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A Digital Conversation is a scripted dialogue (in other words it is dialogue written by a human, just like the script of a movie) which takes place between a person and a computer via any digital medium from web browsers and PDAs to mobile phones and Interactive television.
A Digital Conversation is scripted by a human, uploaded to a server where it can be accessed as a web service by other humans (consumers, employees etc.) and used to impart information to them, whether that information is advising them on the best camera to buy, helping them tailor make a credit card or engaging them in an interactive book.
A Digital Conversation can be undertaken simultaneously from multiple digital channels. In other words no matter what means you are using to access a Digital Conversation by, whether it's a browser or a mobile phone, you are calling the same Digital Conversation. This means that any changes made to a Digital Conversation are reflected across all channels immediately. This allows Digital Conversations to evolve.
Rather than throwing content at consumers, Digital Conversations are designed to engage them in a scripted conversation, to find out what they want and guide them to the outcome they desire. It is this Dialogue Marketing that many perceive as being the way forward, and Digital Conversations provide a solution to delivering this at scale. It moves away from a traditional one way stream of information with a consumers (offering every consumer the same choices) and moves towards a dialogue, finding out what it is they want and giving it to them. This movement is seen as essential by many:
"The past two years have witnessed the first examples of true two-way marketing conversations between customers and some of the world’s leading consumer brands. Driven by a confluence of innovation, competition and big shifts in consumer behaviour, the dialogue between brands and their customers is replacing the traditional marketing monologue"— The Future of Marketing: From Monologue to Dialogue The Economist, September 2006
"I think things are going to get infinitely more complex and the challenge is about taking things that are infinitely more complex and making them simpler and more understandable."
In the same New York Times article Robert M. Greenberg then states that he wants to "engage (consumers) in digital conversations that are so entertaining, involving and valuable that they won't want to ignore them." The key word here is "engage". Digital Conversations are created to be, in essence, human interactions and dialogue with one human removed. Unlike Bots and Avatars, Digital Conversations are scripted, and this may well lead to more human like interactions.
The Digital Conversation Bio-System
Digital Conversations consist of a four stage "bio-system":
Create - Consisting of the preliminary creation and refining of the Digital Conversation including its front end
Interact - Whereby consumers engage with the Digital Conversation
Understand - The usage data of every consumer engaged with a Conversation is automatically stored and aggregated and can be viewed quickly and easily
Adapt - This usage data may lead to changes to the Digital Conversation which are reflected in real time across all channels (as the Conversation is called from one source no matter what the medium accessing it).
Creation: Scripting a Digital Conversation
Each Digital Conversation is made up of a dialogue based script consisting of a narrative and choices with pathways that lead to Outcomes. It is the user, through their choices, who decides which pathway to follow. The script takes the form of a Decision-Tree and is the backbone of the Digital Conversation. Each Decision-Tree defines two or more Pathways. The end point of a Pathway is an Outcome or a loosely coupled Link to another Digital Conversation enabling longer Digital Conversation flows.
By embracing the concepts of Web 2.0 and allowing infinite numbers of Digital Conversations to be linked, this can allow hugely complex subjects to be tackled. One Digital Conversation written by an expert in Europe can be linked to an existing Digital Conversation written by an expert in Africa. This allows in theory, vast knowledge landscapes made up of components.
A Digital Conversation can contain good dialogue or bad dialogue. Good dialogue typically means the aggregated interaction of each Dialogue-Step is undertaken in less than 5 seconds. This means a person can read and understand a Dialogue-Step after one read through and wants to continue to the next Dialogue-Step.
Bad dialogue has the opposite effect. Unclear language, for example, can cause confusion and have an adverse effect on a user, worst-case scenario is when a user leaves a Digital Conversation in despair. Luckily thanks to the available Metrics, such problems can be spotted quickly (numerous users exiting on one particular step indicates an issue with that step) and acted upon, with the dialogue changed as and when needed.
So, the development of a good Digital Conversation which will engage users requires a combination of skills in particular:
>> Two-way communication
A Digital Conversation can be created for any scripted dialogue, thus it is suited for marketing, sales, support, practices, guides, policies, procedures and much more.
Interaction - Engaging with Consumers
Thanks to the nature of Digital Conversations (that they can be accessed across multiple channels from the same source) there are numerous ways to interact with them, whether by browser (see image to the left), mobile phone (see image above) or even through voice.
Due to the Web Service nature of Digital Conversations, the front ends designed to access them can be extremely diverse (see Links section for a number of examples) and thus are able to reflect branding needs or the needs of the user (for example large type for partially sighted users).
One of the exciting recent developments has been the use of Digital Conversations to drive Avatars.
Web 4.0 Avatar
One of the trends of recent years has been the humanising of digital channels, giving a face to things which are not human. This has led to the creation of avatars (also known as bots or chatter-bots) artificial intelligences with which users can “converse”. The success of such bots varies greatly, there are few which respond in a convincingly human way, it is no great mystery why they are commonly referred to as “Bots” often resulting in a stilted, mechanical interaction where straying off a recognized path can lead to poor responses . However, this has not stopped their spread across the commercial world with several high profile companies adopting them as part of their customer services. Avatars such as IKEA's Anna have generated interest both in the business community and among the public. The idea of an artificial intelligence able to respond in an intelligent manner to your questions is indeed an exciting one. However, do these bots really manage it? Or are they just human faced Avatars disguising a search engine beneath?
Web 2.0 Avatars, powered by Digital Conversations, provide a level of immersion not found in these bots. Why? Because Digital Conversations are scripted just like any good book or film. And like books and films they are designed to guide a user, through high quality dialogue and interactions, to an outcome. Along with this, the ability to understand user interactions through DecisionMetrics means that these Web 2.0 Avatars can be adapted to emergent demands as they appear. The dialogue can be improved and built up as and when needed.
High quality dialogue, clear concise options for a user to choose and a humanized avatar all combine to create an immersive experience, with the psychological appeal of interacting with a character or object .
The key to immersion and believability is high quality dialogue, and it is high quality dialogue that Digital Conversations has been created for.
Business in the Virtual World
The digitlisation of business has been underway for years now, but the desire to do something more, to truly engage customers is growing stronger and stronger... IBM have recently taken the initiative with this by creating a Virtual Business Centre in the Virtual World of Second Life which allows clients, partners and sales assistants to interact. It is areas like this that Digital Conversations might be put to use allowing users to interact with Avatars 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
Understanding: Measurement and Metrics
The automated recording of a Digital Conversation establishes the analytical science of interaction at scale. As a person interacts with a Digital Conversation Service each Dialogue-Step is recorded verbatim with a date and time step. Anonymous recording of consumers usage provides aggregated emergent patterns without infringing data privacy.
This measurement, providing the aggregated performance of each Dialogue-Step, Pathway and Outcome provides the scientific basis for Demand-Sensing allowing behavioral data to become quantifiable.
Adaptation: Evolving Dialogue
Once the usage data has been viewed and understood it may well be necessary to react by changing or amending the Digital Conversation.
- McDowall, Bob. "Dialogue Marketing: Part 2 - a solution". IT Analysis. Retrieved 2008-04-21.
- An Economist Intelligence Unit white paper, ed. (2006). The future of marketing From monologue to dialogue (PDF). The Economist. p. 2.
- O'Brien, Timothy L. (February 12, 2006). "Madison Avenue's 30-Second Spot Remover". New York Times.
- Schurter, Terry. "There really are new ways to approach old problems". IT Analysis. Retrieved 2008-04-21.
- "Service-Oriented Advertising Gets Attention". Online Publishing Insider. Retrieved 2008-04-21.[permanent dead link]
- The Economist Intelligence Unit. "From Monologue to Dialogue", The Economist, September 7, 2006. Accessed September 10, 2006
- Bob McDowall. "Dialogue Marketing: Part 2 - a solution", IT-Analysis.com, July 20, 2005. Accessed July 20, 2005
- Timothy L. O'Brien "Madison Avenue's 30-Second Spot Remover", New York Times, February 12, 2006. Accessed May 30, 2007
- Terry Schurter. "There really are new ways to approach old problems", IT-Analysis.com, May 22, 2006. Accessed May 22, 2006