Eamonn Wilmott

Eamonn Wilmott is managing director of Online Magic, whose clients include Channel 4, Boots, and The Economist. Having tried and failed with the shotgun approach, Internet advertisers are waking up to targeted, personalised communications, whi

Even before the Web, advertisers were worried about zappers switching channels to avoid their messages. But once the commercial Internet pioneers realised that traditional, “in-yer-face” ad techniques didn’t amount to good Netiquette, they were faced with a greater challenge. “Click here for some commercial information about us,” isn’t exactly the kind of copy that makes consumers’ eyes light up.

Recent research suggests there are tangible benefits in just getting your banner in front of the masses. But for the Net to move to the next level it needs somehow to marry a narrowcast communications med-ium to advertisers looking for broadcast numbers. But how?

The answer is, it can’t right now. Yet as more people get wired, so the ability to target ads within this audience is improving. Things are moving in the right direction.

All over the Web, every site worth its salt has started to offer some level of user customisation; some way for the visitor to specify their interests and see the site dynamically alter to reflect them.

The opportunities for advertisers are clear. Sites are more stimulating, and any online marketing is made far more effective when it becomes more personalised. Say “hello” to tailored information and entertainment services, and “goodbye” to boring billboards.

The early adopters of customised marketing are the search engines such as Yahoo! and Alta Vista. Try searching for a couple of different subjects and you are likely to see the banner advertising change to reflect the subject you’re looking for.

This is the first stage on the path to Intelligent Agents – software “beings” that will search the Net with your specific interests in mind.

In the future, sites will track your movements, and not just register your interests when you tell them to, but record your behaviour and work out your interests for you.

By cross-referencing this data with your demographics, intelligent site engines will produce a unique site that will remember you by name, suggest areas you may want to explore and give you the latest information on the products and services of most interest to you.

Now the Net is more akin to shopping in a bazaar than a West End store – you can’t find what you’re looking for, delivery is dicey, and it’s more of an “experience” than somewhere you’d spend serious cash.

But as this technology becomes more widely used, the world will be truly at our fingertips – and “one-size-fits-all” marketing will be replaced by tailor-made techniques, and deliver much better value.

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