Forget Chatbots and AI and get Localization Right

Written for MarTech Advisors.

Mike BrownCEO of FISION explains, as companies pour money into high priced technologies like Chatbots and AI, it’s important for brands to recognize that there are often lower hanging opportunities to better engage with customers by localizing brand content

Chatbots and AI are getting a lot of hype in marketing technology circles these days, but as many brands try to test out the newest technologies, they’re missing the opportunity to really connect with customers in a far simpler way: by improving their localization.

I had the chance recently to rent a car abroad and it was a textbook example of terrible localization. I used credit card points to pay for it, and when I went to pick up the car, they asked about buying insurance. They mentioned that if my card normally covers it, BUT it was booked via points, they may not cover it now.

I love that most major credit cards have an international number on the back. As soon as I called my card provider using that number, they instantly had me on the line with an operator, not navigating some phone tree in a different country. An example of great localization – catering their services to the needs of the customer based on where is he his and the context in which he is interacting with the brand.

But they had no idea whether my card would cover the insurance because it was an international rental.

“Surely this is a fairly common question?”

“You’d think” said the operator, before putting me on hold, passing me between three supervisors, and wasting my time, only to finally come back with an answer.

My bank apparently has an army of developers working on artificial intelligence and bots…but they couldn’t localize a simple customer question.

For years, I helped Life Time Fitness, the premier health club in the US, open and remodel massive health clubs. We’d pour millions of dollars into creating what we called the “third space” – a spot away from the home or the office where our clients would feel as comfortable as humanly possible. We’d obsess over the details, making sure everything from the tiling to the uniforms of our employees was absolutely perfect. And while we had many of these clubs around the US, brand consistency was very important to us.

Right after a new club was opened, almost without fail, there would be some event or issue that would pop up that would require a sales or marketing rep to design a piece of collateral on the fly. They’d want to announce an impromptu class or inform our members that the pool was currently closed for cleaning. So they’d go grab a piece of notebook paper, a sharpie marker, and they’d make a sign and duct tape it to the door or a bulletin board.

$60M in renovations, and we’re using sharpies and notebook paper to communicate with our customers.

Today, you’re hard-pressed to go to the website of a startup and not be inundated with a chat popup asking if you have any questions or if some non-existent sales rep can help you learn more about whatever kickstarter project the company is working on. I can talk to a brand through a thousand channels, and many of the biggest companies in the world are focused on ways to use artificial intelligence to make their marketing smarter than humanly possible. Still, I feel most connected with a brand not by having a thousand ways to contact them, but when I see an advertisement or a piece of marketing that feels like they made the effort to create it just for me.

In 2013, Coca-Cola launched the “Share a Coke” campaign. If you’ve seen a coke bottle with your name on it, you’ve seen what they’re up to. Since launching the campaign, they’ve put over 500,000 different names on cans and bottles of coke. The campaign has been featured in 70 countries and almost as many languages, racking up 700,000 posts on instagram and exponentially more tweets. More recently, they went and created 1,000 songs with 1,000 different names to further connect with customers. By using the simple power of a name, Coke was able to connect with hundreds of millions of customers, in their own languages, all around the world.

Similarly, AirBnb launched a campaign to “rid the world of strangers” called #OneLessStranger. Their entire business is built on providing local experiences, so in an effort to allow their customers to connect Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s CEO, gifted one million dollars in the form of ten dollars into the accounts of 100,000 people in the Airbnb community. He urged them to put this donation towards committing one act of hospitality for a stranger, document it, and upload that to social media with the hashtag #OneLessStranger.

In three weeks, 3 million engagements and interactions happened around the campaign. In English, “stranger” means something we all understand. In a language like German, it’s closer to “foreigner”, and it doesn’t have the same effect – so they worked to make sure that the message was translated across multiple languages in such a way that anyone receiving $10 or interacting with the campaign would immediately understand it in their native tongue.

While technology has completely changed the way we’re marketing, as we look towards what the future will look like, as marketers we must focus on ways to create experiences for our customers that cater to who they are and the contexts in which they live and work. Say their name, speak to them in their language, and answer the right question at the right time, embrace the technology that makes that really simple, and you might just have a customer for life.