Bots continue to be one of the biggest growing mobile trends in 2016 and one of the pioneers supporting this technology has been Kik. There was no doubt in our mind that when launching Bot World 2016, this October 19-20, Kik had to be there. This week we have an exclusive interview with Bot World 2016 speaker and Director of Platform Services at Kik, Paul Gray.
First off can you tell us a little more about your position and role in the Company?
As director of platform services, I work with key partners (brands, developers and agencies) to help deliver compelling experiences to Kik users. These can make use of Kik’s chat platform, which includes our Bot Shop, and our advertising products, like Kik Points.
As Kik are one of the first brands to market with bot technology, to what extent do you feel the market is prepared for the technology?
Bots have been around forever, and Kik has been actively working in the space for several years. It’s great to see 2016 being hailed as the year of the bot, and we think there are a few trends feeding into this. In 2015, 1.4 billion people used a chat app, according to eMarketer. At the same time, people have stopped downloading new apps in large numbers. More than 70 percent of U.S. total smartphone app usage comes from just 200 apps, according to a June 2015 report by Nielsen. And a late 2014 study by Comscore found that that two-thirds of smartphone users downloaded zero apps in the last month. Bots provide a lower friction opportunity for people to try something new, and the space is certainly heating up.
Recently, there’s been a lot of hype around bots. We launched our Bot Shop in April, as did Facebook Messenger and a few others. There are good bots out there, but there aren’t any killer bots yet. People need to realize it’s still early days, and in the first versions of websites and apps, the first versions were also basic and eventually became rich experiences that permeated everyday life. We’ll get there, but it will take time.
To what extent will you place importance on utilizing bots?
Bots will be the way users access services on Kik. Right now, these bots are simple, but as the technology improves, we will start to see services similar to what's available on WeChat in China. On WeChat, users can shop, call a taxi, and do their banking, all through a chat app. It's yet to be seen what will happen in the U.S., but based on the emphasis so many companies are placing in this place, we see a bright future.
Do you believe that bots will eventually replace apps?
Apps haven’t completely replaced websites, so we don’t see bots totally replacing apps. We think bots will complement apps, but we also see great potential as there is much less friction in using a bot than using an App. To use an app you first have to find it (and we all know how bad discovery is in app stores) and then download, install, open, authenticate, log in, etc. just to get it going. Then, you need to learn how to use it. Every app has a different UX/UI and that is challenging for users. Ultimately, the app stores are mature markets and there are certainly some standout great apps. That said, it’s going to be very difficult for any new app to get traction. Bots provide a lighter, lower friction way to get people to use a service, and with increasing sophistication, we’ll see bots take an increasingly prominent place.
How important do you believe it is to Kik to always be using the newest technology in their marketing strategy and staying ahead of your competitors?
We don't build technology for the sake of innovating. We build products and features based on what our users want. Since our userbase is unique of other chat apps - teens and online communities - our feature set will be similar in some areas but different in others.
We view our demographic as a competitive advantage. Because we build for teens, we get to reimagine experiences for people who have their first touchpoint to the internet through a mobile phone, which is similar to Chinese consumers.
How do you see AI & bots fitting in with brands mobile marketing strategies in the future?
Right now it’s still early days for bots and AI. The bot hype of 2016 may have elevated expectations a little too far. We think it’s important that brands start out focused - try to make bots that are more specific in their focus. For example, talking to Yahoo Weather’s bot on Kik gives me weather info. I can find out what the conditions are going to be like in Orlando in August. I can’t then ask the bot to book me an outdoor restaurant there. I might need to go to a restaurant bot for that. Brands should always start with a product management approach - what is the need or want are you trying to solve for the customer. How can you deliver on that? Can a bot help and if so, how?
Can you explain what is meant with the term ‘Conversational Commerce’ within the Bots space and how important is this for big brands moving forward?
There’s a lot of talk about conversational commerce. On Kik, we’ve already seen brands like H&M and Sephora build strong bot experiences that help users browse and learn more about products through chat. Sephora aims to engage users by providing makeup tips, while H&M tries to recommend outfits based on seasons or different events like Coachella. Both companies have different goals, which is why the their experiences are different, yet both companies are looking to drive fun and engaging experiences that users will return to rather than drive immediate revenue.
Conversational commerce will come, but it’s still a ways away. Today, brands need to figure out how to build engaging experiences through bots first before even thinking about how to drive revenue streams through chat.
Kik have recently launched a bot store, can you tell us a bit more about this?
Kik has built an open platform, and we invite all developers to get started building bots. As such, we’ve built a Bot Shop that lets users browse and find bots that may be of interest to them, and a place for better bot discovery. Users can also find bots through mentioning a bot in a conversation (e.g., @vine) and through Kik Codes, Kik’s version of QR codes. We’ve seen great interest and now have more than 70 bots ranging from entertainment to gaming to lifestyle, and so far, we’ve received a lot of positive feedback on bot interactions.
Anyone can submit a bot to Kik’s bot store, why is this important to your marketing strategy?
Having an open platform allows for the greatest level of creativity and innovation, and we’re proud of the various bots currently showcased and what’s coming down the pipeline. Building a bot is actually really easy on Kik, and anyone can build a bot on Kik and share it with up to 50 friends. This has enabled more than 6,000 bots to be created on Kik.
To be featured in the Bot Shop, you must go through a more stringent process, which is why that number is much lower. We want to ensure all experiences through the Bot Shop are positive for users, and if your bot doesn’t meet our criteria, you won’t be admitted.
What other future trends do you see really impacting how brands engage with consumers?
Personalisation at scale is going to be a big evolution for brands. The promise of social media was a connection between a user and brand, but in practice, on social media users are really just following brands. I can see a great t-shirt shown on an Instagram account, but if that brand has millions of followers, it’s not practical for them to answer my questions. What if I want to know if they have that shirt in blue? Or a v-neck? What if I bought the shirt and it ripped a week later? Does the brand want me complaining publicly on their Instagram account? And then have to wait in hope that someone will reply? It’s much better if I can immediately chat with a brand and get an immediate response to answer my question.
Bots can also enhance offline experiences. For example, if I go into a retail store I can scan a code on a product and instantly chat with the brand’s bot to ask questions, get more info, or even place an order. Overtime, bots will get more sophisticated, and AI capabilities will improve - this will change how consumers interact with brands and the world around them and is going to be an exciting place for brands.
You’re speaking at the launch of Bot World 2016, what are the benefits of speaking here?
I’m looking at meeting people in the industry or who are interested in building bots. We see chat and bots are a big part of the tech future, and I’d love to meet other people who think the same.