Monday, September 16, 2013

How Much Interactivity Does Online Marketing Need?

We hear it all the time: Online marketing gives us "interactivity" with our clients.  It provides a chance to not only tell our story, but to listen to the stories of our customers.  Via various e-marketing applications, we can open up "a dialogue" with current and potential buyers.

But is interactivity in online marketing being oversold?  How much interactivity actually takes place?  And how much interactivity does your online marketing need to reap the benefits of various e-marketing tools such as social media, mobile apps, smart devices, behavioral advertising, and even just "old-fashioned" websites?

The Selling Points of Interactivity

Ever since the early days of the internet, marketers were excited that instead of just sitting in front of a television, potential customers would be surfing, searching, and socializing in a manner that allowed consumers the ability to self-select advertising messages, thus increasing the effectiveness of each particular ad that a consumer encountered.  As more interactive communication tools were developed, marketers dreamed of a world where every consumer would be their "friend" and billions of conversations would lead to more connectivity, positive affect, and brand loyalty.

Marketers built websites that did more than just present information.  They allowed visitors to play games, build potential products, and visualize products in various environments.  They invited consumers to interact through email, chat, discussion boards, feedback forums, and wall postings.  And they begged these same consumers to tell their friends of their excitement for the brand via votes, rankings, shares, likes, diggs, tweets, etc.

Marketers based their excitement for interactivity on the idea that more interaction or engagement would bring consumers psychologically closer to the brands that were being marketed, and that consumers would start to have some degree of loyalty toward the brand akin to one's loyalty toward friends.  But that's not always how it worked.

The Problems with Interactivity

There were five main problems with the dream of online interactivity:
  1. Interacting with consumers takes a lot of time, and time means money.
  2. Interaction is not always positive.
  3. As more companies interact, your particular brand isn't so special anymore.
  4. Once you start a consumer "friendship," it's hard to stop.
  5. Consumer interactions with each other may damage your brand image.
1. Interacting with consumers takes a lot of time, and time means money.  The first problem with interactivity, that it takes much more time than first thought, is a deal-breaker for a great many firms these days.  In the earlier days of online interactivity, marketers sent out an email or two in response to an online consumer inquiry.  As interactive methods were developed, the scope and intensity of interaction grew as well.  Now, with thousands (or millions) of consumers following a particular brand on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere, it's nearly impossible to respond to all posts much less read what is said about the brand.  Quite often, firms use algorithms to sort through comments or tweets to determine trends (whether positive or negative) without having to read each post.  Regardless, the promise of interaction has come to represent a fairly heavy financial burden on brands that truly want to interact on a one-to-one basis.

2. Interaction is not always positive.  When a customer sends a letter or an email complaining about a particular aspect of your brand, you have the opportunity to reply (if you have the time and labor force) in an attempt to resolve the complaint.  Fortunately, whether or not the complaint is resolved, the communication typically remains between the brand and the individual consumer.  The use of social media as an interaction tool, however, has opened up negative communications to other customers and, quite often, to the general public.  When marketers are slow to address negative comments, there is the risk that such comments will snowball and pull in consumers who may have similar tendencies toward negativity, but who were not prone to act upon that negativity in a manner that hurts the brand.  Although many optimistic marketers will suggest that any such avalanches of public complaining behavior provide an opportunity to improve the product offering and resolve the complaints, quite often the damage of a slew of negative commentary is hard to overcome.

3. As more companies interact, your particular brand isn't so special anymore. When you're the first in your market to respond to a consumer's desire for interaction, the effect is likely quite positive.  But the current state of the marketplace allows companies both large and small to interact with individual consumers at a relatively high frequency.  In other words, those consumer friends you were trying to bring to your lunch table are being wooed by a number of other suitors who may be having something better for lunch.

4. Once you start a consumer "friendship," it's hard to stop.  For many early entrants to the consumer interactivity game, the significant increase in employee or contractor time to interact with clients became unwieldy.  As new marketing metrics were developed, brand managers often found negative returns on the interactivity investments.  This resulted in decreased funding for interactive marketing.  It wasn't that brands wanted to say "goodbye" to their new consumer friends, but just that they didn't have so much time to talk anymore.  Unfortunately, many clients had become accustomed to the high levels of interaction and when interactivity declined, the potential for consumer disappointment became greater. 

5. Consumer interactions with each other may damage your brand image.  Positive word-of-mouth has always been appreciated by savvy marketers.  The advent of interactive e-marketing brought with it the potential not only for interactivity between the brand and the consumers, but between consumers as well.  While this meant a greater potential for positive word-of-mouth (or in its ultimate form, positive viral marketing), it also meant that negative talk could also be propagated.  In its innocent forms, this meant that disgruntled consumers could spread the word quite easily to other consumers about a particular negative aspect of the brand.  In its more sinister forms, it meant that competitors could infiltrate your brand's consumer base and make trouble like never before.

How much interactivity is needed?

Clearly, the answer to the question of how much interactivity is needed depends on the firm, the industry, the market segments to be served and their expectations, the competitive environment, the available technology, and the costs to interact.  Time and time again, marketers are quick to promote the idea that interactivity is the holy grail that will elevate a brand to highly profitable levels.  However, most marketers are slow to embrace the need for clear metrics to measure costs and benefits of interactivity.  But that's a topic for another day.

In the meantime, let's follow the premise that interactivity, at least to some degree, is sensible.

Be sensible,

A few more things to peruse:

Kim, Ryan (2011), “Badgeville Turns Any Website into a Social Network,” Gigaom (September 12),

Napoletano, Erika (2011), “How Two Small Companies Are Driving Revenue Using Social Media,” Entrepreneur (September 26),

Stead, Sylvia (2012), “As Online News Changes, Interactivity Becomes Important,” The Globe and Mail (April 2),, Inc. (2012), “Traditional Advertising Lacks 'Creative Interactivity' According to Online Creative Community Survey,” GlobeNewsWire (March 13),


  1. This post really helped to see not only the positive side of interactivity but keep in mind the negative effect that this can have on a company. In order for a company to be fully successful it needs to understand the risks that come with interaction and promote it in a way that wont deteriorate the brand and its accomplishment.

  2. I would have to agree with not only Mr Miyazaki's post but also with florencialblog's comment too. I was always aware of the positive side of interactivity and after carefully reading this post I can appreciate the negative side of interactivity as well. However, I couldn't help but wonder, how can a company enhance the positive aspects of interactivity while decreasing the negative consequences of it? That'a a though that I am still debating.

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  4. Your post was very thought provoking. I never thought of interactivity to that extent, especially the problems of interactivity. Your post got me to think about the positives and negatives of the subject, that was ultimately the base for my blog. Interactivity in the online markets is such a controversial subject because of the many sides to it. Is there really ever a perfect level of interactivity? Is it even possible to achieve? I guess it is up to the consumer to decide that, isn't it?

  5. I really enjoyed reading your post, I am not likely to enjoy reading unless it really catches my attention. I think this definitely gave me another perspective on online interactivity. You made really good points and really hit the core.

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  7. Although interactivity has its cons I believe it's impossible to scape it in this era. Clients expect and even demand companies to have Websites, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Those companies who don't have them lose appeal. Companies should spend as much as financially feasible on interacting with customers. After all its the best way to strengthen the relationship between the company and its customers.

  8. I thought this article was interesting in the fact that it talks about the problematic aspects of online interactivity, but even after reading this, and reading other articles about online interactivity, I don't think these points should be used as a basis AGAINST it. Instead, I think they should be looked at as guidelines of what to OVERCOME with interacting online. Be more creative in your approach so you don't fall into the lulls of online marketing, and learn how to leverage customer interactions to create and reinforce a positive brand image.

  9. Nice facts on online marketing. I think, We should have to keep maintain customer relationship to do online marketing more effectively. Thanks.

  10. This article was very informative on the topic of online Interactivity. This has changed my understanding of how interactivity levels can vary per industry. I believe all businesses small or large should have some type of online marketing activity. Yet, not all businesses need a Facebook, tweeter, website, Instagram, etc., to interact with clients and customers, because it can become costly and have a negative effect on the company. For instance, a small business imagine in the fast food industry can get destroyed by one negative comment posted or published by a local competitor. This results with the small fast food business to have a higher level of interactivity to keep up with customer’s comments and feedback online. Should a small fast food business have a separate budget for online inactivity?

  11. I agree with this post. Social media is very important for companies because it's part of their customer service and they are always interested in feedback. By far, this method is the fastest and easiest for consumers to use. I think the problem comes when people post negative comments about a experience and other customers read it. A bad perception is created about the brand and sometimes it can be hard to overcome this problem.

  12. I really like your information in part #4 of your post. I really find what you say is true, I have experienced it. When you are doing social media you cannot just post your ads and expect people to react. The people you add as friends want to see you engaged in their social media world and not only when you try and pitch stuff. So if you don't want your "friends" or "followers" to backfire and see you as a spammer. Be Active.

  13. The reality is the web is overwhelmed, what was supposed to help has simply given customers too much power. The power customers have makes companies compete aggressively to maintain or bring new customers.The aggressiveness could be good, because there are companies making TOO much money, but if brands stop making money they will shut down and the entire economic system will be crushed.

    Right now the only solution is to try to work with the system and hold as hard as we can.

  14. I would like to add what I think a big problem with interactivity is one that wasn't truly and fully addressed in the blog: sometimes companies assume that people want to be interacted with---this is not always the case. Often, companies become a nuisance trying to interact with customers that don't want that sort of timely interaction, because in the same way that it costs the company time to interact, it costs the busy person time as well. Examples of ways companies can try too hard to interact is by spamming their social media addresses, virtually forcing surveys on their clients, etc. Therefore, I agree that interactivity can be very valuable, but it's a fine line that should not be crossed.

  15. I think this article was a good summary of what I believe are important elements we need to understand before diving into how much interactivity does online marketing need? In a related blog I wrote, I discuss examples that visualize the issues and the problems that might arise when talking about interactivity.

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  17. My focus is the fashion industry. I think one key point that differentiates this industry with others is step two ( Need/desire development). In this step an online retailer needs to offer an exceptional personalized shopping experience, similar or equal to what customers would receive in an actual store. An experience that stays true to the brand and to its target market. Standing out in the consumer's mind would make a specific brand the go-to online shopping retailer.
    E-marketing campaigns need to have a strong presence online but never deviating from the brand's identity and just enough to position itself in the consumer's mind.
    As stated, to succeed in any media we need to know out client - point blank!
    ~Great article

  18. Thanks for the information. I think, we should keep maintain our relationship with the customer to get more leads in future.

  19. Great points you have shared on the selling points of interactivity. Thanks for sharing your view on this.

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