Rich media rulebook

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A year ago, rich media b-to-b advertising was still somewhat a novelty. Marketers used it as a visual disturbance-something different than the static e-mails and banner ads that populated their world.

Today, rich media has become the norm, with organizations such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau creating standards for online video commercials and the number of advertising video streams increasing by 50.2% in 2005, hitting 17.95 billion streams, according to AccuStream iMedia Research.

Customers want to see rich media before making a purchase decision, said David Hallerman, senior analyst with research firm eMarketer.

"More and more, people are expecting to be shown in addition to being told," he said. "We don't have hard-and-fast numbers on this, but it's happening even more in the b-to-b world than the b-to-c," he said. The reason, he said, is b-to-b products' longer sales cycles and higher prices.

In the Comfort Zone

As b-to-b advertisers become more comfortable using rich media, they're starting to experiment with form. Instead of simply adding rich media to a traditional banner ad, marketers are designing rich media surround campaigns-tying banners and skyscrapers together to form one continuous ad that really pops off the page, said Isaac Miknar, director of sales for Zedo, which develops ad serving technology.

"B-to-b publishers are willing to sell out their whole pages to give advertisers a wraparound feel," he said. "You take those banners and ads and make them expandable so [advertisers] can make their ad a huge message and have lots of space to present their case."

Another less costly option is the so-called VideoStrip, a banner ad that displays just a portion of the video image, expanding only when the user mouses over the ad. Both Klipmart and Eyeblaster offer this technology.

One company, Viewpoint, is creating rich media toolbars that can be downloaded to a prospect's or customer's desktop. "These toolbars are giving a b-to-b marketer a persistent presence," said Patrick Vogt, CEO of the Internet marketing technology company. "It's permission-based. It's two-way. And now you don't have to e-mail your customers and prospects."

No matter what the format, advertisers are taking rich media beyond recycled offline campaigns, creating video and interactive content specifically for the Web. In the beginning, most b-to-b video content was simply repurposed television spots or animated video content. Now, said Tony Quin, founder and president of interactive agency IQ Interactive, marketers are developing video campaigns based on how people use the Web.

"You can't just put a TV commercial on the Web and expect it to work. ... [TV is] a purely passive experience," he said. "You've got to create original content that elicits a click. You're creating a directed choice with video. We say the ad is the first step of a sales journey."

Measurement Game

Today, marketers using rich media are thinking beyond simple analytics. Unlike display ads that rely on click-through rates or e-mail marketing that tracks open rates, rich media advertising has several layers of metrics that can help marketers gain more insight into a campaign's success. A recent report from online marketing services provider DoubleClick cites eight types of rich media metrics including display time, interaction rate, average video view time and exit links.

"Rich media is used in so many ways that if you just look at clicks, you're missing a big part of the story," said Ari Paparo, director of rich media for DoubleClick. "Rich media analytics is a melting pot of response-based analysis with branding impact."

This is especially important, said Tom Jenen, director of global marketing at Falk eSolutions, an online ad delivery and management provider, because rich media fits very easily into both brand and direct marketing.

"Rich media results can be very dramatic because you can deliver more actions than clicks," he said. "I've seen cases where a rollover ad was successful because people were interacting with an offer without having to click all the way through to the site. If you looked at the success based on clicks, you couldn't do it."

Make No Misstep

Sometimes, with familiarity comes complacency. Marketers-especially those handling their design in-house or working with an inexperienced agency-make mistakes that can turn an expensive buy into an even bigger capital drain.

Take video, for example. One reason it was slower to catch on in the b-to-b world was its intrusive nature; businesspeople usually don't want loud noises or music pouring out of their offices. Now that video is more widely used in business marketing, there are plenty of marketers out there who have forgotten a mute button, an important design element.

Another mistake, said Chris Young, CEO of video advertising services company Klipmark, is forgetting how your target functions at work: They multitask.

"If you've got an expandable [window] that's driven by a mouse rollover, a best practice should be a time delay-not immediately closing that window if the mouse moves," he said. "If someone is playing a videogame in an ad and they accidentally move their mouse, their game ends. That can be frustrating and brand degrading."

Video or media that doesn't download can be just as frustrating, which is why one design and interactive agency suggests holding off on developing content using the newest tools.

"Most companies will not allow employees to download the latest versions [of plug-ins], so you have to be afraid of creating ads that clients' target audiences will have reasonable restrictions against being able to download them," said John Gray, director, interactive marketing for Enlighten. "Macromedia Flash may be up to version eight, but we design back a version or two for b-to-b." M

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