To me online interactive media is not synonymous with the two-way communication. It could be one of its aspirational contexts, which has directly derived from the traditional “inevitable” contact between the seller and the buyer or the relationship marketing practices, which are also only aspiring to promote such communication, but in reality often end up focusing on the database management to send out targeted newsletters and other offers through e-mail or other services, which are doubtfully encouraging receiver’s response.
Online interaction can involve a simple interaction with a product’s attributes and design, such as Nike’s trainers’ customization platform. The more time one spends customizing their trainers before buying them, the more personal involvement and attachment the user will experience towards those trainers and “hopefully” the whole Nike brand, due to the cognitive process and decision making that such practice involves. It’s a fast and easy way to increase brand engagement, but has very little communication from Nike’s end, which only makes and delivers the order.
Similar practice is used by “GAP adventures” company through “exploratory tour” idea, which allows customers to become co-creators and pioneers, designing new products in new destinations. This type of engagement is stronger, as the tours are not only experienced by those who created them, but the other customers too. Customers- creators are bound to feel very personal about such products and will want to see them become popular. The company is not only gaining some qualitative research data and increased customer loyalty, but could potentially get a number of dedicated “ free agents” in the viral marketing field.
When brands get incorporated into user’s self concept by making them not only interact, but take part in the decision making process, the brand becomes part of the user or the user becomes part of the brand.
Incorporating customers into the brand, comodifying them, is what online communities do. Facebook, bebo, second life, etc., provide users with the space where they can interact with each other only if they agree to be fed with endless adverts and applications, many designed by companies to reach their market.
Businesses create blogs and forums on their sites for similar reasons – to commodify their customers by encouraging interaction between them, but not necesserally taking an active part in such interaction. Again, the more time one spends interacting on such site, the more involved he/she will be with a brand and the company, the bigger the chance of retaining old and attracting new customers.
From the SEO point of view, this has a hidden advantage of “content generation”, i.e. customers help the company to promote itself up the search engine rankings by increasing daily amount of content on the site.
So the company not only gains WOM promotion, but free employment force as well, who might not particularly care about company’s goals and objectives but invest their time, effort and “self” in generating certain input through actively taking part in the activities, projects, discussions. It makes them associate with the brand and potentially feel like a part of something bigger, and in cases of shared values, part of something they believe in. Feeling part of the group they seek belonging to, but having a power to express their individuality is the “top postmodern consumer desire”, right?
And of course interactive media is time and cost efficient. Instead of wasting employees’ time and company money on phone calls, the more efficient way is to send a text or an e-mail. On the other hand, Ryanair does not have an e-mail address you can use or number you can text on; instead there is a great number of “frequently asked questions”, and if you haven’t found your info there, the only other option is that lovely interactive and more personal phone call you can make for 10 p a minute + your mobile charges. I choose e-mail any day over spending a fortune “interacting” with someone, whose accent prolongs it to an extra hour and a half.