Published in


Pablo Toledo

May 3, 2021

5 min read

Conversational Marketing & Web Accessibility: Trend Overview

Competitive marketing is all about asking the right questions, at the right time, but: Who’s being left out of the conversation?

In the last two decades, marketing has evolved past television commercials and magazine ads, and into social media posts, influencers, and omnichannel content marketing campaigns.

With the shift from traditional media to digital media and from outbound to inbound, marketing went from faceless corporations erecting billboards and composing radio jingles, to brands creating (and sometimes emulating) one-on-one interactions with customers.

This conversational approach to marketing has been reasonably named “Conversational Marketing”, and today, it mostly relies on chatbots, emails, voice-commanded devices, and strategically implemented messaging platforms.

In this post, we’ll take a look at conversational marketing, how and why it works, and how it often fails to engage disabled users. We’ll also explore the technical barriers that stand between conversational marketing efforts and functionally diverse people. Finally, we’ll share some key accessibility recommendations.

Why & How Conversational Marketing Works

Drift’s 2020 State of Conversational Marketing report unveils a competitive digital landscape where personalization is a base customer expectation.

According to Drift’s 2020 State of Conversational Marketing report, when navigating a company website:

  • 53.2% of customers see themselves bombarded by irrelevant targeted ads and emails.
  • 35.3% find digital services noticeably impersonal.
  • 34% of customers are frustrated by the inability to get answers to simple questions.
  • 29% have had to interact with a brand through repetitive online forms.

2020 accelerated a shift towards the digital. With brands and businesses engaging customers through exclusively digital means, personalization has become a key differentiator.

Conversational marketing consists of addressing all the aforementioned customer frustrations by engaging in representative-driven or automated conversations.

As we hinted in the introduction, beginning to implement conversational marketing can be as simple as installing a chatbot or a Whatsapp button on your website. But not all chatbots are created equal. A poor quality AI can be as frustrating to a user as series of long and repetitive contact forms. But, when implemented intelligently, conversational marketing can help us better understand our customer’s journey and preferences.

In a sense, a chatbot can both be a customer support asset and a constantly functioning user research tool.

Conversational marketing is quite effective in attracting or keeping clients within our reach. But sometimes, those potential clients have physical or mental impairments that make it difficult for them to access this type of experience. For instance, it’s not uncommon for chatbots (which are often inserted into a website as embedded iFrames) to lack support for the visually impaired.

Some Common Web Accessibility Challenges

Screen readers come with every major mobile operating system and are easily available in web browsers. Though simple, captioning our videos or other audiovisual content can greatly improve the experience of those with hearing difficulties. And last, but not least, a good experience, in general, can be delivered by picking a color palette that isn’t taxing on the readers’ eyes.

Nonetheless, not everything is handed to us, current screen readers for phones and web browsers might behave a little hostile towards iframes, the current web artifact used to deliver chatbot functionality, not warning the user of their presence and disorienting them in their usage. In a mobile environment, the chatbot functionality is delivered mostly through button-bots and prompts, but the readers may lack a way of warning the user that chatbot interaction is needed.

There are three ways to make sure your chatbot is accessible:

  • Relying on a subscription-based platform that provides extensive documentation about accessibility.
  • Asking accessibility-oriented developers in your team to analyze the chatbot/build an accessible chatbot component themselves.
  • Conducting testing through assistive technology.

This discussion begs a more general question: How can we make sure the digital experiences we craft are accessible? The easiest and simplest one is to adhere to common accessibility rules for web and mobile content. Important companies and universities, like Mozilla or Berkeley, offer resources and guidelines to make our content more accessible.

We suggest taking into account the following aspects when creating web content:

  • Establish clear content hierarchies. Organize on-screen information intuitively. Defining a clear goal for each page is a good starting point.
  • Use semantic tags to delimit your content. The use of <section> and <article> tags can greatly improve navigation for screen reader users.
  • Add `alt` attributes to all important images on our sites. Screen readers use it to explain the images to the visually impaired user.
  • If you’re using a hashtag, capitalize every word in it. For example, the hashtag `#sunnyday` might be rendered weirdly by a reader. But if we write it as `#sunnyDay` the reader can pick up each word individually and read it correctly.
  • As an exercise, try removing your stylesheet and see if your site still reads correctly. This helps to detect structure issues and gives us a view of what a screen reader sees.
  • Use appropriate contrast values for your text and background. A good contract doesn’t tax the eyes and invites the user to keep reading. A poor choice of colors can deflect users from our reach.
  • Use tools such as Lighthouse to measure accessibility and other important metrics. This might be a good starting point if you’re just beginning to pay attention to accessibility.

More generally, we recommend you include functionally diverse people in all your user research. Pay equal attention to the needs of all user segments. Especially if they really affect how they interact with your brand.

A great example of understanding the needs of functionally diverse people is Orange’s internal guide to developing accessible chatbots, which reads:

“The presence of a button to access the chatbot, in the lower right, is enough to make some users understand that a chatbot is available on the page. But, for blind or visually impaired users who are navigating with a screen reader, this may pose difficulties. Indeed, to hear this button, often placed at the end of the code, it is necessary for the user to listen to the entire page to the last line. Thus, they should listen to the whole footer generally containing many links. In reality, it is not what users do.

In this case, a visually impaired user is not aware of this button, so they are not able to access the chat.”

How about you? Are you using conversational marketing to connect to your users? Have you ever considered it in terms of accessibility? If so, share your challenges and insight below!