September 2006 - Emerging Technology

Website Marketing Gets Personal

By Pat Cauley

Imagine that you are simply logging onto one of the normal websites you frequent. Next thing you know, there is a person on your computer screen talking directly to you. A new kind of technology is hitting the web that promises to increase traffic on sites utilizing the service.

“Rovion’s InPerson is the leading provider of borderless video streaming solutions for web publishers,” says Charles Ruderman, vice president of sales. Rovion, which has been selling this technology for about a year, saw the potential for their product by realizing that the technology of blue screens used frequently on television could be crossed over to the web.

Len Ostroff, CEO of Rovion, explains it best, “Consumers have long been ignoring advertising that comes at them from a banner or a skyscraper format, much like they’ve started ignoring other forms of rich media advertising. The Rovion technology doesn’t look like an ad. It’s a real person that walks onto the user’s screen and talks directly to them about what they want to know-be it a promotion, a new service, or just a simple welcome that guides a user through the website.” As a result, this compelling and contemporary technology has allowed Rovion’s clients to boost their interactivity and click-through rates dramatically.

“We had an online retailer [that] boosted a 78-percent increase in sales after utilizing Rovion’s InPerson services,” says Ruderman. Rovion has an impressive list of clients that includes Barnes and Noble, Best Western Hotels, 1-800-Flowers, Miss America, Subway, Sears, HBO, Pontiac and Comcast. However, Rovion is clearly not the only company to catch on to this innovative form of advertising. Oddcast, a New York-based company, uses a similar model to help customers navigate through websites and learn about sales, deals and promotions. The main difference between Oddcast and Rovion is the fact that Oddcast uses cartoon characters to speak directly to the consumers, where as Rovion uses real people.

Oddcast Founder and CEO Adi Sideman had an interesting way of explaining how untapped this market is, “Ninety percent of computers have speakers and 85 percent of users experience multimedia on them, yet businesses on the web are selling silently. Marketers aren’t taking advantage of the second sense-hearing,” he says.

Oddcast’s client roster includes, McDonald’s, ESPN, Holiday Inn, RCA Records, Lexus and Coca-Cola. One client, Goldfish Software, experienced a great surge in sales. “We were confident that our customers and visitors would like the animated avatar, but we had no idea they would love it. Visitors to the site tell us the animated guide is not only helpful, but gives the site a definite personality that they haven’t seen before,” says Judy Thornell of Goldfish Software. Avatars (AV or avvie) are animated images that range from simple but personalized cartoon-like characters used as pictorial signatures in instant messaging to fully developed characters in online communities and video games. Avatars in IM services like AOL and Yahoo! allow users to build the avatar of their choosing, beginning with a variety of models. The shape and color of the face, hair, lips, nose, clothing, background, even the character’s age, can be altered to create the desired effect.

This technology has a powerful impact, because it allows a one-on-one relationship between the advertiser and consumer. One of the main reasons for the success of Rovion and Oddcast is the personalized feeling someone gets while surfing a particular website. Governor Mark Warner of Virginia, for example, gives a warm greeting to visitors on his site. Consequently, if someone decides to make a second visit to his site, the technology is aware, and his greeting changes to welcome you back.

Many people who get frustrated or confused while using the Internet can benefit greatly by having a person who interacts directly with them. The video presentation can also be stopped at any point. Rovion’s technology will also keep track of how many people pressed play, pause, mute or those that closed the video. These figures are available the very next day.

As this technology becomes more prevalent, there’s no telling where it could go. “The technology has to date and will continue to evolve with the market. We are constantly trying to perfect the technology,” Ostroff says. Oddcast, meanwhile, is getting ready to add more business-oriented features to its product such as a 24-hour, online salesperson and avatars for mobile devices.

Pat Cauley is ERA’s technology and communications specialist. He can be reached at (703) 908-1030, or via e-mail at [email protected].


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