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Most brand stewards probably haven't given much thought to the coming interactive selling environment, or how their particular brands will need to adjust in order to flourish.

In fact, it's been whispered in more than one executive-floor hallway that senior managers would just as soon reach retirement age before interactive must be dealt with.

It may be that traditional methods will only need an adjustment or two to work in these new settings that are on the way. More likely, however, the relationship between buyer and seller will need to be stripped down and examined piece by piece before marketers will know for sure if what has been sold in the past has a chance of being bought in our interactive future.

Looking on the bright side, interactive media will offer marketers new opportunities to create stronger brand identities because interactive means relationships, and relationships often translate to brand loyalty.

It won't be that simple, of course, because brands won't be just "presented" within the interactive environment, they will be incorporated into the programming or software. Marketers will have to understand their brands even more than in the past in order to cast them into new roles as part of interactive content.

Interactive media and interactive branding are here in some forms right now, and will soon be available everywhere. It's vital that every brand marketer prepare now for the coming interactive age, or be prepared to be pre-empted by competitors.

Here are some suggested ways to get started:

1. Evaluate your brand's potential with an "interactive audit." Now is the time for marketing teams to determine how ready their brands are to deal with the realities of interactive marketing.

For example, who would have thought that a commodity marketing board would have had an interest in interactive communications? Yet the Potato Board is currently testing interactive kiosks in produce departments that offer recipes, tips and buying suggestions for shoppers.

2. Learn how to create interactive messages. Right now, most of the scripting and art direction in interactive platforms is being done by the software developers themselves, who have not been trained to deal with the critical issues of branding. As more interactive opportunities arise, a brand's communications agency will need to train their people to marry: 1) direct marketing skills, with 2) appropriate content development disciplines, and 3) the identity-crafting talents of traditional agency creative directors.

3. Develop interactive media planning. In the same way, media professionals will have to relearn how to plan, buy and measure the effectiveness of a vehicle or a particular kind of communications format.

4. Practice convergent communications as interactive marketing takes hold. The tenets of convergent communications are even more crucial in interactive environments than in conventional settings. The brand messages communicated via various interactive platforms need to be coordinated and focused on the customer's needs in a consistent stream of strategically compelling content.

Huge telephone and cable companies are not the only firms that can benefit from partnerships to achieve more leverage in the interactive world. Brands might also consider whether they should navigate this new world in partnership with other brands inside or outside their brand family or corporate stable.

6. Help in establishing industry clutter and privacy guidelines. There's no denying that clutter concerns and privacy legislation will remain an ominous backdrop to interactive marketing. Smart brand teams are already considering these issues as part of their current planning.

For those brands that are hoping to participate in the new media, it's time to come to grips with what clutter and privacy parameters would be appropriate, and to contribute to industry efforts to create sensible self-regulation.

The interactive age will enable brands to positively affect their identity if the stewards involved truly understand how to capitalize on the advantages of this form of selling. Interactive is not a toy or a fad or a marginal player in the media game. Interactive media are the communications platforms of the future, and interactive marketing may turn out to be the most powerful tool ever for creating long-term relationships with brand customers.

Mr. Upshaw is managing director of Ketchum Interactive Group, San Francisco. Excerpted from "Building Brand Identity: A Strategy for Success in a Hostile Marketplace." Copyright 1995 Lynn B. Upshaw. Reprinted by permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons. To order a copy of this book call (800) 225-5945.

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