Some call it conversational marketing. Others, event-driven marketing or trigger-based marketing. But the most common and descriptive term for an approach to marketing that’s increasingly important in driving business results today is interactive marketing.

Interactive marketing has risen from our increasingly connected and socially-networked environment, one that’s marked by proliferating media and a distinct shift away from one-way communication from marketers to consumers to two-way conversations. Moving away from “transaction”-based marketing, this alternative invites the customer to own and shape his relationship with the brand. At its core, it is a critical means of engaging customers in the kind of ongoing dialog that helps strengthen brand loyalty.   

Three classic interactive campaigns illustrate its facets.

  • Coca-Cola placed “Small World Machines” (interactive vending machines) in New Delhi, India and Lahore, Pakistan to break down barriers between residents of the two nations. The machines invited passersby to make friends, virtually join hands via the machine and hoist a Coke to happiness – all possible through 3-D touchscreens that streamed a live video feed while recording the interactions. In just three days, over 10,000 cans were distributed.
  • There’s no real connection between dancing elves and office supplies, but OfficeMax’s “Elf Yourself” interactive campaign still drove substantial traffic to the company’s website and boosted brand awareness. Through this innovative Web application, visitors could upload photos, which were placed on the body of an elf that danced to a holiday tune. It’s become a holiday staple since it was launched in 2006.
  • Southwest Airlines utilized Facebook’s check-in feature for an interactive campaign. Each time a customer checked in at an airport serviced by Southwest, the airline donated $1 to the Make a Wish Foundation. Not only did the campaign help a good cause, but Southwest also engaged customers with its brand and reached over 1 million Facebook fans.

While social media is the most likely channel to be used for effective interactive campaigns, it’s not the only one that that can be utilized effectively to boost engagement. With its ability to make purchase recommendations based on customers’ purchase histories, Amazon.com has come up with many creative ways to use customer data to drive productive interactions and help improve their bottom line.  

The rise in mobile deployment has created another likely venue for interactive innovation. Use of Quick Response (QR) codes, for example, has helped marketers bridge the gap between the print ad or business cards, ticket counters and billboards, and the interactive destination or action. By scanning the QR code with their smart phones, customers are instantly connected with the destination or offer. 7Up, for example, used this kind of interactive campaign leading consumers to a free download of its “I Feel Up” song.

The most common examples of interactive marketing campaigns might lie in the consumer products realm, but the strategy is equally relevant for other companies that are more business-to-business, from professional service firms to SaaS companies and small businesses of any type.  

In promoting its presence at the Paris Air Show, in June 2013, General Electric partnered with the social news site Buzzfeed. Part of its campaign entailed an interactive content consumption game dubbed “Flight Mode,” which turned Buzzfeed’s site into a grid of articles you could “fly” over in a little plane using a mouse.

For a small business, it can be as simple as establishing a Facebook page and posting regularly on it to build a following and word-of-mouth presence. The content posted can be original or interesting news items or posts by others that are relevant to the business. It can also take the form of links to coupons on products or services requiring customer interaction to download, or a contest to which the page’s fans may provide viral momentum.

What is absolutely vital to a successful interactive campaign is listening to what customers and other influencers are saying in terms of what they want and what will motivate them to interact. Between expanding social channels and digitally powered networks, it has never been easier to do this, whether through Web searches on your business, monitoring review sites and social media or setting up Web-based chat capabilities to solicit feedback.

As technology continues to advance and Internet and social channels become even more commonplace, interactive marketing is poised to become a staple for establishing awareness, advocacy, and thriving relationships with customers for many business organizations.

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