“With Artificial Intelligence we are summoning the Demon”.
— Elon Musk
When GrowhRocks’ former content writer was promoted to head of content at our sister company Viral Loops, we faced a dilemma.
Here’s a though experiment: What would you do when the one who signs under every newsletter you send eventually leaves?
One solution is keep signing with the same name, use the same tone of voice and pretend that your current writer never left, trying to keep everyone happy. But that would be insincere towards your readers, yourself and your former writer – in our case Apostle. It would be inauthentic.
This was not an option.
Logic dictates you should make an announcement, introduce your new writer and move forward.
But that’s not very interesting, is it? I, for one, didn’t want to follow the same direction. I just don’t find it intriguing enough. So we came up with a plan.
In a company, just like with life, people come and go. Therefore you need something bigger. A long-lasting solution that counterbalances the ephemerality of us humans. A persona.
What started as a solution to a problem, became a project on its own. Roxie would not only be the writer of our newsletters, it would also be the one who replies on GrowthRocks’ messenger, both FB and on the site, as a chatbot.
A day before Roxie was summoned as a chatbot, she sent her first email to our newsletter subscribers.
Apostle is gone, you talk with me now.
You see, in the marketing business you either die young or live long enough to become a sellout to the big corps.
Apostle chose the latter and he’s now working for Viral Loops. Why? Because he lived long enough, you silly. But that shouldn’t be important, to you at least.
What’s important is that I’m taking over Growthrocks’ link. I’m going to finish what he couldn’t.
Who am I?
No, chummer, it’s too soon for that. Besides, I don’t know if I can trust you – yet.
No links, no call-to-action, no pictures, not even a good enough explanation.
Only a plain text and a bad attitude.
If Roxie was a programming language test, instead of ‘Hello World’ she would say ‘Hello A-holes’.
Βut why would anyone trash talk a former employee? Why did she say that she can’t trust the very readers of our newsletter? Why would she jeopardize my position as a content writer with her attitude? And what does ‘chummer’ mean anyway?
You see, Roxie is the kind of person who, when she sees a minefield, climbs on a pogo stick and ventures forth. Except that this minefield is our newsletter list.
Roxie only wanted to make an impression and she did. Even the email’s subject line she picked was ‘tables have turned’.
The audience reaction to the email caught us by surprise – we never expected so many replies.
Most mails we received looked like this:
A couple of other mails were not very friendly towards Roxie – not at all.
But that’s OK and here’s why.
The What & The Why
To begin with, not all tones of voice are expected to be liked by all kinds of people. The less the generic your tone of voice and writing style becomes, the more you polarise your audience.
Concerning writing, storytelling, and art in general, their purpose is not to make you feel good – it’s about making you feel something. And something does not always equal good.
Think about it, why do you watch drama films, go for roller coaster rides or book nerve-braking escape rooms? Couldn’t you just sit and the comfort of your home with a nice cup of tea a tablet on your lap?
Truth is we humans yearn for different experiences. All kinds of experiences. Usually, these that make us feel good, but there is a part in us that from time to time wants to cry, wants to get angry, wants to feel. It’s called being alive.
The general public likes Superman and Captain America as much as they like Joker or Deadpool. They don’t like Joker for what he does, they like him for what he is.
This is what Roxie is, a bold young adult: Naive, immature, enthusiastic, energetic, cocky and proud. A marketing anti-hero.
She delivers a weekly newsletter and a new approach to email storytelling.
Roxie isn’t exactly “your friendly neighborhood Spiderman”. She is not by any means evil; quite the contrary. Roxie wants to help: she wants you to read the latest digital marketing and growth hacking material she gives you. She wants to show you how GrowthRocks can help you, either through our services or our training programs. She wants to send you a message when a job position opens up so you can seize the opportunity and work with us. She won’t beg you though.
But why does it have to be like that?
Why isn’t Roxie a good-mannered chatbot who greets our site’s guests cheerfully and sends nice newsletters to our readers, like any normal chatbot would?
To answer that, we need to know more about Roxie’s background.
Roxie, The Chatbot
Age: est. 24
Location: London, UK
Roxie is the lone child of a lower-middle-class family in downtown London. Her mother was a caring housewife that didn’t live long enough to see her young daughter grow up. She died of an undiagnosed illness before Roxie turned 5.
Despite the bad hand that luck dealt to the family, Roxie’s father never gave up, and he was always working hard to provide everything for his daughter. He was running a grocery store, not too far away from their home, a store that he opened for the first time before he even got married. But luck was once again not on their side.
The economy was getting worse every day and eventually tanked. The final blow came from a big supermarket chain that opened for business in his neighborhood. It came to a point where her father could barely make ends meet anymore. After 14 years of business operation, and while Roxie was still a teenager, he closed the door of his grocery store for the last time.
Not knowing what to do, for the time being, he turned to welfare. One day, when returning from Department for Work for his usual presence indication and some cash, he was stopped by two shady figures. The moment he saw the knives on their palms, was the moment he knew he would fight for his life – because there was no way he would just hand over that money and go back to Roxie empty-handed.
On that day, her father’s life was costed at £350.80.
Little is known of Roxie. Rumors have it that she fled home to escape Child Protection Service. She was young, lost and seeking revenge. After many years of bad choices and suffering, she had found her purpose: To help small businesses win the game versus the big corps. To not let them happen what had happened to her father’s business. Not through violence, but through sharing intel about marketing tactics and hacks – growth hacks, she would lead a marketing crusade.
Concept Phase & Creation
Roxie is the sum of many things.
And this is her in the makings:
Why is Roxie in a cyberpunk setting?
For those unfamiliar with ‘Cyberpunk’, it’s a subgenre of science fiction in a futuristic dystopia. In 4 words it’s ‘High tech – Low life’. Cyberpunk features 3 core elements: Megacorps, Hackers and Artificial Intelligence. We have everything. Cyberpunk is now. When it comes to business storytelling, like ours, cyberpunk is a suitable setting.
Why is the name of our chatbot Roxie?
‘Roxie’ is short, thus rememberable. It’s pleasing to the eye as well as to the ear, albeit a bit aggressive with the ‘R’ and the ‘X’ but it suits Roxie’s character well.
Also, it’s GrowthRocks – Roxie.
Why does Roxie have green hair?
Brand design is once again responsible for the color of the hair we picked. GrowthRocks’ logo is green, the site features green banners and green widgets as well. The green color is second only to the jet black and the rest shades of black you see wherever GrowthRocks is present. This is why she also wears a dark jacket.
What are there references from the music and gaming industry in the concept phase?
Given that GrowthRocks’ logo is the Sign of Horns by default, she couldn’t be anything but punk/rock/metal.
The way she speaks as a chatbot is the way a character from a role-playing game would.
What’s Roxie’s mission?
You should think of Roxie as what she calls herself: A “Communications Commander”.
She is both our chatbot and our and restless employee that shares GrowthRocks’ activities.
Roxie, More Than a Chatbot
As you’ve probably realised, Roxie is not you regular chatbot – she is a character.
She is in charge of GrowthRocks’ newsletter, which means that whenever we have a new blog post, she spreads the word to our dozen thousands of subscribers.
But there is more to that. It’s those little things that make an interaction between the user and the A.I. a tad more believable.
For example, every time you return to the Main Menu, she won’t respond with the same text. She has a variety of responses like“Need help?” or “Anything else?”.
Since there is no ‘random variable’ in chatbots, to achieve different text messages every time the user wants to return to the same dialogue option, we had to add conditions and actions. In case you are wondering about the technicalities, the flow builder looks like this:
We also witnessed a lack of icons in buttons on the chatbots there are out there, so this is exactly what we decided to add. This is what the options for the Blog categories look like for example:
She can let you know about the available positions in our company or you can tell her to message you when a position opens up (!).
Besides GrowthRocks’ Webinars on Demand and our Intra-Company Training, Roxie can tell you when and where the next Growth Hacking Academy will be and give you the option to enroll for said courses.
Regarding her personality, her tone of voice and writing give away her english heritage. She will say “brilliant” instead of “awesome” and she will refer to the heads of GrowthRocks as “gaffers”, not “bosses”, among other things.
Also, “chummer” is a “friend” in the cyberpunk lore.
Roxie just joined us so this is only the beginning. Most of the changes that will take place in the future regarding her functions and her replies will depend on the users. She will be optimised according to the selections you make on the chat flow and the feedback you give us.
What would you like to see in Roxie? What kind of messages would you like to read from a chatbot? I’d love to read your comments and answer your questions regardless.
In 6 months from now (January 2019) we will most likely make a part2 of this post, where we will examine the impact of Roxie in numbers.