Leveraging Interactive Marketing

Interactive marketing only really began to be possible in 1993 with the release of the Mosaic Web browser. But in the last 15 years we have quickly seen the Web mature into an influential medium fueled by, among other factors, the rise of personal computing and social networking through internet-connected mobile devices.

Today the Web fulfills a significant role in the fragmented media landscape, connecting people with products, services, and knowledge like never before. Globally, the number of people venturing online to shop, socialize, work and play has grown exponentially beyond all past preconceived notions. The Web has materialized in ways perhaps only envisioned by media theorists such as the late Marshall McLuhan who predicted a type of interconnected Global Village long before the information superhighway arrived in our homes.

But surprisingly, in the marketing field, many senior executives and influential strategic decision makers continue to structure branding and promotional initiatives around traditional forms of advertising over interactive. The bulk of advertising, at least in this country (Canada), is still carried out through print, radio, and television. These are still considered the safest best-bet in connecting with people en masse.

Why? Perhaps it is because the Web is still in its infancy, barely 15 years old and continuing to metamorphize in ways unimaginable even 2 years ago. Perhaps the mechanics of delivering an effective online marketing campaign are vague and overly-driven by technological constraints with no establish, tried-and-true strategies as in traditional forms of advertising. Perhaps the perception remains: the Web is a passing fad; a forum catering only to geeky techno-centric culture; a fringe medium commanding the attention span of a obscure and unimportant demographic.

Consider but a few of the modern day realities for marketers. At your typical family residence direct mail flyers and FSIs typically go straight into the garbage with the junk mail while television commercials get bypassed or deleted via PVRs.
Yet with these and other obstacles to old media and with the emergence of cheap, abundant, internet-connected devices, the Web is still seen as new territory. Some marketers believe the Web is still an unproven medium where it is difficult if not possible to measure campaign effectiveness and thus quantify a meaningful return on investment. This scepticism explains why old media (anything non-digital) still garners the lion’s share of [the client’s] marketing budget. Interactive online components are frequently an afterthought, relegated to supplemental microsites or simplistic ‘add-ons’ that never really enhance the initial ‘big idea’ or top level marketing strategy. Many online executions exist more as static representations lacking any meaningful or engaging interactivity. Why? What is it about the online medium that has caused such a discriminatory level of spending within the context of the overall marketing budget?

Granted, the mechanics of execution for an online contest (e.g. HD Spike your Bike), sweepstakes, PIN/loyalty program (e.g. Breakfast Central), or simple e-commerce site can be very complex from both a technological and branding perspective. On the surface many promotional product Web sites appear simple and straight-forward however, behind the creative front-end, many of these sites are sophisticated Web applications with elaborate content-management systems programmatically tailored to the clients unique business and branding objectives. Complex requirements for search functionality and secure management of user data require highly skilled Web Developers with specific programming expertise. Moreover, development resources needed to adequately test and quality assure Web applications accross multiple browsers and operating systems, which themselves continually change, likely explain why most marketing executives opt to initiate advertising campaigns elsewhere and not online.

But on the contrary -the Web can and probably should be the centerpiece and starting point of a marketing campaign -not the superficial ‘add-on’ to the print or television spot. More people read newspapers and magazine articles online than buy the printed versions. And while the process of executing an interactive marketing and communications campaign might be more complex and involved than producing a print campaign, the payoff is much more substantial.
Consider branded interactive experiences like the Coke Zero Game (created by North Kingdom), Doritos The Quest (by Red Interactive Agency and DBE), and the German Converse All-Star product information site (created by PowerFlasher). These sites demonstrate what innovative thinking and cutting-edge use of interactive technologies can do for a brand. Moreover, they exemplify effective interactive marketing because as David Armano, VP of Experience Design with Critical Mass explains, they can hypothetically be boiled down to executing against three truths:

  1. Draw the customer in—get their attention.
  2. Reward them with meaningful interactions that somehow influence their lives positively.
  3. Provide them with valuable experiences they want to use and are inclined to share with others.
    …And of course all of this all needs to be measurable and results-oriented.

Max Kalehoff, VP of Marketing with Clickable in his poignant article: the biggest opportunities for brands to leverage interactive marketing, writes:

For most businesses, the Web must become your brand hub. The Web site is the anchor for a range of critical actions in the consideration and purchase funnel. It is where search engines discover brands and where they direct prospects. It is the currency of pass-along when others wish to refer or recommend you. It is where the most engaged prospects learn about your brand, or fail to learn what they need to know in order to engage further. It is often a critical repository for collecting names, demographic information, purchase intentions and behaviors. It is a listening mechanism and interaction platform when customers do wish to engage. For many businesses, it’s where transactions actually take place, and services are rendered. It increasingly is where people turn when things go wrong, and the place where problems are corrected, or not. It is where companies have the choice to engage intimately with customers, or instill a cold, faceless façade. As the marketplace increasingly goes digital, the Web site should play a central role in leading a company’s key customer performance metrics to drive overall marketing strategy.