Digital Interactivity: Unanticipated Consequences for Markets, Marketing, and Consumers

by John A. Deighton & Leora Kornfeld

Overview — For digital marketing practice and theory, the last decade has brought two related surprises: the rise of social media and the rise of search media. Marketing has struggled to find its place on these new communication pathways. Old paradigms have been slow to die. This paper reviews early beliefs about interactive marketing, then identifies 5 discrete roles for interactive technology in contemporary life and 5 ways that firms respond. It concludes that the new media are rewarding more participatory, more sincere, and less directive marketing styles than the old broadcast media rewarded. Key concepts include:

  • Successful interactive marketing may be less a matter of domination and control, and more a matter of fitting in.
  • There is a human need to assert and present to the world a self-serving identity and to manage one's personal reputation.
  • The form of interactivity most attractive to marketing is one that facilitates people's ability to construct their identity and contribute to the making of meaning.

Author Abstract

The digital interactive transformation in marketing is not unfolding, as many thought it would, on the model of direct marketing. That model anticipated that digital media using rich profiling data would intrude marketing messaging more deeply and more precisely into consumer lives than broadcast media had been able to do. But the technology that threatened intrusion is delivering seclusion. The transformation is unfolding on a model of consumer collaboration, in which consumers use digital media that lie beyond the control of marketers to communicate among one another, responding to marketing's intrusions by disseminating counterargument, information sharing, rebuttal, parody, reproach and, though more rarely, fandom. Globally the media of collaboration range from consumer review sites like Epinions and Trip Advisor, to collaborative networking sites like Bebo, Facebook, Orkut and Meetup, to trading sites like Craigslist and EBay, and user-generated content sites like YouTube, Cyworld, and blogs. This paper reviews five emerging paradigms governing marketing in the environment of these new media. It concludes that while meaning-making remains the central purpose of marketing communication, the shift from broadcasting to interaction within digital communities is moving the locus of control over meanings from marketer to consumer and rewarding more participatory, more sincere, and less directive marketing styles.

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