IBM Campaign Uses In-Banner Video Chat

There’s a growing consensus that display ads can do anything a Web site or online app can do. Interactions common in contemporary banner units include watching video, filling out forms, sending e-mail, requesting information, setting up calendar reminders and getting geo-targeted coupons.

Add to that list another function, video chat, courtesy of a new IBM campaign targeting mid-sized businesses.

Two new ads running on B2B sites invite visitors to connect directly with an IBM “concierge” to discuss the company’s Express Advantage product suite. Web users can initiate a two-way chat session directly within the banner unit without navigating away from the page.

The newfangled ads are the invention of Avivocom, which uses a combination of video, VoIP and text chat to let its enterprise clients converse with online prospects. The company offers two products, LiveGuide and LiveBanner. LiveGuide is the overall platform, offering one-way video, two-way VoIP audio, and two-way text chat online. LiveBanner takes the same product set and inserts it within an ad unit.

IBM is using both products in its current campaign, which launched in June. The first ads required a click-through to a microsite, where interested Web users could initiate a direct chat. Two weeks ago, the company layered on the in-banner functions.

IBM believes the ad unit helps it be accessible to the SMB community, which tends to think of the company as monolithic and aloof.

“We put a face to the marketplace,” said Ed Abrams, VP of integrated marketing communications for IBM Americas. “This is the ideal way to demonstrate that accessibility. In real time you can talk to an SMB expert who can help solve problems for your business.”

Ad copy backs up the claim: “If your business is not exactly big, and not exactly small, you’re in exactly the right place,” proclaims the banner unit. A bouncing arrow then urges Web users to “start your live chat here.”

Clicking on the ad triggers a live, fairly high-quality image of an IBM sales rep who issues a verbal greeting and asks the standard question: “How can I help you today?” End users can then either type questions into a chat box in the ad unit or speak them via a Skype connection. (Click here to see the ad.)

IBM’s video and audio chat units will appear on a variety of B2B Web sites, including Inc.com, Entrepreneur.com, and some non-traditional environments in eight U.S. cities. The company did not disclose the number of impressions or Web sites in its media buy.

The unit straddles the line between marketing and sales, as it requires the direct involvement of sales reps in lead qualification. The endeavor reports into IBM’s marketing division, but sales has been supportive, according to Abrams.

“Obviously, we couldn’t have gotten it off the ground without tight links to sales,” he said. The sales group readily offered cooperation, he said, because of the product’s “real time lead qualification” capabilities. “They’re probably the more vocal supporters, which as a marketing professional is exactly what you want to have happen.”

He claims the ads have performed well. Prospects are spending almost two minutes on average in the video chat environment, and the number of qualified leads so far is in the thousands.

And how do Web surfers interact with the ad unit? A video chat environment would seem to invite pranksters and misanthropes.

“We haven’t had anybody misbehaving,” said Abrams. “We’ve got pretty basic scripting in the tool and how we’ve trained our call center folks to help people eloquently disengage when somebody’s difficult. We’ve done all this work with the telephone channel so that adding video wasn’t hard from a training and technology perspective. If we were starting from scratch, it would have taken a lot longer.”

IBM previously tested Avivocom’s platform in Europe as part of a campaign for its server business there. The enterprise tech giant is Avivocom’s first U.S. client, though it has high hopes for this market. Co-founder Ritesh Patel said three more customers have signed on to do similar campaigns, including a chip manufacturer and an insurance provider.

IBM’s campaign is scheduled to run through the end of the year. Agency of record Ogilvy had a hand in the deployment.

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