Elon University

Panel Session: The Future of Interactive Design and the Internet

Where are communities, innovation, branding, marketing and advertising headed?

Brief description: What does the future hold for marketing and communications now that the Web has made such a mess of things? Advertising? Branding? Strategy? Design? Communities and innovation? This panel will explore the likely directions we could be headed in the wide-open world of digital interactivity. The panel was asked to isolate the key challenges and opportunities in the looming future for interactive design online and work to identify some specific action steps that can be taken today to work for a better tomorrow. Session organizer was David Burney, partner and chief executive officer at New Kind,. Participants included Chris Grams, partner and president at New Kind; also formerly of IBM; Steven Keith, an independent collaborator working with companies of all sizes on digital strategy; Becky Minervino, VP and senior interactive strategist for McKinney; Keith Messick, vice president of marketing at Get Satisfaction.

Details of the session

David Burney, CEO of New Kind, facilitated a discussion on the second day of the FutureWeb conference in which panelists shared their thoughts on interactive design’s growing presence in the Web, and its impact on the 21st century business model.

Burney opened the discussion with a few words on the future of marketing, communication and strategic branding.

“The Web has really made a mess of business,” he said. “And I use the term ‘business’ in a broader definition, because we live in an age where non-profits have to learn how to do business.”

Burney said the new kind of business strategy should reflect themes of community culture, including conversation and networking. Successful businesses are thriving off of interactivity with their consumers, who are now the ones creating the businesses.

“We believe missions and values are critical,” Burney said. “This is a culture built around satisfying customers and their wants, needs and values. The customers then form the community, which then begins to drive innovation.”

Innovation is the key to creating a brand and driving the valuation of business, he said.

Chris Grams, president of New Kind, said businesses should first look at the brand through a lens. In the old business model, the company “talks” and the customer is forced to “listen,” causing the company to define the brand. The new model represents a reversed role, in which the company listens to the customers, allowing them to give voice to the brand.

“Now the customer is saying ‘You are, you say, you do,’” Grams said. “All of these voices are coming together, and the brand becomes an accumulation of the voices.”

This new model, which Grams says looks a little more complicated than past years, is synonymous to a symphony. The crowd of customer voices can become overwhelming when trying to guide it into a chorus that is in tune, he said.

Essential to this effort is internal communications. Grams suggests that a senior member of the company should assume the role as “conductor of the symphony.”

Keith Messick, vice president of marketing at Get Satisfaction, reiterated the idea that modern marketing is geared toward adequate customer service and effective communication between the company and customer.

“Customers are now really in control,” he said. “(Get Satisfaction) is designed around what happens in the hotel lobby.”

He explains the types of exchanges are likened to what would happen in the public. If the team has a question, they consult the metaphorical concierge; if they have a problem, they take it to the manager.

Engaging service used to be an afterthought, but is now a requirement, Messick said.

He then pulled up several images of the clichéd, oversized gorilla balloon as a marketing strategy. Grams said marketing efforts should steer clear of these kinds of outdated branding.

Businesses should center promotion on customer feedback and transparent conversation, such as through a Facebook fan page, so the entity “doesn’t just look like a big inflatable gorilla.”

Burney introduced panelist Steven Keith, an independent digital strategist, as “not only loving those gorillas, but actually created a company named Gorilla (Polymedia.)”

“To me, everything is all about storytelling,” Keith said, “and one of the most important things is strategy.

He said sometimes marketing strategists tend to get ahead of themselves in their enthusiasm, and forget to consider their customers’ specific needs. Instead, he said businesses need to think about how to engage with their clients.

“The first thing that will have the greatest impact on the future of interactivity is technology,” Keith said. “It’s always the thing, as a storyteller, that’s about grabbing the wheel from design and taking over.”

He also cites economics and speed as the other driving factors in the future of interactivity in business.

“The future is really scary, but really sexy at the same time,” Keith said.

Becky Minervino, vice president and interactive strategist for McKinney advertising in Durham, brought a local perspective to the discussion.

Social media is no longer a question. She said it was a mere five years ago that she had difficulties advising local businesses to participate in social media, until the buzz became strong enough that clients told her, “I don’t really know what social media is, but I know I need some.”

“It’s been a really fascinating change, because it really gets into cultural changes within organizations,” Minervino said. “The secret sauce comes down to understanding the online habits of customers.

The general theme, she said, is to continue finding a passion point for the targeted customers and broadcasting an experience that will connect with them… all while “trying not to create the infamous inflatable gorilla.”

– By Ashley Dischinger, Imagining the Internet

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