Creating a Culture of Promotion

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If language and custom are the glue that binds a culture together in the offline world, then commerce, content and customization are what adhere us to one another online. It's at that crossroad where marketers can do the most to motivate, educate, inform and move online consumers to act and buy.

Think of this virtual place as a culture of promotion where consumers transact - not on an island separate from other online pursuits, but rather as a mere part of their online existence.

The Internet provides just such an opportunity. But to get there, we need to rework the very nature of promotions by fully embracing interactivity and all that it has to offer us as marketers.

In its ultimate evolution, the Internet requires us to play the Great Creator, concocting promotional cultures that oblige consumers to partake at every turn in the Holy Grail of the digital age - the all elusive e-commerce transaction. The key is to break away from linear logic and connect the gossamer strands that bind our buyers to us online. Here's a blueprint for building just such a culture:

1. Behavior is driven by instant reward. Pavlovian principles rule the online world just as they do in real-world cultures. The more immediate the reward and the more connected to the behavior, the greater the desired action and outcome. That fact requires us to reward trial, use, registration and purchases at the instant of inception.

Payoffs can't be delayed, especially when information and feedback are instantaneous. As proof, consider simple banner advertisements that, when imbedded with instant-win technologies, see click-through rates soar up to 20 percent. Online, consumers want to see, experience, play, shop, buy or win now. Promises of future payoffs aren't good enough when attention cycles run in the nanosecond. Effective promotions need to use the value of immediacy to control and shape consumer behavior. Whether it's through contests, sweepstakes, giveaways or online scratch and win, instant reward is the sweet spot of Internet promotions, destined to remain a primary promotional driver in the years to come.

2. Partnerships create the culture. Your partners ultimately create the culture consumers choose to join and associate with. In bricks-and-mortar, it's the media environment that dictates the partnership. Marketers partner with cable, broadcast or print and hope that these partners alone are strong enough to prevent consumers from wandering away.

In the interactive world, skillful players join and link with other online partners who share a desire to keep consumers within a mutual culture of promotion. So, what was once a straightforward promotion to win free tickets to the Super Bowl now becomes simply the window through which consumers learn and experience more about the NFL - the players, the schedules, the coaches and the cities in which their favorite teams play.

The partnership opportunities are boundless. But, they all must serve to build out the culture of promotion and subtly draw the consumer deeper into a world full of e-commerce opportunities. And because no one partner dominates the discussion, the consumer feels safer to explore, investigate and return. It's more than simple stickiness: The culture comforts and consoles the consumers and provides a place to live, shop and buy.

3. "My place" marketing. So how do you build a space for the individual within a promotional culture? It's all about customization. With the right incentive, consumers will attend a digital campfire, sharing their needs, wants, interests and desires. It's up to marketers to create the place, ways and means for consumers to part with this information via registrations, surveys, online questionnaires and the like.

Then, the mission becomes managing and massaging the data so that each member of the culture receives the individualized nurturing they demand. It's a world where consumers are spoon-fed according to a pre-chosen daily diet of information and opportunities to buy.

Returning to the Super Bowl promotion, the interest of the consumer may be winning tickets. But it's the content they value as a football fan that will draw them back to the site. The delivery of that information allows us to filter content down to the granular level. Peel the skin away from that Super Bowl fan, for instance, and what you find is really an Oakland Raiders fan who desires an online scheduler that identifies upcoming games or automatically e-mails him of an imminent trade.

Filtered even further, the promotion, which began with a ticket giveaway, keeps the consumer coming back for exclusive interviews with Raiders coach Jon Gruden or direct links to the Raiders online licensed apparel store. The content comes from partnerships. But its the filtering that creates the culture of promotion and my place marketing that goes along with it.

4. It's still about simplicity. While cultures are complex, membership is not. Ubiquity makes cultures easy to join for its new members. The same should apply to the cultures of promotion. They should be transparent, operating in the background to reward, filter and customize. It's just this transparency that makes them the ultimate means of controlling and directing consumer behavior and commerce online.

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