Pizza Hut is one of many food companies rolling out chatbots. Source: Conversable

Restaurants, supermarkets and even TV food networks are taking the concept of multichannel marketing to new heights. Using technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP), companies ranging from Food Network, Whole Foods, Pizza Hut to Wingstop are using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook Messenger to connect with their customers.

Chatbots, an application that uses AI and NLP to fuel conversations between consumers and brands, attempt to replicate human-to-human interaction. This is done by offering the hungry masses access to recipes, cooking tips and even ordering of prepared food. NLP and AI translate the meaning of a user’s request and connect to a database of possible responses, or in the case of a food order, links to a provider’s ordering system. In theory, chatbot applications are “learning systems” which get smarter with each successive interaction between customer and brand. Over time, the application should be able to predict a user’s preferences to create an even more valuable experience. “I see you like vegan recipes,” the chatbot from your grocery store will suggest. “I have a new way to sprout chickpeas you might like.”

Chatbot are aimed at impatient millennials who are always on the hunt for instant gratification. Whether it’s ordering a pizza, or looking for ideas on how to create quick meals, connecting instantly through social media is a way for incumbent grocery and fast food chains to become more accessible and relevant to this younger target audience. Executed properly, chatbots have synergy with other marketing channels — television, internet video, and web-based ads. What used to be called omnichannel marketing takes on a new meaning when strong channels work in harmony to deliver measurable outcomes.

“We have very socially minded millennial customers,” Wingstop Chief Marketing Officer Flynn Dekker told Fortune in a June 2016 interview. He said today’s consumers are a more impatient society that doesn’t want to have to wait for their food. “We all want to cut the line. This technology allows people to cut the line,” he added.

“Consumers are looking for fast and easy ways to find recipes, and chat bots are just that—fast, and very easy to use,” Liesel Kipp, vice president of product management for Scripps Networks Interactive, the parent company of Food Network, told [a]listdaily in a Dec. 2016 interview. “Bots are another great way for us to deliver on the promise of Food Network being our user’s best friend in food.”

Austin-based Conversable has built the chatbots for Whole Foods, Wingstop, Viacom, Pizza Hut, and Victoria’s Secret. In a guest post with Venture Beat, co-founder Ben Lamm, provides some advice for companies looking at chatbots as a new channel to add to their marketing arsenal.

Answering a key question regarding what a client should look for as successful outcomes for deploying a chatbot, Lamm says, “Data, data, and more data. Once you’re live, you can collect invaluable data about the questions your customers ask, the features they want to see next, and so much more about their needs as they evolve over time.”

“Succeeding with bots is not rocket science,” adds Lamm, “A little common sense, a walk-before-you-run approach and some basic communication can get you from theory to production in less time, at dramatically lower costs, with tangible results to show for it that you can continue to build on and expand into more AI-driven experiences over time. That’s the value proposition bots were supposed to have all along, and it’s there for the taking if you have the discipline to capture it one step at a time with the right conversational intelligence behind it.”

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Allen Weiner is an Austin-based freelance writer focusing on applications of new technology in the areas of food, media and education. In his 17-year career as a vice president and analyst with Gartner, Inc., the world’s largest IT research and advisory firm, Allen was a frequent speaker at company and industry events as well as one of the most-quoted analysts in the area of new media. With an extensive background in publishing and publishing technology, Allen is noted as the founder of The Gate (sfgate.com), the nation’s first daily newspaper on the web. Born in Philadelphia, Allen is a graduate of Muhlenberg College and Temple University.

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