The Missing Element in Screen-Based Marketing

Interactive may be the most important concept of our time, but is it truly effective?

This question may seem analogous to the epic battle over the TV remote in just about every home in the world, but it’s more than just grabbing at what you want to control. People watch TV. We know that. People use the Internet. We know that, too. With all the new that exists in the world, we’re not all jumping on the interactivity evolution train with any speed.

True, interactivity has been here from the beginning. If a caveman hit another caveman with a rock, he might have gotten a sharp and sudden response. But “interactivity” as a word belongs to a new context: the realm of the screen.

Just because you have a screen doesn’t mean you know the right thing to do with it. In fact, we seem to be evolving in two directions. In one way, we’re refining the experience of data interaction to a seamless experience of copying and pasting without any effort, like the address book features on my iPhone.

The other is that interactivity is getting more obscure and so abstract that we don’t want to bother with it. Journeys into the mad notions of bad interactions for the sake of cool are getting old, though never uninteresting. These overdesigned experiences are usually called experiential marketing. Some say that’s just a fancy name for “I don’t care if people know where to click” and that interaction design is being overlooked. Some say it’s antimarketing.

In my first 12 years of working in interactive marketing, I’ve discovered that each side of this argument is valid. An unclear user path is a good way to get a buyer to discover something new, but so is a clear one.

Screens exist just about everywhere we go — cars, phones, airports, table tops, public places — and they’ll continue to encroach on the stillness of the simple billboard. With all these screens, we have a variety of options and a multitude of images and messages to receive. Yet we use very little of its potential. (That may be a good thing, because we could suffocate our brains with all this information.)

We’re missing a sense of the public and the personal experience when it comes to screen-based marketing. Think about it: do you want to be proximity-sensed in some strange city with a marketing message on a billboard in front of thousands of strangers?

The exhibitionist in you might, but that’s not for everyone.

Also, many of us are used to having our passwords and profiles saved on our computers, so we’re often frustrated by the ignorant brick-and-mortar retail experience. Having to tell someone your e-mail address out loud is akin to telling someone, “Please write that down and spam me.”

This isn’t a battle of dark against light, but a problem of a missing element in screen-based marketing. What’s missing is that bridge between the screen and the physical world.

I’m not speaking of that little buzzy and beepy thing in our hands and how it isn’t yet adequate to be the ambassador between us and them. Right now little pieces of plastic with barcodes on them will suffice.

Someday we may be able to choose the mode in which we want to interact with a screen, a retailer, or just about anything. It would be like changing the driving settings on your car at the push of a button.

With that said, where will online advertising and video move from its two dimensions to five? Allowing the user to set context for advertising content or messages will determine the areas of opportunity for marketers in relation to the individual.

Some of you may consider this to be behavioral targeting, but I would disagree. It’s understanding the user’s emotional mode. And if you know that it changes all the time, it becomes the dial that can adjust the amount and nature of marketing a user is open to. But let’s just say changing it in real time is hard but not impossible.

Right now our two-dimensional world of online marketing is doing just fine, thank you. But soon someone will turn the lights on and realize how much of the user we have to actively consider to make our online campaigns a success.

Someday that dial-a-profile option will appear, and screen-based interactivity and marketing will change every ad, every message, every video, and every way people know us or don’t.

For now, let’s enjoy the peace of an underdeveloped marketing world.

Meet Dorian at ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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