Brand Conversion: Passive to Interactive

When I met up with a friend of mine recently, I noticed his cell phone received a new message every five minutes. After the first 15 messages, and five beers, I asked him if this was a reflection of his popularity or an indication of the phone’s madness.

Neither, was his answer. All this messaging was a result of a personal ad he’d placed in a wireless chat network. His purpose was to find a new girlfriend. He scrolled quickly through a library of people whose replies had just arrived in his wireless inbox. All replies showed the respondents’ photos and aligned them with their incoming proposals, making it easy to pick and choose from a bevy of potential dates for the day… or for life.

It seems you can now forget about traditional newspaper personal ads; you can even forego online chat rooms. Human contact and dialogue are about to go wireless. And that’s despite the fact most of us have just accustomed ourselves to the online social forum and seem to enjoy it. Social adaptation is now taking another leap. Our waking lives are going to be run through wireless technology.

How do brands fare in such a reality? Brands have customarily slept from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. And communication with their audiences has usually been monologue-based rather than interactive, though we are increasingly exposed to and are becoming accustomed to interactivity. Brands operate through passive communication. However, we’re on the brink of expecting instantaneous and customized answers to our queries, whether from stored information or email and text messages.

Brands need to go interactive. They need to think and react interactively. Dialogue must be written to respond to audience questioning, so the message is specific enough to be relevant. Broad messages work, sure. But we’re increasingly bombarded with information. On average, American kids are exposed to 40,000 TV commercials a year. We’re suffering from information overload and need someone to sort out the information mess for us.

Among the primary stakeholders in this melee are brands. The solution to imposing order is further complicated by the fact an unsolicited message is likely to go unheeded. Most of us immediately delete email from strangers.

Brand builders need to use the domino effect. First harness an audience with broad messaging, such as a billboard. Instantly that domino will fall and you’ll need to jump onto the next: bringing that harnessed audience into dialogue that enables the brand to identify needs and narrow down its messages accordingly. That domino tumbles, and you hop to the next by sustaining audience interest with a range of messages that have been mass-customized for each segment of your audience. The dialogue established will continue through interactive media, shifting between online and offline platforms, between broad and narrow messages. It ensures a mixture of dialogue and monologue and increases the possibility of sales.

As yet most marketers haven’t thought through this process. You need to slowly convert your brand from being passive to being interactive. We may be the last generation to experience passive communication through media channels. The rising generation was born with mice in their hands and computer screens as the windows to the world. Better get ready for them.

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