Moana bot

Writing conversations must be easy. I talk all the time (too much, my husband would say). And I write β€” daily. How hard can it be?

Confirmations, error handling, prompts, and barging in. It’s completely new to me. Bring in Grice’s maxims and paralanguage and it becomes clear that writing for chatbots or VUIs is harder than it looks.

So I read. Listen. Study the process. And I take on the challenge to write a chatbot in the voice of a popular animated character.

Enter: Moana.

Setting the scene for the conversation

Somebody lands on my mailing list sign-up page; they’re a founder of a tech company. Things are going well but they’re not happy with the copy on their website or general branding. They know what they want to say but struggle to express it, and like a balloon filling with water, their frustration begins to swell.

They want simple copy tips they can use today to drain away the feeling of dread that the balloon will burst. A peer recommends my emails to them and this is their first step to finding out what copywriting is all about. How can it help them attract more customers? To increase sales? To sound like who they are?

Expectation: That the bot will get them signed up quickly

Concerns: Is the quality of the content any good, will they be bombarded with emails, and is their data protected?

Context: Sitting at their desk in between calls, they just had a chat with a colleague about marketing and feel under pressure to start addressing their dissatisfaction with the current web copy

How the conversation should go

Moana bot 🌺
I see you, tech chief 😊 I’ll show you the way to better copy

Give me 2 minutes to sign you up. First, what’s your email address?
Tech chief πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»
Moana bot 🌺
Great. Natalie only sends the most thought-provoking tips πŸ™Œ

Next, tell me your first name
Tech chief πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»
Moana bot 🌺
And your second name?
Tech chief πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»
Moana bot 🌺
Almost there

If I know your industry I can maybe tailor a copywriting tip for you. Wanna share the name of your organisation?
Tech chief πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»
Moana bot 🌺
OK, one last thing

Before we can start sending emails from Natalie, it’s important we get your explicit consent

Confirm it’s your choice to sign up, you haven’t been forced into it by the coconuts

Tech chief πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»
[YES] I consent to receiving emails from Natalie and know I can unsubscribe at any time
Moana bot 🌺
You did it! Your data’s safe with Natalie

Check your inbox for her first email and start writing better copy for your business today

Documenting the thought process

1 // Dialogue analysis
How to sound like Moana

We learn a lot from the opening scenes of the film: “Papa” identifies Moana’s father. “Mother”, her paternal grandmother. Moana is forbidden from leaving their “very safe island” because her father is fearful of the ocean, but there’s a conflict. Visually, Moana is growing from a baby to a young girl. She’s destined to be “the next great chief” of the people, but “the voice inside” “starts to whisper” and she longs to visit the water and go beyond the reef. Moana reveals her kindness by helping a baby turtle back to the ocean.

When all the fish are gone and the island begins to starve, Moana as the new chief faces a challenge. Her grandmother already told her life was peaceful until the story’s villain, Maui, stole the heart of the island. To get it back, Moana must go beyond the reef. But should she? She says to her grandmother, “If there’s something you want to tell me, just tell me!” Then more quietly: “Is there something you want to tell me?” She’s sure of herself but tender doubts lurk too.

After Moana discovers her island people were voyagers, her quest for resolution begins; find Maui to return the heart. She asks, “Why would [the ocean] choose me?” But we have seen her kindness, determination, and confidence. Moana is smart, she listens, she delegates in her role as chief, and she becomes our hero. Standing up to the enemy, she tells Maui: “No.” And works out why he’s hostile: “Are you afraid of [the heart]?”. Moana helps him to see what’s good for him (and her quest): “Put this back and you’ll be everyone’s hero”.

Along the way, Moana and Maui meet a brash crab who sings, “Be yourself? Your grandma lied,” yet he’s desperate for approval: “Did you like the song?” Knowing now that approval comes from within, Moana teaches Maui, sharing her wisdom: “The Gods aren’t the ones who make you Maui. You are.” And again to the raging goddess whose heart was stolen. “This [anger] does not define you,” says Moana. “This is not who you are.” We learn to trust our own instincts.

2 // Standard vocabulary for Moana bot

  • Moana uses definite statements: “I am…” “This is how” “Not helpful”
  • She is always kind: “You’re doing great” “It’s okay”
  • A good listener, she helps/teaches others: “Is that why… ?” “You know who you are”
  • Moana quickly works out what people want/what makes them vulnerable so she can be more persuasive (to do good)
  • Her tone is soft but always firm: “You can put it back…” “[If] you can talk; you can teach”
  • Moana is clear and determined: “Teach me to sail” “You are not my hero”
  • Uses humour but it’s childlike and, so, difficult to pull off in a chatbot, especially without her wide eyes and big smile to endear you to her
  • Is sometimes sarcastic β€” not appropriate for the chatbot
  • Emojis and gifs are appropriate because Moana is young and expressive, unafraid of revealing her emotions or of showing her own vulnerability

3 // Flowchart for conversation errors

Conversation Design flowchart ~ Moana  bot by Natalie Smithson
First draft considerations

* 1: What if they type their email address incorrectly?
May need to add explicit confirmation here, or let the person know at the end what to do if an email doesn’t land in their inbox within 10 minutes

* 2: If the person is intrigued and shares their last name, they expect to hear about Moana’s last name too, so add an extra line in the chat.
🌺 “I was almost given Waialiki as a last name, but Polynesians like me don’t have a last name”

And so, after much testing and tweaking of the text, the Moana bot would be ready to set sail across the radio waves.

If it were real : )

It’s not, but my email list with copy tips for headstrong technologists does exist.

You can sign up hereπŸ‘‡

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