Interactive Marketing 2.0
~Pamela Lund, CEO PL Interactive, Inc.
When I began my consulting practice in 1999, I described myself as a
“web content strategist.” For the most part, that translated into
working with clients to provide the kind of content strategy on the web
that they used offlineæbrochure, news, PR, articles, product catalog,
email as the online proxy for phone, advertising, surveys and perhaps
an online community component. “Interactive” was a buzzword that folks used to refer
to the web, but aside from email, virtual gaming and a few other early-adopter audience
segments, the web was still primarily a one-way, outbound communication medium as
far as business was concerned.
Evolution of Interactive Marketing
Around 2000 I started to see an increase in awareness of the possibilities for nascent
interactivity among my clientsæcontent personalization, targeted messaging, tracking
online behavior, search engine optimization and content syndication were all on the
table for discussion. Initially, however, coming up with an effective strategy for using this
technology was slow going.
The technology itself was relatively unsophisticated. Personalization engines typically
mimicked Amazon’s community-based rules for serving up targeted contentæthe
“people who purchased The Book of Cheese also purchased The Cheese Connoisseur”
model of recommendations. Analytics packages that tracked online behavior were
largely unintuitive and the data was difficult to interpret. Search engine optimization was
on the radar, but its best practices not widely adopted. Content syndication technology
had been in place for a while, but was primarily used by news aggregators. Still, there
was a noticeable change in the way my clients were thinking about the potential for
interactivity on the web.
The Advent of Web 2.0
As the dot-com boom gave way to the dot-com bust of 2001, things went quiet for a
while. When business started to perk up again in 2003, ideas of interactivity had perhaps
been given time to gel. Clients again started talking about how to make the web more of
two-way communication medium through personalization, knowledge sharing, user-
contributed content and closing the feedback loop through more sophisticated analysis
and targeted responses.
While these initiatives were starting to take root on the business side, a shift in how the
general public used the web started taking place as well. Partially due to digital
technology and broadband online access becoming the norm, everyday users were
beginning to author their own experience of the web and doing so was getting easier.
Self-published diaries were nothing new online, but blogging technology like
MovableType and communities of bloggers such as LiveJournal created an
infrastructure that brought the ubiquity of available commentary to a new level. Putting
photos on the web was nothing new, but being able to tag those photos with keywords
and create nodes of connection between user-identified related content like on Flickr
created a kind of real-time visual mind map of how users see the world. Posting videos
online was nothing new, but with easy of access to digital video and sites like YouTube,
creating your own mini-movie and broadcasting it online could be accomplished on a
whim. Through RSS and podcast feeds, you can syndicate your writings and video for
the world to see. The “Web 2.0” experience meant the barriers to entry for self-authored
and communal expression were lowered to whim level, bringing the online experience to
another order of interactivity.
Implication for Interactive Marketing Strategy
Web 2.0 represents an enhanced level of user sophistication. Users who are subjected
to an almost endless stream of messaging of widely varying quality and credibility have
to develop instant radar for authentic and credible communication to avoid drowning in
useless information. Also, users are becoming accustomed to authoring and
personalizing their own experience and using multiple online channels to access the
kinds of experience they’re looking for. The advent of Web 2.0 and its technology has
broad implications for interactive marketing strategy.
Consumers who are sophisticated about messaging (and if they’re not now, they will be)
will make quick judgments about what is, and is not, meaningful to them. To create an
interactive marketing strategy that will reach them, delivering personalized, down-to-
earth, individually targeted messages is a must. Generic, broadly targeted messaging
that might have worked when the outbound messaging communication bar was set
relatively low isn’t going to cut it in a competitive information marketplace. If your
message isn’t meaningful to your consumer, it will likely be ignored altogether.
Your interactive marketing strategy should also consider taking advantage of the
multiple distribution channels online, including RSS feeds, podcasts, video seminars,
search engines and blogs. Your customers are likely to be scanning for the information
they’re looking for (and if not now, they will be) by searching RSS and podcast feed
aggregators, blogging sites, video sites, and product and service reviews. If your
information appears in one of these channels, it stands a good chance of showing up in
Google, Yahoo! and other search engines. If not, you should look into optimizing your
content for search engines as well.
Elements of an Optimal Strategy
The elements of a good 2.0 interactive marketing strategy can all be boiled down to 1)
targeted content and 2) distribution to the right channel(s).
The first step is gathering the data that will inform you about how to target your content.
Understanding how consumers use the web in general and your site in particular is key
to your strategy. Creating targeted messaging based on that understanding is an
iterative process best guided by a robust analytics package. Analytics software has
become much more intuitive to navigate over the last two to three years and should be
considered foundational to any interactive marketing strategy.
The next step is to segment your audience. The more specifically you can identify your
audience segments, the better your messaging will work to bring in the results you’re
looking for. Once you have identified basic characteristics of your audience segments,
create a persona for each that you can get to “know” over time.
Your strategy for creating targeted content will be based on the personas you’ve
created. This is where it helps to have a good interactive marketing strategist on board.
One option would be to optimize and target content manually for each persona. This is
manageable if you have only one or two personas and clearly defined areas of your site
that they’re likely to visit. For multiple personas, setting up a personalization engine will
make optimizing your messaging for each much more manageable. Using your analytics
data and hypotheses on how each persona will interact on the site and off, your
strategist can set up business rules within the personalization engine that will serve up a
different experience to each audience segment.
The interactive content you create will be individualized to meet the needs of each
segment. Content might include RSS news feeds, audio and/or video podcasts,
webinars, product demos, interactive tools, white papers, blogs or articles. An effort
should be made to see that these pieces of content get cataloged by external news
aggregators, industry-specific directories and search engines. Search engine
optimization (SEO) of your site and its content will increase the chances that your
content will be indexed by aggregators, directories and search engines.
Providing ways for consumers to interact, personalize and author their own
experience of your site if possible is an ideal way to 1) let them contribute to the
personalization process and 2) collect data on how they best like to use your site. For
instance, a wizard that enables the user to enter their product/service/user interface
preferences can generate a customized “home page” experience on your site where you
can serve up more closely targeted messages, product recommendations and
demonstrations, power-user guides, and educational content like webinars. Based on
how that user interacts with “their” home page, you can further optimize its contents by
making good use of your personalization engine.
Creating an effective interactive marketing strategy that meets the needs of the Web 2.0
audience takes into account each of these elements. The good news is that, aside from
a few niche industries, not many businesses online are doing it as well as they could be.
There remains a lot of opportunity to maximize your site’s ROI potential.
Pamela Lund is CEO and lead interactive marketing strategist for PL Interactive, Inc.
Pamela can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.