Interactive marketing is an act of engagement.
Brand marketers and retailers that have launched effective Internet programs are pulling consumers in by providing value-added product information, coupon incentives, special offers and response offers that give marketers some feedback on consumers' purchasing habits and brand preferences.
Some examples of sophisticated Web sites that engage consumers are:
* Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific's Allyourrooms.com, which contains information on the home, encourages consumers to sign up for a newsletter with special offers and coupons. In subscribing to the newsletter, consumers are asked about their brand preferences in paper products.
* Reckitt Benckiser, the U.K.-based marketer of cleaning products, has branched out into the food arena with some condiments. Its best-known brand is French's Mustard. The company is running a contest on its Web site -- Frenchsmustard.com -- where consumers can win a lunch with Duchess Sara Ferguson. Consumers also are encouraged to join the site's e-mail list and sign up for HomeSolutionsNews, a newsletter that offers tips on cleaning, as well as sweepstakes and special offers on the company's other products -- Lysol, Electrasol and Air Wick.
* Food Lion, Charlotte, N.C., is inviting shoppers through its Web site, Foodlion. com, to join its customer panel to participate in opinion polls and satisfaction surveys. Consumers receive incentives to join, including a chance to win $100 gift certificates in a sweepstakes for first-time panel members.
* Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., hosts Your Answer Desk on its Pricechopper.com site in which consumers can get answers to questions and comment on issues of concern.
Some marketers place so much importance on Web marketing as a form of Customer Relationship Management that they've fashioned completely separate Web sites for the sole purpose of providing valuable information and related promotions for consumers.
Georgia-Pacific built such a Web site to help forge consumer relationships with its portfolio of brands. The site is centered on the hugely popular home-decorating and remodeling trend that has been sweeping the country. It seamlessly engages consumers across the company's portfolio of brands.
Allyourrooms.com contains detailed articles and tips regarding home projects, a direct e-mail newsletter with additional design information, coupons for the manufacturer's household brands, and a link to other Georgia-Pacific offers and promotions.
The site also boasts an "arrange-a-room" link that enables users to put together a virtual furniture arrangement online.
Georgia-Pacific benefits by receiving reports and analyses about awareness, increased purchases and loyalty of the consumers who visit the site. Information is collected and analyzed by Bethesda, Md.-based online marketing firm E-centives.
Dadi Akhavan, president, E-centives, pointed to opportunities such sites offer for add-on sales, which can involve food retailers, too.
"Manufacturers with multiple brands have an opportunity to cross sell or up-sell products online. Supermarkets can help educate consumers about a variety of brands by suggesting they check out other products [through links] on their sites," he said.
Akhavan said the process is similar to Amazon.com's method of automatically informing users of other books purchased by people who bought the same title.
"When the consumer goes to the supermarket, they'll have a better understanding of a manufacturer's full line of brands, creating a more effective environment for cross promotions," Akhavan noted.
Supermarkets that track online activity, and present coupons, recipes and other information relevant to a user's browsing patterns will likewise establish strong relationships with their consumers, he said.
Re-evaluating a brand marketer's or retailer's marketing mix to incorporate involved interactive marketing concepts is more crucial, considering the ever-growing number of consumers who rely on the Internet for valuable product information.
According to the 2005 Web2Store Benchmark Survey, conducted by Dieringer Research Group, Milwaukee, 70% of the people polled admitted to conducting pre-shopping research online; 48% said they planned in the year ahead to increase Internet product browsing before purchasing in-store.
Thom Miller, senior consultant for the researcher, said supermarkets that find ways to integrate online programs with the consumer's in-store experience will create an even greater sense of customer loyalty.
"One forward- looking application some supermarkets have adopted is the concept of online shopping lists," he said. "There are even PDF-type devices available now that supermarkets could provide for shoppers. They attach to shopping carts and allow shoppers to access the shopping lists they put together online at home, checking off items as they go."
Reckitt Benckiser has adopted an activity-specific concept on its French's Mustard Web site. When users search for a specific recipe on its site, they are also presented with discount coupons for ingredients contained within the recipes.
The company also sends direct e-mails and online newsletters to its consumers, and highlights contests on its site like the current "Win Lunch with The Duchess" event wherein one lucky consumer will dine with the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson in New York City.
Reckitt Benckiser's Lysol Web site even has an interactive game for children. The game entices younger users to find cartoon-like germs hidden in a virtual home. Helpful tidbits on how to use Lysol in killing bacteria, as well as other Reckitt Benckiser brands used to eradicate germs, are displayed on the company's site.
"It's this type of direct connection with the consumer, their interests and needs that gives them a reason to come back to a company's site again and again," commented Akhavan.
Supermarkets also are attempting to get shoppers to return to their stores through sophisticated, interactive Web sites that often contain brand promotions and links to branded information.
Food Lion provides consumers with a lot of helpful online information, including a bad-weather emergency supplies checklist, food safety tips, weekly recipes and wine guides that pair several varieties of wine with the most appropriate meal.
The chain also partners with a handful of manufacturers by creating links to each brand's Web site. Under its Puppy Club, there are links to Iams, Pedigree and Purina brands. Baby Steps Club links consumers to Pampers, Gerber, Huggies and Nestle sites.
Jeff Lowrance, spokesman for Food Lion, part of the Belgium-based Delhaize Group, said the chain's Web site is designed to give shoppers more value.
"We provide this added value through information, coupons, Food Lion's special-order service, recipes and tips for healthy living, to name a few," he said.
"Providing added value for our customers is the filter through which we evaluate the Web site and make decisions about its content. This also includes information from product manufacturers."
Price Chopper relies on its Web site not only to inform consumers about promotions and other in-store events, but also host its "answer desk," the interactive section where users can ask questions and leave comments, said Greg Norton, webmaster for the chain.
"Our site tells customers what's on special, too, but also suggests recipes that can be prepared from the items on special. It also enables our AdvantEdge loyalty cardholders to maintain multiple shopping lists they can print out or e-mail to friends," Norton added.
Tens of thousands of customers have signed up for the chain's online circular, he said, which is automatically e-mailed to them each week. "This prompts them to return to the Web site regularly."
The site incorporates a "fast help" option using AOL instant messaging, which allows consumers to get live help when searching for a particular item on the site.
Users can also order gift baskets, deli trays, floral arrangements and gift certificates online, and the chain's site features articles from Prevention magazine on health and nutrition. Consumers can sign up for yet another e-mail service that includes updated advice on nutrition, parenting and household tips.
Broadband, which has the potential to further revolutionize interactive marketing, is helping consumers more easily conduct online shopping research, said industry observers.
The percentage of consumers who search online but buy offline is high, according to the 2005 Web2Store Benchmark Survey by the Dieringer Research Group, Milwaukee. The study found that of the 1,100 shoppers polled during the fourth quarter of 2004, two out of three purchased food and beverages in local stores after conducting shopping research online.
The survey also revealed that participants ages 18 to 34 surfed the Web more frequently in search of information about baby products, health and beauty items, household products, and seasonal and party supplies than any other demographic group.
"Some supermarkets are already leveraging the Internet to create brand loyalty, but the hidden factor most haven't considered is the high rate at which broadband is entering consumers' homes," said Thom Miller, senior consultant, Dieringer Research Group. "Once consumers get to the point where they're always connected to the Internet, it'll be even easier to look online than ever before."
Ray Gonzalez, president, 9Second Technologies, an interactive marketing company in Tampa Bay, Fla., expects broadband to create additional marketing opportunities like the addition of full-length commercials to supermarkets' and manufacturers' Web sites.
"As more and more consumers get broadband Internet connection on their home computers, interactive marketing will eventually include multimedia presentations that will directly connect with users online," said Gonzalez.