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McAfee speaks to its customers, boosts sales with animated 'avatar'

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McAfee Inc., a Santa Clara, Calif.-based provider of security software, faced a challenge marketing one of its b-to-b products, ASaP VirusScan. Visitors to the company's online store didn't completely understand that ASaP VirusScan, its managed VirusScan product, was just that-managed.

As a result, conversion rates were very low. The online store had plenty of browsers but many fewer buyers, said Gladys Gavlak, eCommerce marketing and business development manager.

Looking to give customers more information without making the site too text-heavy, McAfee chose Flash-based technology from Oddcast Inc., a company that designs animated virtual characters, or "VHosts."

McAfee needed to communicate the value of its product using more than written text, said Adi Sideman, Oddcast's CEO and founder. "This cannot be achieved through static media. As compared to video, Flash loads in seconds and has a much higher penetration rate than Windows Media Player, [RealPlayer,] Shockwave and QuickTime. If customers are already abandoning midpurchase, a download requirement would serve to drive conversions down even further."

McAfee worked with Oddcast to create a female "avatar," or virtual character. McAfee conducted an A/B test, with 50% of the site's visitors randomly assigned to a page that featured the avatar and 50% directed to the same page minus the Flash component.

Potential customers listened to the avatar's audio message 81% of the time, Gavlak said. As a result, the average close rate for customers who saw the Flash-based avatar was 10% higher than for those who didn't. In fact, average daily sales went up by 10% during the time the avatar was deployed on the product site.

"The VHost helped us explain that customer's computers are always connected to McAfee's network operating systems," Gavlak said. "This is a compelling message for the customer and one we wanted them to fully grasp."

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