Marketers' Key Digital Brand: Interactive Consumers

The good news is that marketers are more likely than ever to connect with their target customers on interactive platforms and devices. The bad news is that holding their attention and making an electronic sale can be a challenge.

Throngs of content, product and service providers crossing the digital divide are giddy with the prospect of identifying and directly linking with their target buyer. However, skillfully managing the interactive relationship means getting inside the new consumer psyche. Consumer engagement is predicated on personal relevance, convenience, value, reliability, application and socialization.

Selling goods and services to the interactive consumer is all about making it them first and the company second. It's about becoming an online consumer's virtual best friend and confidante. One of the best examples is Few commercial behaviors have become as automatic in cyberspace as buying on Amazon, which reliably maintains personal information, manages recommendations based on buying and browsing history, and facilitates on-time delivery and no-strings free delivery for a reasonable annual "prime" membership.



Amazon got to be one of the most trusted retailers in a chaotic, nascent e-commerce space by standing in consumers' shoes and building its cyberbusiness around them. It accounts for 6% of the $136 billion U.S. online retail market in the U.S. Likewise, Apple has resurrected itself by designing connected mobile devices around interactive consumer behavior. Both companies' templates also provide a general road map for e-marketing.

Clearly, marketers are so intrigued and encouraged by this interactive dynamism that they will not allow a recession to impede progress. A new Forrester Research report and survey concludes that marketers will not likely curb their interactive spending because social networking, blogging, search and email are among the online display ad categories that provide them with more measurable targeted returns on their investment. Forrester estimates the U.S. interactive market to grow to $59 billion with a recession, or $61 billion if there is no recession by 2012.

Marketers that have resorted to old ways of campaign-based advertising and banner ads in the digital media space have fared worse than those utilizing social and email applications, Forrester says. Marketers must utilize the value of running blogs, Facebook pages, email lists and other social devices as long-term growth assets, says Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff. They must dispense with the linear, static brand-led promotions, direct advertising and marketing that have been rote in print and broadcast media for decades.

Moving beyond conventional media buying and buying space or exposure means knowing how to manage interactive relationships with consumers empowered with technology. It is a 24/7 task that requires constant monitoring and modification in response to customers' changing demands and interests. It reaches beyond new product campaigns and so-called media seasons because it is consumer-centric. Correctly done, it spells a continuous payday.

Madison Avenue, Silicon Valley and others are devising some interesting new processes and game plans for successfully marketing to the interactive consumer. Their mantra: Know and follow your individual consumer.

The Avenue A|Razorfish 2008 Digital Outlook Report suggests a new class of solutions for marketing teams: easily create and manage dynamic Web sites; quickly assemble customer segments and targeting rules; automatically deploy and deliver targeted content and segment-specific site navigations; track the behavior of site visitors; analyze the effectiveness of content and campaigns; and quickly make adjustments and improve online experiences.

Such next-generation Web management systems also incorporate open frameworks for the integration of analytics and other consumer-intelligence applications, such as customer relationship management systems. Insight into the value and quality evident in consumer behavior empowers companies to "continuously refine the online experience," says Christopher Stetson, one of the many studied contributors to the Avenue A|Razorfish report.

The interactive marketing and technology services agency explains how best to design, apply and navigate productive digital connections with customers already steps ahead of the corporate world. The report especially underscores the importance of social-influence marketing, the development and use of new analytics and measurement, redefining consumer relations, and creating a digital blueprint.

While measuring, qualifying and building on consumer engagement will be like untangling a mile of rope knots, they are key to grasping and monetizing consumer behavior. Mapping and comprehending online relationships will be a mandatory precursor to successful sales and marketing.

This shift in marketing science is far easier to describe than to execute, especially when companies and ad agencies largely remain rooted in old principles and practices. But change is imperative when consumers can maneuver around advertising, search for what they want, and have the network support of thousands of virtual kindred spirits. While new and traditional brands will continue to resonate with target customers, the most important brand in the digital media space is the individual consumer.

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