Marketing with Bots: The Pros & The Cons

If you’re the least bit techie, you’ve heard of companies successfully marketing with bots.

If you’re a more ‘analog’ small business owner, though, maybe not so much. But some are saying they’re the future of both lead generation through your website as well as customer service, so I want to share with you my greatest hopes and fears of businesses marketing with bots.

When I say ‘bots’ I’m referring to the increasingly popular automation tools that are emerging to make some tasks easy, fast, and require no human interaction. They’re typically built as automated chat tools, making it easier for website owners to engage visitors without having to hope those visitors complete your ‘Contact Us’ form.

Here’s a full definition from Recode on bots:

What is a bot? Recode

Marketing with bots, then, means the ways you put bots to work to multiple your marketing efforts as a small business owner, entrepreneur, or solopreneur. Here are a few links that provide some backup to this concept of marketing with bots.

So, what can you do right now with bots?

Regardless of the size of your company or the traffic to your website. you can use bots—chatbots in particular—to engage visitors on your website. As in, today. The technology and service providers already exist and they’re proven. And theoretically they’ll work even if you receive only 100 visitors to your site each month.

Here’s how that customer experience would work.

Visitors to your website click a simple little button somewhere on your website—usually floating in the right bottom corner—and start ‘talking’ with you. But it’s not you. You’ve setup a bot to initiate the conversation the same way you would if you were in front of them, giving them one or more questions to answer to understand what it is they’re hoping to accomplish. You can frame things the way you would with your personality, your jargon, everything.

As they answer, you can follow-up in that chat with more questions that have pre-written answers, and/or you can send them to specific pages on your website for them to learn more.

There are numerous services that can help you do this.

Some host the entire chat right there on your site. Most of them that offer this sort of chat offer additional features beyond chat. Check out Drift first and foremost—they’re absolutely the leader in this category. They’ve got a product/feature called LeadBot that qualifies visitors in exactly this way, without you having to create a ‘lead score’ or require site visitors to fill out a form.

Some of these tools, meanwhile, integrate with Facebook’s Messenger tool instead, which has its own pros and cons (real quick: a pro for you is that you get to know who they are through their Facebook profile; a con is that although you’re engaging them and can always send them back to your website, they’re now off of your website to participate in that Messenger-based chat).

There are many providers in the Facebook Messenger bot arena. Two I’m keeping an eye on are ManyChat and Chatfuel. They seem poised to help non-coder entrepreneurs and solopreneurs quickly launch Messenger-based chatbots relatively pain-free.

This is different from the live chat you’ve probably encountered on other websites

You’ve probably experienced live chat on other websites. To look into your mobile phone bill, or your cable service, or whatever. You’ve chatted back and forth in real time with a customer service agent.

What’s different with chatbots is that you’re not interacting with a human live, in the moment. You’re interacting with a script that’s been setup (taught?) how to interact with people, asking them questions and providing links or answers, and in some cases interpreting vague requests.

My greatest hopes for marketing with bots

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My hope for businesses marketing with bots is that you really think through a real-world conversation with your prospects. How would you greet them, like a normal human being? That’s a different thing than what you might think to type as a greeting.

What would you ask them first? Would you aggressively ask them if they want a quote upon meeting them for the first time? Probably not.

Where would you steer them on your website if they want to know about your certifications, or read some testimonials, or have a question about colors, price, availability, etc.? Plan out that interaction.

What would you ask them as a second step? What would you need to know to determine how urgent their situation is? How would you balance your desire to see if they’re an ideal potential client or a bad fit, while also diplomatically giving them the information they need?

My hope is that even those of you who own the ‘analog’ companies out there—heating and air conditioning contractors, landscapers, attorneys, plumbers, consultants, restaurants, you name it—will test out how bots can multiple your marketing efforts.

But I do have some fears.

My greatest fears for marketing with bots

via GIPHY

Surely you’ve had to call Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or DirecTV. At some point in time, you’ve had to call a customer service line to troubleshoot an issue or clarify your billing.

You dial the toll-free number, hear one ring, and then KABLAM! you’re greeted with an automated attendant who you think is going to give you some numeric options to choose from to route your call. “Press 1 to talk to sales, Press 2 to talk to billing…”

Instead of those options, however, the attendant asks you questions. “Please state your 16-digit account number, or enter it on your keypad.” If you’re like me, you’re instantly irritable, but you’ve given it a go to state that account number. Often it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

You’re instantly irritable because many automated attendants will ultimately ask you a question that it cannot interpret for an answer, leaving you frustrated and the company with a shiny, new, at-risk customer.

So, in short, my greatest fear is that these bots are used to simply duplicate what we already have too much of:

  • Impersonal communications that lead to breakdowns
  • Overly aggressive communications that lead to frustration

My fear is we use these as a poor substitute for human interaction, not an extension of it.

Having said all that, here’s what I’m seeing with using bots for marketing

My opinions aside, what I’m seeing from those who incorporate chatbots with their marketing efforts is a multiplication of their sales efforts. I’m learning of companies generating more leads without any intervention from their sales team. I’m reading of companies and thought leaders who talk of abandoning forms entirely in order to generate leads.

All this seems counterintuitive, but it’s the wave of the future. The less we like speaking to each other over the phone, the more we’re going to see bots taking up the task to engage us.

What do you think about marketing with bots? Are you testing it out? Looking ahead to incorporating them already? A little skittish?

(Photo courtesy of Gabriel White via Flickr. He has done some tremendous photography around the world. Please check him out.)

CEOs with Personal Websites: 5 Examples to Follow

Most CEOs and small business owners don’t have personal websites.

And yet, there are numerous examples of forward-thinking business leaders who have turned their own personal brands into business builders, starting with a personal website, but extending to other platforms from there.

In many cases, people have used their personal website as an online resume or portfolio showcase. Artists, graphic designers, web designers, freelance writers, authors—these are the obvious specialists who we all see building personal websites to present their work.

But what about CEOs? Small business owners? Even entrepreneurs? Sometimes they are the very face of their companies’ businesses. They have opinions, perspectives, worldviews, and they even have their own personal brands whether they see it that way or not. But again, no personal website to feature themselves.

Finding CEOs with personal websites is hard

It’s very difficult to find CEOs who have their own websites. If you know of any, let me know in the comments, through my contact form, or via Twitter.

So what I’ve chosen to do here is highlight 5 CEOs or founders who set great examples with their personal websites, but attack it in different ways.

There are interesting lessons found in each person’s approach to branding themselves. And as I’ve said before, by virtue of them creating a brand that’s distinct from their companies, they’ve established their own personal marketing platforms as well.

I’ve already highlighted three individuals who have done a tremendous job in establishing a personal marketing platform on top of their personal brand. See my articles on Joseph Ranseth, Rebekah Radice, and Phil Gerbyshak.

But let’s get to those CEOs and founders.

1. Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk, Personal Marketing Platform

You had to know I would lead with GaryVee. His site is all about Gary. He’s the CEO of VaynerMedia. He builds businesses. He’s written best-selling books. He’s the focal point of an online documentary called DailyVee. He sells clothing encouraging you to hustle. He has his own newsletter, separate from his companies.

His site tells you all of this. The thing is, Gary evangelizes people doing all they can to put themselves out there—and exemplifies it to the nth degree. He once said, “Watch what I do, not what I say.” Well, this is what he does: He markets Gary Vaynerchuk. It’s no wonder that brands flock to VaynerMedia to learn his voodoo.

No doubt, Gary has wisdom to share, and he does so freely across numerous channels. But what most won’t duplicate that he does well? Market their CEO like he markets himself.

Gary may be far beyond what you feel you could ever do to market yourself, and therefore your company. But watch him enough to see how he puts his personality on the frontlines every day, never afraid who he might turn off. His brashness, his curiosity, his hustle, his personality, all attract people and brands to him.

2. Josh James

Josh James, Personal Marketing Platform

This one you didn’t expect. Josh James is the founder and CEO of Domo. He’s far more understated that Gary Vaynerchuk, needless to say. But make no mistake, Josh wants you to know who he is, what’s important to him, and how he contributes to various communities.

While Josh doesn’t update his blog much, you get a good feel for who he is in other ways. His About page is helpful here, but there’s much more depth with his Startup Rules. There are 56 of them in all. Each thoughtfully displayed and branded. Here’s an example:

Josh James Startup Rules

Some of these rules might be interesting to spark conversations with the CEOs of potential clients, should they stumble across them. Others might be intriguing ways to attract employees. However you view them, they’re a really interesting way Josh has branded himself.

I also like that Josh pulls no punches with what he shares on Twitter. Some may be slightly alienated by it, others will embrace it. He is himself.

When you know who you are and what you stand for, you can be exactly that. Boldly. Unapologetically. It doesn’t give you a license to run roughshod over people, obviously, but it can be liberating in terms of how you work with and attract business opportunities.

3. Andrew Warner

Andrew Warner, Personal Marketing Platform

Andrew is the founder of Mixergy. It’s funny how social media works. Both Mixergy and Andrew have Twitter accounts. Mixergy is at the hub of most of his conversations with his personal Twitter account, but sprinkled in are some retweets and shares of others’ content.

Clearly, people like what Andrew, the person, has to say, almost as much as the Mixergy brand— which, for all intents and purposes, is just Andrew. At the time I write this, there are 48K Mixergy followers, 38K Andrew followers. The point here is that most people see Mixergy and Andrew Warner as synonymous. But people seek him out almost on-par with his company brand.

As for his personal website, Andrew keeps it pretty lean and clean, but professional. Great, approachable photo for the home page. You can see he’s available for speaking (Side note: Hey, small business owners. Do you make yourself available for speaking engagements, with the wisdom you’ve amassed over the years?). You can see a cute snapshot of him with his wife and baby on his Press Kit page.

This site is a great example of how most small business owners can get started with developing their personal brand and yet use it as a personal marketing platform. You can navigate right over to the Mixergy site from Andrew’s site. Very simple, very easy.

4. David Cancel

David Cancel, Personal Marketing Platform

David is the founder and CEO of Drift. He’s also the former Chief Product Officer at HubSpot. Drift is hot right now. But beyond the product’s capabilities, which are impressive, I’ve found how David markets himself, and his company, to be exemplary.

Though David’s website is no great shakes—it’s a true example of minimalist personal websites—it’s the other things he does that demonstrate the power of having a personal marketing platform, not just a personal brand. To wit:

David has a tremendous following on Twitter, with over 140K followers, and he doesn’t take it for granted. He uses Twitter powerfully with professional wisdom and life tidbits as well. And he gets great engagement.

He podcasts with his Drift Director of Marketing, Dave Gerhardt. The Seeking Wisdom podcast is very popular, with dozens of 5-star reviews.

He not only maintains his personal website and newsletter, he keeps regular blog going at Medium, with strong opinions on how he leads his company and other topics.

He wrote a book titled Hypergrowth for SaaS startup companies—and gives it away for free.

He wrote an extensive ebook titled Burn Down: A Better Way to Build Products for the same audience—and gives it away for free.

Word on the street is that he his heavily active in the Boston business community, giving back freely with lessons learned. I’m only scratching the surface of what David does personally, because you can learn a lot of lessons about his approach to marketing by following Drift as well.

David is himself a masterclass in managing a personal marketing platform.

5. David S. Rose

David S. Rose, Personal Marketing Platform

David is the CEO of Gust. He’s got a pretty straightforward personal website, with all the things you’d expect to see there. The About page, Media, an extensive bio, links to his contacts for speaking engagements and so on. It’s not groundbreaking, but it is a good model to look at.

David is the author of several books on startup companies, including The Startup Checklist, Angel Investing: The Gust Guide to Making Money and Having Fun Investing in Startups, and others. These aren’t free ebooks. They’re popular, published books you can buy through numerous outlets.

And that second one should raise your eyebrow. What a genius personal marketing idea to incorporate your company’s name and approach to doing things into a book that you sell on Amazon and in book stores. Brilliant. And they’re highly rated, with dozens of reviews.

But there’s a hidden gem in that main menu of his personal website that I want you to see, because it’s an intriguing ingredient in his secret sauce:

David S Rose Quora

David is active on Quora. Let me restate that. David has written over 6,300 answers to questions on Quora. (Insert record scratch here.) Yes, over 6,300 answers at the time I write this.

He has answered questions about the best books on entrepreneurship, on investing, the minimum table stakes for being an angel investor, whether you’re personally liable for a loan when your company declares bankruptcy, the best ramen in NYC, whether Bohemian Rhapsody is the greatest song ever. He has covered it all.

Quora is its own topic for another day, because it’s been a tremendous personal marketing platform for others I know. For now, let it sink in that David, and his business, therefore, have likely garnered hundreds of thousands of views from his personal marketing work at Quora. Possibly into the millions.

Did I mention it’s free to participate on Quora?

Summary

If these five examples haven’t proven to you the value of building a personal marketing platform, along with the others I’ve mentioned, I don’t know what to tell you. CEOs and founders, you can build your business through who you are, not just through how you market your business. Yours can be your quiet little side project that you work on in stealth, or it can be the core of your marketing approach.

The Personal Brand of Joseph Ranseth, Vine Strategy

Today I take a look at the personal brand of Joseph Ranseth.

I’ve done this now with Joseph, Rebekah Radice, and Phil Gerbyshak. And there are more to come. It’s a pretty fascinating thing to analyze—how a leader makes use of their personal brand to further the growth of their company. I call this building a personal marketing platform.

It’s a common thing to see in the real estate industry. We all think it’s a common thing elsewhere because the idea of building a personal brand has been around for a good 20 years. But actively managing your personal brand in order to generate real leads for your business? That’s a much more active approach that some people are doing a super job with.

First, let’s review the 8 points that determine an effective personal marketing platform

  1. You have a company you work for or lead that has a separate name, brand, and web presence.
  2. You have one main hub that you own and control where your target audience can find you.
  3. You have social outposts where you authentically engage a community through sharing ideas and content—not simply linking people to your special offers.
  4. You have at least one big idea that you offer the world, that is free.
  5. You are known for a distinctive service that also provides value, which is not free.
  6. You have a personality that is clear, beyond the company you work for.
  7. You have a thoughtful manner in which you ‘funnel’ your audience into followers and, later, customers.
  8. You show up consistently and consciously.

Add Joseph to the list of folks doing this very well.

1. You have a company you work for or lead that has a separate name, brand, and web presence

Joseph is the founder of Vine Multimedia, which recently rebranded itself as Vine Strategy, out of Winnipeg, Alberta, Canada. Vine is a firm that builds branding and marketing strategies, websites, and social media campaigns. With the rebrand to Vine Strategy, the company has a greater focus on helping purpose-driven, non-profit organizations. The call to action: Start a movement.

Joseph also is the organizer and host of the Global Influence Summit.

But Joseph has his own website, a popular Twitter profile, an equally popular public Facebook page. He has contributed to the Forbes Coaches Council as well as spoken at TedxManitoba. Here he is in action:

2. You have one main hub that you own and control where your target audience can find you

Much like Rebekah, Joseph’s personal website is a powerhouse. It clearly articulates what Joseph is all about, personally—what he offers the world, with no reference to Vine.

When you consider what his value proposition is here…

Simple, every day acts – our jobs, family duties, etc – can create significant results when driven by a powerful purpose. Find yours, and get ready to Take Your Message To The World™ today!

…it’s brilliant. That’s a highly personal offer to the world. He’s not talking about how your organization can fulfill its purpose or how you can reach more prospects or persuade more readers or any such thing. It’s about you taking your message to the world when you find your purpose.

Yes, the Vine Strategy website can and does get this same message across with compelling home page imagery and copy. But Joseph is the catalyst.

(Side note: If you Google “Joseph Ranseth” his home page is the first thing that comes up. Not a social network profile, to my point in a recent post on personal websites.)

3. You have social outposts where you authentically engage a community through sharing ideas and content—not simply linking people to your special offers

The key with this element of personal marketing is that you’re not solely using your personally-branded social profiles to promote your content, books, speaking engagements, online course, etc. You’re using them to engage.

4. You have at least one big idea that you offer the world, that is free

Joseph offers his Take Your Message To The World™ Blueprint for free. It’s a nice and tidy, nine-page ebook that outlines the how and why to apply the same three steps Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King used to change the world.

Joseph Ranseth Blueprint

While Joseph doesn’t update his blog nearly as frequently as I think he should, given the power of his message, that blueprint has an evergreen quality to it that make his website a solid personal marketing platform for him.

Joseph also makes periodic appearances on podcasts to promote his message.

5. You are known for a distinctive service that also provides value, which is not free

This is clear on his personal website. Joseph’s primary call to action there is to Start a Movement and count on him for coaching. After you read a bit about what coaching entails, you can then book a strategy session with Joseph. The only reference to Vine Strategy at this point is a non-linked mention on his Meet Joseph page.

But here’s the thing about that. If you’re going to book Joseph for a coaching session or a speaking engagement, you’re going to know about Vine Strategy. And take a look at just how aligned his personal marketing message is with his agency’s offering:

Vine Strategy

Perfectly aligned.

6. You have a personality that is clear, beyond the company you work for

Sincere, authentic, thoughtful, humble, and purposeful. Those are words I would use to describe Joseph, and I don’t even know him personally. He does an outstanding job of being who he is, as demonstrated through his public posting on social, his speaking, and his appearances on podcasts.

I took my kids to see the #MMIW monument this afternoon. May we never have need to build another…

A post shared by Joseph Ranseth (@josephranseth) on

7. You have a thoughtful manner in which you ‘funnel’ your audience into followers and, later, customers

I touched on his Take Your Message To The World™ Blueprint earlier. It’s not just an email gate to add people to a Mailchimp list, though it does that. Joseph uses Click Funnels connected to personal list on Mailchimp (not the Vine list), in order to build his following via email.

I like the softer touch here. Maybe you have a message you want to take to the world, but you’re not really ready to build a marketing strategy—let alone a website—to evangelize it. Following Joseph’s guidance privately or even working through a one-on-one session with him might be something you are willing to do for now, however.

If that message is a key element of a greater, non-profit cause, you’re absolutely going to turn to Joseph and his team to build the campaign around that message and cause.

8. You show up consistently and consciously

What I like about Joseph’s use of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook is that they’ve got a gentle pace to them. He doesn’t hit you over the head with posts. But he’s there, consistently, throughout the day, sharing tidbits that are both thoughtful and powerful.

Sometimes they are others’ posts and quotes, often they are his own. Rarely do they include a link that you now have to click through to read the rest. Not only as that last part rare, it’s a mindful way of staying engaged with social followers right there within the social channel.

There are many great lessons from how Joseph Ranseth is managing his personal brand, turning it into a genuine and authentic personal marketing platform.

If there are others you respect who seem to have their own personal brand, like Joseph, Rebekah, and Phil, run them through my eight-point checklist to see how they measure up. I’d also love to hear who you have in mind in the comments.

For more on the process, read this post and this one.

Kill the Personal Website? No Way

LinkedIn Sidebar

Should you kill your personal website?

Rachel Kaser of The Next Web answers this question with a yes, then gives the worst possible explanation as to the reasons why she answered that way, including convoluting the reasons why she issued her proclamation to kill the personal website in the first place.

It makes no sense.

Let me paraphrase her article for you: Social media sites exist. They compete for online readers’ attention. Because social media sites exist and offer so many ways to feature every angle of your life, you should kill your personal website.

Well, it’s a great way to “create a complete picture of yourself” if you’re a professional or an avid amateur. And you should be commended if you do this, but wait, it’s not, because social media can do everything you want.

Confused yet? She somehow arrived at the conclusion that yes, you should kill your personal website, but then argues that it’s commendable if you want to keep it. Then goes back to telling you, for example if you’re a professional photographer, that you should rely on Facebook and Instagram alone.

I suppose if her goal was to simply be contrarian in order to gain views and comments, she succeed. There are 73 comments at the time I write this, and an overwhelming majority of them disagree with her. As a side note, if you’re at all like me, you come to expect a certain amount of thorough thinking to go into the writing found at high-traffic websites. And then you run across ones like this.

In Kaser’s mind, because Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, and Tumblr exist, you should throw in the towel and let them dictate if and when you’re found, and how it’s presented to the rest of the world.

Do not kill your personal website. And if you haven’t created one yet, start planning it now

I have three reasons why you should start planning your personal website. Any single one of these should be reason enough.

Don’t give in to flimsy recommendations that offer no depth.

Reason #1 for why you need a personal website: The rules change

This alone is reason enough. All three of the major social networks Kaser recommends you rely on instead of creating your own personal website are driven by algorithms. If you want to make sure you see the content that everyone you follow puts out, you’d literally have to visit their individual pages and comb through them.

So, whether you see the entirety of others’ content, even if you follow them, is out of their control as the content creators, unless they publish so frequently that the algorithm is overrun, or unless you engage with them so frequently that the algorithm detects this.

So if we flip this around, that means the people who follow you will not always see the content you put out, it’s entirely out of your control. The only way you can be more certain they’ll see it is if you buy advertising and target them.

Fact: Facebook’s algorithmically curated News Feed decides which of the ‘status updates’ a Facebook user sees from his or her friends.”

As AJ Agrawal put it in 2016:

Unfortunately, Facebook alters its algorithms all the time, making this a constant race between marketers and everyone else. Right now, these are the main factors that influence this algorithm, and whether you appear on someone’s newsfeed:

  • How often have you interacted with this type of post?
  • How often have you and everyone else hidden this type of post?
  • The level of engagement that page and post has received.
  • The performance of each post among users that have already viewed it.

If you want more insight on this for Instagram, still the hottest social platform, go read this article on how to beat the Instagram algorithm here.

The rules change. You’re not in charge of the rules at these other networks in any way because the platform makers set the rules of engagement. And the rules favor the aggressive business account-holders that pay to play.

You don’t own your own content, really. 

Even Medium, a free-to-publish platform for all, has changed its rules substantially in the last year.

Numerous, well-funded or well-trafficked online publications like The Ringer, Think Progress, Film School Rejects, Backchannel and others have recently moved away from Medium because the rules changed.

If they’re willing to change the rules for companies they could earn revenue from and/or share revenue with, without real warning, they’re unlikely to be a destination you should put all your hopes and dreams in.

Free platforms are great until they need you to make them money.

Reason #1 for why you need a personal website: Control the message

This reason is similar to reason #1 but stands on its own. With any of these platforms you can choose what you say about yourself for your profile. But you have to follow the network’s parameters. There are limitations in what you say, how you structure it, and where it’s placed. For instance, on Twitter, your profile is no more than a two-sentence summary.

Further, even your profile image and cover photo have to be set at certain dimensions. And you can select (Twitter calls it “pinning”) one single tweet that sets the tone for and represents what you like to talk about—one single tweet! What’s that you say, you sometimes like to talk about numerous topics? Choose that pinned tweet wisely then.

At your own personal website, someone may arrive by virtue of an article you wrote. You can control the entire experience. You can control the header. The call to action after they’ve read that article. The sidebars. The font. The mobile-friendliness of the website. What distractions (or lack of distractions) they face.

You are in complete control. You own the experience.

What will the reader who discovers you or seeks you out on LinkedIn or Twitter see?

They’ll see countless other distractions.

On Twitter they’ll see a list of others to follow and trends specifically chosen for them to explore.

On LinkedIn, they’ll similarly see other profiles to consider previewing and Lynda training courses they could take, as well as ads of course.

A million distractions.

Instagram is the only network where, when people visit your actual profile, they’ll almost exclusively see your content.

Reason #3 for why you need a personal website: Differentiation

Every LinkedIn profile is structured the same way. Every Twitter profile. Every personal Facebook page. And every Instagram profile. They’re all the same look and feel for a reason.

With your own personal website, you set the terms for how you’re branded. Your design, your layout, your colors, and more. Want to launch a video at the moment someone arrives on your home page? Do it.

Want to provide a handy list of frequently-asked questions on your sidebar? Go for it.

Want to give site visitors just three choices of where to go next, your About page, your Speaking page, and your Contact page? Sure, it’s in your hands. Do what you like.

The terms for differentiating yourself from any other CEO, professional speaker, freelancer, salesperson, job candidate, photographer, videographer, artist, ANYTHING, are yours to set.

Summary

It makes no sense to discourage people from creating a personal website and instead rely on the ever-changing landscape of social media networks and profile pages. If you have any need to control what’s said about you, launching and managing your own personal website is the way to go.

We didn’t even address the search engine optimization benefits of doing this, but those are just as crucial.

It’s 2017. Own your message.