, they’re going to create something else. But there’s definitely been some shaking up going on behind the scenes.

And so, how are we as marketers going to embrace this change and cope with or maximize, moreover optimize, a world without News Feed? Is News Feed really going away? What are all the features that will still be public-facing? How do we lean into this whole privacy aspect around messaging, but also groups and stories? Where does video and Facebook Live have their place? I will be talking about all of that, and dispelling myths, and making absolute clarity out of any confusion.

SS: I think that’s wonderful. I think that you have the kind of insight, and insider info, and access that I think a lot of people don’t have. And I was talking to one of our agent’s partners, and he was asking me, “Hey, what’s going on with Facebook? I can’t get even, you know, anyone out there on an email thread, let alone on a phone call.” So for them to have access through you and through others, to really understand, hey, what is going on with this company? What are they up to? What are they doing? There’s a lot of people that bet their sort of business on it, right?

MS: Yep.

SS: I mean this is their lives. They’ve bet their small business marketing, they’ve bet them, you know, they’re part of the … ManyChat’s one of them, we’re a sort of Facebook ecosystem company. And you know, people want to know what’s going on. So I think that’s so great that you’re choosing that as your topic.

MS: Thank you so much. Yeah, and it’s just like, I was just thinking there about how Instagram is hiding the likes, right? Or testing, testing hiding likes. And when we think about it, the engagement on stories is not public-facing. So it’s just like how they’re taking the same kind of feature, the same concept of private engagement from stories, and they’re applying it to public posts. And there are many reasons why they’re doing that, we can get into it a little bit in the conference. But it’s definitely a part of this whole “future is private.” So I’m really excited about it and I appreciate you having me. I did have a Mastermind that weekend and I decided to postpone it, rearrange it, I’m going to go in the spring so that I can specifically come to the Conversations Conference. And folks, you just go to conversationsconference.com, I will link you up with a special code, you can get a little bit of savings on your ticket there. I really look forward to seeing everybody there.

About Our Facebook Live Meet the Speakers Series

Each week Molly Mahoney hosts a LIVE interview with one of our Conversations 2019 speakers to give you the opportunity to meet them and learn their secrets to successful Messenger Marketing. It’s a way to ask questions that you might not be able to ask at the conference and discover more about what will be discussed at Conversations 2019.

Here are the details.

When: Thursday, 9 am PDT.

  1. Go to our Facebook page: ManyChat.
  2. Click on the Live announcement.
  3. Watch, learn, and ask questions.

And if you haven’t registered for Conversations 2019, do so before prices go up! Reserve your spot.

We’ll see you LIVE! #Conversations2019

Learn more about our other Conversations 2019 Speakers: