According to these authors, "The use of interactive media also draws attention to the theoretical differences between traditional conceptualizations on advertising and its applications to today's marketplace. Traditional approaches to advertising practice and research have implicitly assumed that advertising is something the marketer does to the consumer" (p. 369). By sharp contrast, interactive advertising makes it clear that what advertising does to the consumer is only one limited dimension of advertising, highlighting the need to understand what consumers do to advertising and how interactive media affect this two-way interaction (Bryant & Zillman, 2002).
While every situation is unique, there are some important commonalities that exist among potential consumers that should be taken into account. For example, the reasons any potential customers seek, self-select, process, use, and respond to information that are part of the decision-making process for a purchase involve an fundamental understanding of how interactive marketing communication takes place. Furthermore, the communication that does take place among multiple consumers over interactive media and computer-moderated forums such as portals and chat rooms has the potential to significantly influence the manner in which consumers tend to respond to marketers' communications.
According to some analysts, "Interactive media of various types not only open new opportunities for communication with and among consumers" (Spalter, 1996, cited in Bryant & Zillman, 2002, p. 369), they also create opportunities for creating new measures of consumer response to such communications, as well as to product offerings and other marketing initiatives. Furthermore, interactive media emphasize the significance of providing the potential consumer with the opportunity to make a real-time purchase decision in the realm of marketing communication (Bryant & Zillman, 2002).
Typical Problems Encountered with Interactive Marketing that Constrain the Purchase Decision. Interactive marketing appears to be much like riding a bike - the more one does it, the better one becomes. As more and more companies have established an online presence and extended their marketing function to include their Web sites, some problems have been encountered that should be taken into account. Clearly, some approaches have been more successful than others. The growing body of literature on Web-based marketing has been largely focused on some fairly annoying techniques such as banner advertisements, buttons, and pop-up windows (Hwang, Lee & McMillan, 2003). Needless to say, most American consumers simply hate unwanted and unsolicited marketing initiatives that interfere with their online shopping experience (pers. obs.), after all, they are in a hurry. In fact, these types of interactive marketing ploys may cause more harm than good when it comes to facilitating the purchase-decision process. According to Perina (2003), "Interactive signs in airports, taxis, street corners and public restrooms are turning the real world into an 'Outernet.' Some therapists believe that this digital blitzkrieg may ultimately contribute to a hotly contested disorder, 'sensory defensiveness'" (p. 78). By all accounts, though, no marketer in his or her right mind wants to encourage a defensive barrier against their message in the minds of potential consumers. Today, things have changed in fundamental ways and marketers who ignore these changes do so only at their peril.
According to Varey (2001), "What seems to be forgotten in much discussion of marketing, is that sometimes it is the consumers and buyers, not the providers, who initiate marketing actions. Traditional marketing focuses on attention-getting and persuasion to attract consumers to become customers. Interactive marketing has a different, more strategic, agenda - to maintain a healthy customer-supplier relationship with each consumer or buyer" (p. 88).
Because the competition in the online environment is fierce, though, it is vitally important for marketers to provide their interactive marketing initiatives in such a fashion that they compel the potential customer to remain on the company's site long enough to make a positive decision to purchase. In this regard, Varey (2001) reports that:
Expressive communication actions - from the marketer to the consumer - are intended to affect consumer and buyer behaviour in a way that is advantageous to the supplier, through promotional messages. Impressive communication actions can, on the other hand, affect the marketer's behaviour as well. These are intended to be advantageous to both. Thus, elicitation should come as an early input to the value-creation process (at the generative phase). (p. 88).
The "generative phase," then, is the crux of the matter, of course. If potential consumers are not sufficiently engaged by the interactive medium and message presented, they can reasonably be expected to just "keep on surfing" until they find what they want and need. If the potential customers has an existing relationship with the enterprise, the chances that this purchase decision will be made favorably are amplified, but the fact remains that there is an opportunity for newcomers to capture additional market share through thoughtful and meaningful interactive marketing techniques that provide potential customers with the information they need to make this decision when and where they want it. Many existing customers and potential customers may want to enjoy the "look and feel" of something before they make the decision to purchase it, and this will not likely change in any substantive fashion in the future ("Online shopping still second best, 2005).
The research showed that American consumers enjoy their online shopping experiences, but the competition is intense and the need to communicate an accurate and compelling message through an interactive marketing function has assumed increasing importance in recent years. One of the most important issues to emerge from this investigation concerned the need to keep the marketing message relevant, accessible and user-friendly to ensure that the potential consumer is sufficiently engaged to remain long enough to make the critical purchase decision for the service or product involved. In the final analysis then, American consumers are in a hurry and many of them may already have a good idea of what they want to purchase. To the extent that companies today are able to provide potential customers with the purchase decision information they need to make an informed and timely decision is the extent to which they will likely succeed.
Bryant, J., & Zillmann, D. (2002). Media effects: Advances in theory and research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Davis, J., Peltier, J.W., Schibrowsky, J.A., & Schultz, D.E. (2002). Interactive psychographics: Cross-selling in the banking industry. Journal of Advertising Research, 42(2), 7-9.
Hwang, J.S., Lee, G., & Mcmillan, S.J. (2003). Effects of structural and perceptual factors on attitudes toward the Website. Journal of Advertising Research, 43(4), 400.
Online shopping 'still second best.' (2005, April 19). Evening Gazette (London), 14.
Peltier, J.W., Schibrowsky, J.A., & Schultz, D.E. (2002). Leveraging customer information to develop sequential communication strategies: A case study of charitable-giving behavior. Journal of Advertising Research, 42(4), 23.
Perina, K. (2003, March-April). Virtual mind reading coming soon to a theater near you. Psychology Today, 36(2), 78.