In today's fast-paced digital realm, the rules are constantly changing.

Traditional marketing channels have evolved into new ones, and CMOs are continually challenged. They've spent the last seven years tackling the ins and outs of new mobile and social platforms--investing in new platforms and adjusting media budgets to stay ahead.

Now that they finally have everything hashed out, customers are rapidly moving away from standalone mobile apps into the more immediate, intimate world of messaging--to the tune of 100X growth in use YoY in both the US and UK.

While some suggest "conversational commerce" is the next big thing--10K developers are already building on wit.ai, Facebook Messenger's machine learning engine--it's important to remember why they are growing in popularity: they're personal, immediate, and allow people to connect with those they care about.

However, when it comes to messaging apps, it's important to remember they aren't there for you. Put another way: "conversational commerce" isn't really conversational.

Frankly, the idea that one would want to converse with a brand or chatbot is downright annoying. Just because you can talk to people one-to-one doesn't mean they'll want to talk to you.

Merely because your customers are spending time on a platform doesn't mean they want you there. They also spend a lot of time on video games, but game companies have wisely shut brands out--because no one wants to be bothered by them when playing.

It begs the question: Should you even go there? The answer is yes--but with a certain mindset:

1. Every brand will have a different (and varied) chance at success.

In China, where the hugely popular WeChat has long had bots, not every category has done well.

In the West, Dominos and Uber have made an easy transition to Amazon's Alexa and Facebook Messenger. Airlines are a no-brainer. But if you sell toilet paper, the only conversation you'll have may be uncomfortable.

It simply depends on your brand. Read: services are easy; products are hard. Plan accordingly.

2. Customer needs trump all.

Being first to the party does not matter as much as meeting customer needs. Be relentless about understanding your customers' journey and the friction-points you will affect. If something annoys them, that's a good place to start.  

3. Customers want value, not entertainment.

Customers do not want you to be their best friend, nor are they looking to you for laughs. Instead, think friendly service provider. A hair dresser is friendly, but the relationship is based on the service he or she provides. Your brand's presence must provide value--in addition to personal attention.

4. It's a commitment.

If you want to stop tweeting, that's easy. Simply stop.

But building a one-on-one strategy requires availability, responsiveness, and patience. And creating machine learning programs actually requires, well, learning.

It takes time for chatbots to get it right, and teams to build on AI platforms to make sure--unlike the fast and furious downfall of Microsoft's bot Tay--it's achieving its purpose.

5. To be good, it must be personal.

People don't want to chat with chatbots that ask dumb questions. Use context and build data integration with CRM platforms, loyalty and rewards programs, and in-store experiences, to make the right responses--even if it's "I don't know, let me send you to customer service" every time.

6. Be ready for change.

One often overlooked lesson from social media is that the platforms and usage patterns change over time. At one point, we all used Facebook to communicate with friends; now it's arguably a video delivery platform.

Building a team that has a high level of curiosity about the pain points in the customer journey will help set a foundation ready for change as users change.

At the end of the day, don't let me burst your text bubble.

Messaging won't replace your apps or social engagement strategy

But for every brand that is relentlessly devoted to reduce obstacles in their customer journey, building on Messenger or other messaging platforms not only makes sense, but it will also be an investment that will bear fruit as it lives in the digital world.

The more you wait and watch, the less you'll be able to be where people are, and also remove friction in driving sales and customer happiness.

One-to-one is an opportunity. Time to start exploring.

Published on: Aug 4, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.