Interactive Users Yield Higher ROI

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Online relationships bring content providers and retailers closer to potential purchasers in a virtual environment. Yet online supplier-customer interactions are most effective when they replicate offline, face-to-face interactions.

Attracting valuable users to a given Web site, engaging them with creative content, and providing incentives to keep them loyal to a brand, product or site are all dependent on the effectiveness of the communication between the online marketer and the site visitors.

Customer information is the most valuable commodity. It is part of the company inventory that can be used to develop products and services in a targeted and cost-effective manner. To establish a reciprocating relationship with consumers, marketers must give value for the shared information. To get the most out of their online audiences, entertainment marketers should target those who:

• Provide personal information.

• Respond to customer surveys.

• Personalize the content they use.

• Shop for and purchase products online.

In return for the value they receive from users, entertainment marketers can offer customization options. Ultimately, using customer information to narrowcast to user groups brings higher returns on investment. Instead of sending nondirected messages and products to a random audience, the information collected from interactive users allows marketers to deliver directed messages, services and products to a well-defined target audience.

At this point, the Internet becomes not only a direct marketing channel but also a vehicle for direct distribution. Therefore, interactive users who communicate with online vendors should be recognized as valuable users who play a pivotal role in increasing the flow of revenue.

To identify consumers whose online activities go beyond information seeking, Cyber Dialogue developed a scale of interactivity based on loyalty and personalization measures, such as the number of bookmarks, registered sites and personalized sites.

Currently, 23.6 million online adults comprise the highly interactive Internet user segment. Typically, online adults who score high on the interactivity scale are college-educated males of professional or managerial background, between ages 30 and 49. They have an average annual household income of $64,600.

Interactive adults are highly involved with online entertainment content. Highly interactive online adults are significantly more likely than their counterparts to listen to Internet radio, tune in to online event broadcasts, and download movie clips or shorts, videos, browser plug-ins or online games.

Interactive users are open to branding influences. The Internet is more than a source of text-based information for highly interactive users. These seasoned Web surfers regularly use the Internet as an entertainment medium. As they listen, watch and respond to the Web content on their computer screens, they become active audience members who are ready to receive online marketers' messages. Indeed, users in the high interactivity segment are significantly more likely than other Web surfers to report that online sites have changed their opinions of entertainment brands.

Twenty-eight percent of highly interactive Web users said online content has changed the way they view entertainment brands, compared with only 15 percent of users in the lower end of the scale. This trend can be observed across online entertainment content referencing movie, music, sports and television brands. Targeting highly interactive users in advertising campaigns for such entertainment brands will yield high returns.

Interactive users represent multiple revenue streams for online marketers. Online campaigns that involve such high-end users not only have a strong likelihood of getting their messages across, but they also are likely to create additional revenue streams for the online business. In fact, highly interactive users are more likely than the average cybercitizen to subscribe to paid sites or services (41 percent vs. 32 percent, respectively).

Highly interactive users also spend significantly more money online than the less interactive and the average online user. In the past 12 months, highly interactive users' online spending has exceeded spending by users in the low interactivity segment by a factor of almost 4-to-1. By comparison, online adults spent an average of $273 for their online orders during the same period.

Entertainment content can be used to attract interactive users and to engage visitors with the site. To attract more interactive users or push their current users to higher levels of interactivity, online product and service providers should build online communities around their sites to instill loyalty among consumers. Online communities can be created around broadcast events, shared experiences (e.g., lifetime events) or common interests (e.g., independent European movies, action games, jazz clubs, etc.)

If entertainment sites offer a community experience in personalized form, then online marketers can succeed in bringing a mass communication experience to the desired targeted individual and interactive level. Users who perceive the benefits of receiving personalized attention will unquestionably prefer the online experience to the mass audience experience and will be more willing to register, subscribe and shop at sites that provide such specialized services.

Highly interactive online users leave traces of their Web habits and consumption patterns as they customize, personalize and spend on the sites they visit. If online product and service providers effectively market to these valuable users, they can establish a database of loyal customers and ensure returns on their online business investments.

• Idil Cakim is a senior media and entertainment analyst at Cyber Dialogue Inc., New York, an e-CRM company. Reach her at

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