Consumers to Marketers: Don't IM Me

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted September 04, 2002
By Bob Woods

When it comes to delivering advertising via instant messaging (IM), marketers and broadband-service providers should take a hard look at what they're doing, according to a study from broadband-software developer BroadJump Inc. Spam is a no-no, and banner ads largely go unnoticed as consumers see the IM space as very personal.

BroadJump's latest research tested banners, e-mail, instant messages and pop-up ads to help broadband service providers better understand which promotional vehicles are most effective in moving subscribers from awareness through purchase and fulfillment of value-added services.

Overall, the results show that new broadband service offerings should be highly targeted and the choice of promotional vehicle carefully considered.

While broadband subscribers have expressed interest in value-added services, the research revealed they are resistant to most of the promotional vehicles used to market such services. One such service is IM, which is perceived by users to be a personal communication tool, not a promotional vehicle. Therefore, users in BroadJump-led online focus groups said it was "inappropriate" for IM to be used for promotion.

Advertising via IM may be ineffective as well, according to the study. "People get so involved with chatting, that they don't even see the ads that are already out there," said Jeremy Friedlander, strategic marketing manager for BroadJump. "So if you look at AOL's Instant Messenger, a lot of these people didn't even recognize, per se, that there were little banner ads inserted into the clients themselves."

This could spell trouble for companies like Yahoo and AOL, both of which either use or will use the real estate space in and around IM windows for advertising.

If service providers sent along pop-up IM messages with specials on services, users would view such an action as "an invasion on their personal space," he also said. "When they're using IM, they're using it to relate to other friends. It is a personal interaction, and having a service provider interrupt that with a promotion is not appropriate."

While BroadJump did not ask about opt-in IM advertising, the company did find that permission-based marketing through channels like e-mail was accepted by the focus groups' members. But advertising intervals need to be in check - about once a month, Friedlander also said.

Even though the opt-in IM question was not asked, Friedlander did say it can be inferred that opt-in IM advertising and marketing would be acceptable to broadband IM users.

Another form of IM-based marketing comes from using interactive agents, also known as IM bots. Companies like ActiveBuddy build these bots to deliver information and marketing messages to consumers. BroadJump didn't frame questions to its focus groups specifically around interactive agent technology. We can assume, though, that broadband consumers would liken IM bot-based marketing in the same vein as opt-in IM - after all, the user has to initiate contact with the interactive agent.

The company also did not examine analog, wireless IM and/or short-message service (SMS) usage, since it only sells its products and services into the broadband arena.

Not surprisingly, e-mail was found to be the most preferred method for receiving promotions. By using e-mail, subscribers have the most control over marketing messages - they can decide when and if to read them, delete them, ignore them and/or respond to them.

Other findings:

  • Pop-up ads are by far the most disliked and intrusive form of promotion. Few people have responded to or purchased anything directly resulting from a pop-up ad.
  • Banners ads are largely invisible to consumers and lost in the clutter.
  • Another form of advertising is called "toast," as they are messages that pop up from the Windows system tray and disappear after a short period of time. This form of advertising is relatively unknown; as such, it is seen by broadband users a novel and appealing way for marketers to communicate with their target audience. Like e-mail, users can decide when to review and when to ignore this kind of message. "We believe this is one area that should be investigated further," Friedlander said.

No matter what channel a marketer uses, though, broadband users see advertising and marketing that comes direct from a service provider as more trustworthy than messages that come from third parties. "All things being equal, if you were so inclined to send out a non opt-in message, the fact that it is a service provider delivering it to consumers has a higher likelihood of them (consumers) responding, but also them not being annoyed," Friedlander said. "So there's more positive correlation associated with it, and less negative."

That point ties into other BroadJump research showing that broadband customers are generally very satisfied with their service providers, he added.

Why look at broadband subscribers? They're "more sophisticated than traditional online buyers and therefore represent a powerful buying community for service providers," Friedlander said. "It is critical for service providers to adapt promotions around the preferences to which these subscribers will most favorably respond. This is particularly important given the market necessity to move beyond basic high-speed access by offering and fulfilling value-added services such as utilities, gaming, streaming video, online music and entertainment."

For its new study, BroadJump conducted six different sets of focus groups consisting of users that spend varying amounts of money via online shopping - from less than $500 per year to more than $1000 per year.

Bob Woods is the managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.

Reprinted from instantmessagingplanet.com.

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