Interactivity: For a Call to (More) Action

“Interactive” is defined as:

of, relating to, or being a two-way electronic communication system (as a telephone, cable television, or a computer) that involves a user’s orders (as for information or merchandise) or responses (as to a poll)

In designing for interactivity, we enable a dialogue between users and ourselves. (Hopefully, you always work to make that dialogue more persuasive).

I’ve been discussing principles that affect conversion rates with Sam Decker, Dell’s senior manager for consumer segmentation and loyalty. A principle Decker believes in is “Design for Interaction.”

A paradigm of well-executed design for interactivity has to be TV’s “American Idol,” which crowned its second winner this past week. The show has over 26 million viewers, making it one of the most successful programs in Fox Network history. Viewers are asked to vote for winners. Because the show is live, these votes really do count.

“‘American Idol’ pushed the reality show one step further with its interactivity, relying on American viewers to vote and decide the fate of their favorite contestant,” said Carolyn Clark, Internet analyst, Nielsen//NetRatings.

People can vote via a toll-free number or text messaging. The Web site provides an additional medium for the show’s fans, offering performance clips, contestant photos, and, most recently, an opportunity to chat with Kelly Clarkson, last year’s winner. “American Idol” has grown enough to have motivated and persuaded over 21 million people to vote in its weekly contest and drive Clarkson’s new album to the number one spot on the charts.

Almost one in three buyers of an “American Idol” music CD install the bundled “American Idol” Arcavista Communicator, which opens another channel of communication for fans. “They have integrated wireless into the show, music into television, and into the music they have integrated communication software that has been as successful as the wireless component,” said Arcavista CMO Matthew de Ganon. “That’s a phenomenal achievement. They have such a loyal following to their brand that many users would open their desktops and desire that continued level of interactivity.”

How this audience uses technology is testimony to what the American public understands to be this brand’s value.

The “American Idol” phenomenon represents a successful business model based on market interactivity. The formula is relatively simple: Imagine a product, create an audience for it, make the audience feel responsible for and create the product. My ClickZ colleague Martin Lindstrom terms this trend the “me selling proposition.”

What happens when we open our views to allow our prospects to become part of the ownership process? Isn’t this what happened with Linux, eBay’s feedback system, and countless other “cult brands” as B.J. Bueno would say?

I may be pushing it to extremes, but I’d like to challenge people to look outside of their competitor’s Web sites and seek connections in other media. What principles can you use to maximize results? We’ve looked at designing for interactivity on a macro level. What about the micro level?

Decker has experience with this. “I started testing interactive HTML and JavaScript banners in 1997. They always outperformed standard flat or GIF animation banners,” he recalled.

In 1998, for a content/community site, he added a “quick poll” to a home page full of headlines, pictures, and copy. Click-through doubled, mostly through that poll.

Visitor to Dell’s financing page want to know what the payments will be if they finance. To help them accomplish that, Decker added an interactive Flash calculator that estimates payments based on computer price. Leakage from that page (users who leave dropped 50 percent.

“This handy tool increased applications (i.e., conversion). This increase could not be explained by usability improvements alone, as previously there was a prominent ‘Apply Now’ link,” Decker added. “It drew visitors in to take a baby step toward their consideration. As a result, more visitors took the next step, and the next… ultimately increasing the percent of visitors who will choose to buy a PC with financing.”

People are drawn to interactivity. If images are Web site eye candy, interactivity is “action candy.” Interaction can (and should) be used to help users accomplish a goal. It can also induce visitors to try something impulsively.

Used in moderation and with purpose, interactivity can have a powerful effect on conversion. If you want to add interaction just to be cool or so something interesting is on the screen, you’re playing around with artists and engineers. You’re missing the point. Converting your visitors to take action is about engaging them and motivating them to achieve their goals.

Reminder: Last week, I invited readers to take the 7 Tips to Improve Your Lead Generation Web Site Challenge. Today (Friday, May 23) is the last day to send your results.

Don’t miss ClickZ’s Weblog Business Strategies in Boston, June 9-10.

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