To Sell, Use Technology to Better Communicate

Interestingly, a recent article by Sean Carton argues that consumers on the Net this past holiday season were more likely to be looking and talking rather than buying. One of the communication media mentioned in Sean’s article was email. This piqued my natural curiosity, and, subsequently, I reflected on my experiences with such new communication media as e-marketing tools and enabling technologies.

Guess what I concluded? The communication equation on the Net is continuously changing.

In the early 1990s, email was all the rage as it enabled fast, paperless communication around the world. Soon after, text chat and instant messaging added real-time capabilities to the mix. Then, Internet phones, or audio chat, allowed people to make cheap long-distance phone calls.

Now, the next generation of Internet communication provides real-time interactive video and a personal touch — a quantum leap ahead of text or voice communication media.

Video as a communication medium is on the cutting edge and will be a key component of the e-marketing mix. The appeal of video communication promises to engage users’ participation, attract new customers, retain existing ones, and ensure that they return to an interactive media-based service.

A Community-Building Tool

As a community-building tool, video communication works at the consumer-to-consumer (C2C) level, with consumers able to see and talk to each other live over the Net.

Surpassing the less-personal text chatting, video communication enables members of Internet communities (fan sites, professional-knowledge sites, auction sites, and e-commerce sites) to exchange information face to face. In the case of e-commerce sites, for instance, many consumers like to seek advice from others before they buy, just as we do in real life.

This more human interaction enabled by video communication makes visitors want to stay longer at the site; it is much more engaging and personalizes the entire experience. The user enters into a relationship with others that might encourage him or her to return and spend more time online, thereby making way for viral marketing. The more time consumers spend interacting with others, the less likely they are to start building such virtual relationships elsewhere.

An article published in The McKinsey Quarterly, “Real Profits From Virtual Communities,” argues that commercial success in online markets will belong to those organizations that organize electronic communities to meet multiple social and commercial needs.

The creative marketing strategist can get the most from this idea. For example, our team at launched a successful campaign this past holiday season to increase usage of our service and foster community spirit. The “Eyeball Chat With Santa” campaign enabled kids to see and talk to Santa — “live from the North Pole” — via Eyeball Chat, our video chat program. To see Santa, people just had to download the chat software at our site and contact him through his personal Eyeball ID: “Santa”! We watched the web site traffic and service usage make huge jumps during that time.

To add even more personalization and a soft touch to the end-user experience, Santa took a picture at the end of the video chatting session and emailed it to the kids as a memento of the first time they saw Santa live on the Net.

In addition to personalization, the Santa picture served a viral-marketing and brand-awareness purpose, as people would pass it along to friends and relatives. Who wouldn’t want a picture with the Internet Santa, after all?

Communication and E-Commerce

At the business-to-consumer (B2C) level, e-commerce sites enable customer-support representatives to engage in live, face-to-face dialogue with customers and site visitors. Advancing your site with live video customer service builds trust — it’s as close to a personal visit as you can get with the Internet. I did a study in 1999 as part of my M.B.A. thesis and confirmed that trust, as a dimension of service quality, was a major determinant of customer retention.

One of the reasons e-commerce sites are struggling with shopping-cart abandonment is the lack of consumer trust. Wouldn’t you feel better, and be more likely make it to the checkout counter at an e-commerce site, if you knew that you are giving your credit card information to a real person and not to a dog?

An interesting study conducted by ActivMedia Research found that the presence of a live sales agent on a web site would significantly increase the likelihood of the respondents making various types of purchases online, as follows:

  • Consumer electronics: 43 percent of respondents said the likelihood of a purchase would increase

  • Toys for own children: 28 percent…
  • Clothing: 25 percent…
  • Automobiles: 24 percent…
  • Fast food: 17 percent…

With the growing number of online businesses and e-tailers, and the increasing complexity of sites and number of products sold online, gaining and retaining customers are constant challenges. You can combine radical marketing ideas with leading-edge technology to differentiate yourself, stay ahead of competition, and increase your site’s stickiness.

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