Making Interactive Advertising Work

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Web-based advertising derives its power from that it can be targeted better than print or broadcast ads and it allows the interested prospect to interact directly with it and, ultimately, the advertiser.


The trouble is, Web users are tired - tired of being hijacked, tired of punching at monkeys, tired of phony dialogue boxes that whisk them from what they're trying to see. Yet their appetite for e-shopping is stronger than ever. If Web-based marketing is a strong, highly targetable process, yet the traditional banner ad is running out of steam, how can e-marketers claim their share of surfers' business?


The answer may lie in truly interactive advertising - a mechanism that turns browsers into prospects by letting them input a minimal amount of personal information, such as a phone number, that the seller can use to contact them directly. Users who click on an interactive ad aren't hijacked to another site unless they choose to click through to it, and the seller's sales force of real human beings receives contact information from self-selected prospects who are interested in buying right now.


According to Scott Kliger, chief technology officer at Enliven, an Ex-cite@Home company, there is "an enormous drop-off" in banner ad effectiveness when viewers are driven away from the context they were in when they saw an ad. Telebanner (www.telebanner.com) gives users the option of being telephoned immediately by a client's sales force, then returns them to what they were doing. Users can ask to be called right away or later. The result is users who are eager, not annoyed, and sales reps who don't have to wade through low-percentage leads.


Interactive marketing creates a one-to-one relationship and turns "just browsing" customers into buyers.


"The difference between a Web site and a physical company is that it is harder to leave a checkout counter at a store, whereas on the Web, everyone is at the same distance," said Kamran Parsaye, CEO of NovuWeb Inc., an e-business solutions provider.


Interactive advertising also opens sales avenues for e-sellers who traditionally lose business to their traditional counterparts: car shoppers, for example, notoriously spend hours doing research on the Web before walking into a dealership to spend their money. Using interactive marketing, an online auto seller can seal the deal before the buyer leaves the Web to visit the brick-and-mortar domain.


Indeed, banner ad click-through rates are below 0.5 percent. The use of rich media banners, another "no-hijack" approach that's three to five times more effective than traditional media, is being portrayed in many quarters as the answer, but they come with their own problems.


First, not everyone knows how to implement them.


"Agencies and advertisers really don't yet quite understand how to use the technologies properly," said Bill McCloskey, founder of Rich Media Special Interest Group.


Second, it's tough to put them into action in the short time frames required by Web advertisers. Third, many sites don't accept rich media yet because of technology constraints. Finally, finding the right way to implement these campaigns is a tricky, trial-and-error process.


Interactive Telebanners offer a simpler path to implementation. They're a form of rich media that offers many of the same benefits without the hi-tech overhead.


Even if only five of every 100 click-throughs to a traditional banner ad will buy, then capturing a name and phone number from 100 percent of click-throughs to a Telebanner ad increases effectiveness by a factor of 20.


What's more, contacting prospects at the moment they're interested and intrigued by your pitch maximizes your chances of closing sales immediately and building relationships that will blossom into sales.


"The way the Internet is, prices will level out; therefore, the differentiating factor is customer service," said Paul Spiegelman, president of call center providers The Beryl Cos.


Naysayers' predictions of the death of banner ads appear premature. With interactive advertising, the best is yet to come, as advertisers take better advantage of the two-way contact offered by the Web to marry online speed with offline salespeople and get the maximum leverage from both worlds.


Vytas Kisielius is president of Realcall, Stamford, CT.
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