Incorporating Customer Interaction Into the Marketing Plan

Today more than ever, the Internet is part of mainstream culture. Google is now a verb as well as a search engine. For the first time in history, major retailers receive more orders online than through their catalogues. 6.2 million tune into daily. 55.7 million interact monthly on

Not only are consumers visiting, but they are increasingly interactive — uploading videos; voting; sharing opinions, ranting and raving; creating multi-media experiences; and researching products and services online. Today’s customers are willing and able to become involved with creating and marketing the products they consume.

For marketers and small business owners, this fundamental shift in consumer behavior must be recognized in the marketing plan. We should be thinking how to get consumers involved — interacting with and experiencing — our products, services and ideas. Here are some ways I’ve noticed marketers getting their customers involved. Consider the core concepts behind each and apply your own “twist” to your marketing:

Customer-Created Advertising

Super Bowl XLI advertisers are recognizing the growing consumer demand for interactivity by getting consumers and viewers involved in 2007 Super Bowl ads.

Chevrolet is sponsoring the Chevy College Ad contest. Teams of full- time college students have the chance to enter their own ad concept. The winning team will be involved with the commercial’s production.

Frito-Lay is inviting people to submit commercials for a chance to have their’s used in the Doritos Super Bowl spot. In conjunction, Yahoo! Video is going to provide a section for contestants to share their entries. Doritos will pick the top five and visitors to Yahoo! Video will get to vote for their favorite.

Even the NFL itself is getting involved. During November and December the NFL will be accepting pitches for “the best Super Bowl commercial ever.”

Customer-Driven Pricing

In at least one instance, customers have long been deciding the price and the selling company decides the product. We’ve all heard of, where we can name our own price for hotel, air or car rentals. Through Internet technology, Priceline checks with their vendors and — if any are available at that price — quickly responds with your travel details.

Customer-Created Products

At Dell you can configure and order your own computer online. It is then assembled to order and shipped to your home. In the music industry, some bands give away freeware that allow users to create their own mixes of the band’s songs. In essence, each listener creates his/her unique version of the song.

Multi-Media Goes Viral

People love to share fun or heartwarming video. Yahoo’s “Current Buzz” recently featured a series of consumer-created videos of Tickle Me Elmo Extreme laughing himself off the shelves. A search for “TMX Elmo” returned about 250 videos.

Elmo’s 250 doesn’t hold a candle to Mentos’ 9800+ videos. These are mostly result of a recent Mentos/Coke geyser video contest in conjunction with YouTube. 150 entered, plus the contest set off a viral frenzy as countless people shared the videos.

In addition to consumer attention, these videos are attracting media attention. Besides the previously mentioned Current Buzz spot, Mythbusters, Money/CNN and David Letterman have featured stories as a result of videos.

While most brands don’t have the pull of a Tickle Me Elmo or Coke (or the budget for a Super Bowl commercial contest) to gain worldwide attention, all products have fans. No matter what your size (1) reaching your fans, (2) involving them with your product and (3) encouraging interaction can build profit and brand equity.

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