Interactive Media: the New Golden Goose of Branding?
A look at how interactive medias are changing not only the world of advertising, but also branding practices in general.
Interacting with your customers in today’s business world has become a must.
Does this sound like too much of a strong statement? Well, maybe “must” somehow overplays what is today’s reality, but it is indeed true, since all you hear marketers and advertisers talk about lately concerns interactive medias, how these are changing their panorama and how much are they gaining momentum.
In fact, a recent research conducted by WPP’s GroupM shows that interactive media’s share of worldwide advertising expenditures is likely to reach 15% in 2009, which would be double from four years ago. And apparently, this will remain the main source of growth, as advertising spending in traditional media seems to be on the decline.
So what is this all about?
At Labbrand, we have looked at how interactive medias are changing not only the world of advertising, but also branding practices in general. Our starting point for this article comes from the core of our own brand vision: the key to every successful brand is continuous innovation. Being on the forefront and differentiating yourself meaningfully once you’re there are the most important means brands have to satisfy market needs and ultimately gain customer loyalty.
Naturally, every well-conceived communication strategy needs to be well-balanced to achieve the brand’s different communication goals. As for increasing mass brand awareness, traditional media has been and still remains the better performing tool that a brand can use, especially in the short run.
However, when analyzing brand communication from a wider angle, it becomes clear that traditional tools are becoming obsolete. TV and radio commercials, web banners, sponsored links, magazine and newspapers ads, billboards…for decades people have been bombed with a multitude of promotional messages dictating what to buy, and how to do it. Well, now that there are the means to answer, people can and want to have their say on this!
Furthermore, and maybe even more importantly, as the market changes at an ever-increasing speed, it has become more and more difficult for marketers to spot and understand new trends in order to develop products & services relevant to their customers.
In this context, interactive medias give marketers a practical tool to:
- Conduct interactive advertising campaigns: either by involving consumers in the creation of the ad or by creatively engaging them in the message through interactive medias.
- Have consumers experience your brand outside purchase-like environments. Interactive medias give people the tools to try, play, and live your brand, which eventually can forge a closer bond between this and its potential or existing users.
- Conduct research among groups of consumers that are gathered online, in communities, networking sites, groups and industry blogs, or that are linked together through interactive media devices.
- Empower consumers with the means to co-create and co-develop new products and services.
These four issues are, we believe, the reason why interactive medias are taking, and will take even more into the future, such an important role for advertising and branding.
Companies and professionals have been talking about this for a decade or so already, but it is only in the recent few years that marketers have begun to conceive and launch interactive advertising campaigns. And apparently the initiative has been really successful, as more and more brands are now following pioneers’ example.
One of these examples goes back to 2004, when Converse launched one of the first interactive advertising initiatives to date: consumers were asked to create videos showing what the brand meant to them. The result – the Converse Gallery – is a collection of 24 second-videos, made entirely by customers, the best of whom were broadcast on the Converse website, as well as on cable networks. Getting consumers involved in the creation of ads promoted the brand image among target audiences. Also, videos developed by brand fans could quite intelligently address the real meaning of the brand in consumers’ minds, in a way likely more meaningfully than traditional promotional messages.
And what about the more recent Nokia project 95 in China? The brand launched a blog-supported N95 road show: Peter Schindler, an experienced traveler, has been called to do a one man road trip across the country and maintain a mobile blog of the whole experience. What a smart way to show and advertise the mobile capabilities and functionalities!
What is really important to note here is that even if brands want to ignore interactive medias, interactive medias are not likely to ignore them! Online communities, networking sites, industry or users blogs…brand fans and consumers groups are well up and active. Moms talk to each other from one side of the world to the other about diaper brands (very often enabled by the brand itself i.e.: P&G’s research section), while sports fans get tuned in on the latest trends and models of their favorite brands through communities. Communities suggest, advise, judge, and complain about brands, creating buzz that can affect the brand both positively and negatively. And they do it regardless of brands themselves.
By ignoring them, brands can be swept up by the noise. However, by using them smartly, brands can participate and somehow lead the conversation inside the community. And if it is true that “buzz advertising” is not easily controllable, it is also true that it can spread virally and it can arouse immediate awareness about new products launches and brand messages in users’ circles.
And what can be said about initiatives in interactive brand experiences? These might not be called direct advertising, but they surely end up creating relatively more brand awareness among industry fans, while performing better than any ad in spurring customer loyalty.
Take Nike ID for instance. The sport brand website gives people the instruments to build on-line customized shoes which can then be bought to order. The attractiveness here is not really in selling customized shoes (even if triggering sales can never be discarded – and what is advertising about if not triggering sales?) but rather in letting customers play, experience, and live Nike, eventually feeling unique and irreplaceable.
Exemplary interactive brand experience campaigns in Asia can be found in the Adidas “The Rook” campaign. This ran throughout 2007 across China, South Korea, Hong Kong, and the Philippines and was based entirely on an interactive digital web platform that enabled users to “live” a rookie’s first season in the NBA. Web users were given access to exclusive footage and 3D video games designed to create a 360-degree experience of the games. Ultimate goal? Naturally, to bond Asian basketball fans to Adidas’ brand, but also to create buzz advertising, drive sales of the NBA related products and leverage the sponsorship agreements in the Asian region.
If it is true that the aforementioned uses of interactive medias for advertising and brand experience can be extremely valuable for creating a consistent, multilayered and integrated brand communication strategy, it is equally true that interactive media can be even more advantageous for conducting consumers and trends research.
Especially when identifying lifestyle changes and tracking trends over time, researchers can use interactive media to build or use existing online communities, web and mobile panels and then treat these as a dynamic, real time instrument to tap into targeted respondents’ brains and uncover invaluable insights.
However, be aware that that simply data-mining existing blogs cannot bring about meaningful market and consumers insights by itself. Communities need to be nourished and strengthened, participants need to be carefully selected and motivated, and moderators need to have the capability to interact with the community while still allowing it to have its own life.
Look at what P&G has done with Vocalpoint. The company has created an online community centered on products and services that moms care and want to talk about. Community talks range from entertainment to fashion, from music to food and beauty and the insights collected from this community are used not only by P&G: Vocalpoint feedback is also sold to third parties!
Even more interesting are the opportunities offered by mobile phones. Recent surveys inform us that nowadays there are three times as many mobile phone subscriptions as there are internet connection subscriptions: with a 40% global penetration rate, mobile phones represent an incredibly effective tool to conduct carefully targeted, real time, wide reaching interactive research. If properly managed, mobile research will allow marketers to reach a very vast pool of respondents, sensibly selecting their target on the basis of very precise characteristics, to use not only text but also pictures and videos as questions and answers, and ultimately do all of this in real time.
The opportunities here are countless. It is up to the researcher, however, to capitalize on them. Successfully managing the tool and the audiences through an emerging methodology can prove quite tricky.
Using interactive medias to give your customers the tools to participate in a product’s creation and development process could represent a golden opportunity for boosting brand R&D capabilities. There are, indeed, quite a few companies that have thrown global design or product development contests, but just a few really make the best out of engaging consumers in co-creating the brand.
Again, we cannot avoid mentioning P&G in this section, as external collaborations are reportedly playing a key role in nearly 50 percent of the company’s products as of today, and co-creation incorporates everything in the company, from trademarks and packaging, to marketing models and engineering, as well as business services and design.
But someone has moved even further. Ryz, a sneaker brand whose design is created entirely by users, allows people to submit their creations and vote for their favorite design on the Internet. The models receiving the most votes are sent into production.
Are you asking yourself what the benefits are here?
As the users themselves create and choose the best product, there is little doubt that this will be successful. No need to hire design staff (or close to none, depending on how far in co-creation your brand goes) and very low investment needed in sales developments, since the product is already promoted inside the community by designers and voters. Is there any more a brand could wish for?
Interactive medias can offer marketers opportunities in different fields: in advertising to start with, but also in creating customer-centric brand experiences, real time research and co-created innovative products. We do not want to argue that interactivity is the only road a brand should walk in order to innovate and rejuvenate themselves. Actually, depending on the industry and the brand goals, other tools might prove relatively more effective.
But interactive medias are indeed one of the choices marketers should consider in their diverse applications and possibilities. In fact, these are gaining increasing relevance in the consumer’s everyday life and therefore represent an effective tool to reach them, speak their language, understand their needs and satisfy their desires.
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