Interactivity’s Meaning for Marketers

The ever-quickening march towards media digitalization excites me. It also scares the bejesus out of me. I know I’m not alone on either point. I’m frightened because the chaos the march causes can be painful at times, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity. Agencies like the one I’m privileged to work for are in a great position to help clients navigate these tricky currents. I’m excited because digital means media are addressable, measurable, and perhaps most important, interactive.

What a powerful thing, interactivity. And yet it’s maligned by buzzword overkill. Interactivity is both mysterious and misunderstood. What does it really mean? People can click on stuff? Is that it?

This is often the first instinct: interactive means making something clickable. Often, the goal of that first interactive idea is to get someone to make a transaction of some kind, whether an actual purchase or a request for more information (RFI).

As you’re probably aware, the U.K. is well ahead of the U.S. when it comes to interactive TV (iTV). When it first hit, it was all about direct response (DR): Buy now! Get more info now! and so forth. But over the last six years or so, DR campaigns have slid into the background, losing iTV market share to interactive brand campaigns.

Using interactivity to drive some kind of quick response is an easy leap to make and a powerful tool for DR marketers. Consumers can respond immediately via whatever platform they’re on rather than switching to making a phone call or trying to remember an ad message next time they happen to be in the store. Impulse response (and transaction) can be powerful.

But we shouldn’t limit ourselves to DR. Getting people to interact with an ad doesn’t have to be about a transaction. It comes down to the overall objective, of course. Interactivity can be so much more than a DR trigger.

In the U.K.’s iTV space, brand marketers learned to use the platform for brand purposes. It closely mirrors what happened with Web advertising market here in the States. DR marketers were quick to embrace the targeting, accountability, and pay-for-performance buying models that don’t typically exist in passive, less accountable media. At the same time, publishers, technology vendors, and agencies found it easier to sell to DR marketers. So DR-style ads dominated the landscape.

You’ve probably seen reports and media coverage suggesting brand-marketing dollars are finding their way online. As in the U.K. iTV market, U.S. marketers are learning how to leverage interactivity to build rich, engaging, and immersive brand experiences. It’s changing the Web advertising landscape. It’s like when print ads in the ’50s rediscovered the soft sell. Suddenly, we went from loud, obnoxious “Buy now!” ads to a subtler approach. It was a welcome revolution.

This is a passion and a pet peeve. It came up during a panel discussion I attended recently and actually got a fair amount of debate. I was surprised so much discussion wound up centering on this issue when it feels like we’ve just gone through it on different platforms: the U.K. on iTV, the U.S. on the Web. Now the iTV debate rages here again, as television starts to enable interactivity in and around content and advertising.

It’s simple, really. Interactivity is a powerful tool for eliciting an immediate response from an audience. Leverage that. But don’t let it end there. Think about how interactive platforms can help brand objectives. You are, no doubt, developing rich experiences on your site that enable consumers to learn more about your product and its differentiators, likely in entertaining ways. You envelope visitors with a brand experience that’s probably even more powerful and resonating than a well-executed :30 spot.

As you explore interaction on other platforms, keep these experiences in mind. People expect it from you. Don’t let them down.

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