Last Updated: November 21, 2020

Traditionally, advertising flows in one direction. A marketer will design an ad, purchase ad space, send the ad into the world and wait for the results to start showing up in the cash register. This one way conversation doesn’t create a dialogue about a product, but simply relays a message for customers to accept or reject.

For many companies, this kind of top down advertising is no longer effective. Customers now expect to be welcome and respected participants in the brands they love. They don’t want to be persuaded that something is worth buying; they want to contribute to making that brand better.

A survey conducted by found that 55% of respondents would prefer to have ongoing communications with the companies they buy from. That same survey found that 89% of respondents would feel more loyal to a company if they were invited to provide feedback.

In the past, engaging consumers in a conversation was difficult for marketers, requiring time and energy to seek out and survey potential customers. All of that changed with the advent of the Internet. Today, tools make it easier than ever for companies to solicit feedback, track customer behaviors, and tailor marketing and product offerings to their customer’s wants. This communication leads to greater customer satisfaction and prolonged brand loyalty, allowing consumers to participate in a conversation about the favorite products.

What is interactive marketing?

Interactive marketing relies on customers expressing their preferences so that marketers can produce more relevant marketing messages. Unlike the outbound marketing of the past, interactive marketing creates a two way dialogue between a business and its customers. Advertising becomes a dynamic process that follows customers rather than leading them. Any time a customer is invited to provide feedback, express their personal preferences, or offer up demographic information, they are providing information that marketers can use to guide their advertising efforts. (See also User-Generated Marketing)

Interactive marketing can take many forms, but search engine marketing is one of the most common. When customers type a query into a search engine, they are shown advertising based on their search terms. A search for shampoo might produce ads for hair care products. (See also Search Engine Marketing Specialist )

At the other end of the spectrum is a company’s official website. These present enormous opportunities for businesses to engage with their customers. Unlike a TV ad which runs for 20 seconds and then ends, websites allow customers to engage with the brands that interest them according to their own pace and agenda. They can browse product offerings, learn about the company’s history, access deals, and participate in forums.

Marketing in an interactive way has many advantages over traditional marketing. First and foremost is the cost. Online advertising costs significantly less than television, print, or radio ads and often produces greater rates of return. Companies should always be interested in producing the same results at a reduced cost.

Online activities also leave behind tremendous amounts of information about customers. Their demographic details and their personal preferences are both revealed through their behavior online, allowing companies to track and store this data to use in future marketing efforts. The more relevant that marketing is to a customer’s immediate wants and needs, the more likely it is to produce a sale. (See also Real-time Marketing)

For customers, interactive marketing allows opportunities for them to help evolve and grow their favorite products and brands. The more those customers talk about a company in online forums, social networking sites, emails, and videos, the more their hopes and ideas for that company enter into the company’s consciousness. Businesses can use this information to develop the products their customers are most excited to buy, increasing a customer’s sense of respect — and potential sales.

Forms of Interactive Marketing

  • Search Engine Marketing – This involves everything from optimizing a site so that it shows up higher in search results, to placing targeted ads on the sides of results pages.
  • Email Marketing – Delivering ads, deals, and notifications through email is an effective and economical way to communicate with customers.
  • Sponsorships – Partnerships with companies that have a more established online presence can be a great way to connect with new customers.
  • Blogging – Fun, short form blog posts keep customers informed about new products, special deals, and the culture behind a brand
  • Widgets – Simple downloadable tools that are branded are a great way to create additional value for that brand.
  • Social Networking – Sites like Facebook and Twitter have millions of users and are critical spaces for connecting with customers
  • Targeting – Certain ads can be targeted at certain customers. When customers are exposed to advertising that is relevant to their needs, they purchase more.
  • Offline Activation – Companies must actively advertise their URL and Twitter handle in offline environments so that customers can easily find them online.

Who implements interactive marketing?

Interactive marketing has quickly become one of the most common forms of marketing. Even the smallest and most localized companies maintain websites or blogs, thanks to simple web design tools make it cheap and easy for companies to develop an online presence.

That being said, it is typically larger companies, particularly those with funds invested in e-commerce, that will be most interested in interactive marketing. Larger companies have the technical resources to build expansive websites, design dynamic ads, film Youtube videos and blanket the web in banner ads (See also Technical Marketing). Smaller companies with a lot of ambition can use these same tools, but using them all takes a significant amount of time, money, and expertise.

Companies can use interactive marketing in many ways, but the most creative and innovative marketers see the best results. When was planning a Valentine’s Day advertising campaign, they were looking for ways to attract men who loathe flower shopping. They created a simple online game that involved shooting Cupids floating around bouquets of flowers. As the game was played, bouquets of flowers would scroll at the bottom of the screen. The marketing strategy used something men loved (video games) to sell them on something they disliked (Valentine’s Day flowers). That year the company set records for Valentine’s Day orders.

Interactive Marketing Best Practices:

  • Multimedia – Use multiple different kinds of media from pictures, to text, to video, to games
  • Personalization – Make the ad experience unique to each user.
  • Opt-In – Respect customer’s privacy by only contacting them if they sign up for a program
  • Include A Compelling Offer – Use the targeting abilities of online advertising to offer customers special deals or offers.
  • Tell A Story – Multimedia tools can be used to tell a story which helps to reinforce the image of the brand in the minds of consumers
  • Make It Immersive – The more deeply a customer engages with advertising the more likely they are to buy a product. Use online tools to make marketing messages as engaging as possible.
  • Usability – Online ads should be intuitive and user friendly.
  • Effective ROI – Use any tool that has been shown to deliver a high return on investment.
  • Reshaping The Brand – Plan for and facilitate opportunities for users to reshape the image of a brand
  • Viral Sharing – Make marketing messages easy to share and transmit through the web.

How is an interactive marketing plan developed?

One of the most aggressive and effective interactive marketing efforts over the last decade was Adidas’ introduction of their Adidas_1 running shoe. Using a multi-pronged, interactive approach, they were able to set sales records for running shoes.

The Adidas_1 running shoe was a revolutionary new shoe. It contained sensors and mechanisms that adjusted the cushioning after every stride. An innovative product demands an innovative marketing strategy, and Adidas knew that simply plastering the web with pictures and text would not generate the necessary buzz. They needed to engage customers with the product before they could lay their hands on it. (See also Buzz Marketing)

Any interactive marketing plan must be based on a careful analysis of customer data. Knowing who customers are, what they want, and where they converge online is crucial for placing ads effectively. To collect this data, Adidas set up a special site where they offered 250 pairs of shoes for sale before anyone else could buy them. The shoes sold immediately to some of the most passionate Adidas loyalists in the world. Adidas allowed the customers to purchase the shoes early in exchange for providing data about their preferences and experiences with the brand. This data revealed key facts about their customer’s interests that could be used to plan all future marketing efforts.

The data suggested that Adidas should carry out a coordinated, multimedia marketing campaign that reminded customers of the product launch wherever they went online. The shoemaker took out ads on major websites like MSN and Yahoo. They developed a special marketing skin for MSN messenger that displayed ads and product information as users chatted with each other. Highly detailed emails were sent to Adidas customers advertising all the new features the shoe had to offer. A specialized website highlighted the technological nature of the shoe. All of these efforts were coordinated to offer a consistent and timely message. The effect of the campaign as a whole was to make it impossible for customers to be unaware of the new shoe that was about to launch. (See also Cross-Media Marketing)

By taking such an aggressive online approach, Adidas generated curiosity about their new shoe and made it easy for customers to find out more information. Interactive marketing allowed interested parties to learn about the product at their own direction. The marketing strategy was guided as much by the customer as the shoe maker. The branded IM skins they used received an impressive 21% click through rate, which drove half a million people to the official Adidas web-site in just the first week. Those people were exactly the kinds of customers Adidas was looking for because they had expressed an explicit interest in the product.

Careers in interactive marketing

Email Marketing Manager

What do they do?

Salaries of Interactive Marketers

  • Email Marketing Manager
    entry level – $50,000-$70,000
    after 10 years – $60,000-$90,000
  • Interactive Designer
    entry level – $40,000-$60,000
    after 10 years – $80,000-$120,000
  • Social Media Strategist
    entry level – $40,000-60,000
    after 10 years – $60,000-$90,000


Email marketing managers plan, implement, and track email marketing campaigns. They will be responsible for growing email lists, designing dynamic email ads, and monitoring sales as a result of those ads. Managers must have strong technical skills as well as the ability to write compelling copy and select eye catching images.

Education and Skills

Interactive designers create all of the interfaces and user facing tools that are accessible on the web. This includes everything from the navigation tools on a web-site, to a moving banner advertisement, to an app that runs in a web browser. The technical aspects of interacting with the web are their primary focus, but they work closely with marketers to refine the look and functionality of ads.

Interactive Designer

What do they do?

Interactive designers create all of the interfaces and user facing tools that are accessible on the web. This includes everything from the navigation tools on a web-site, to a moving banner advertisement, to an app that runs in a web browser. The technical aspects of interacting with the web are their primary focus, but they work closely with marketers to refine the look and functionality of ads.

Education and Skills

Most interactive designers have degrees in computer science, often with a heavy focus on web design. A degree in marketing is not necessary but can be extremely helpful. Interactive design tries to engage and assist users in much the same way that marketing does. This is why interactive designers are often employed in marketing departments.

Social Media Strategist

What do they do?

Social media strategists coordinate a company’s social media marketing efforts. They will update Facebook pages, upload Youtube videos, send Tweets, and carry on discussions with customers online. While maintaining a company’s existing social media presence they while search for new tools and networks to connect with customers through.

Education and Skills

A bachelor’s degree in marketing will be necessary for all new social media strategists. Additional education in communications or public relations can also be helpful. The most important skill for managers to have is extensive personal and professional experience using social networks.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Interactive marketing relies on tools that did not exist 20, 10, or even three years ago, requiring marketers to stay on top of emerging technologies for success. New Internet technologies appear every day and rise to prominence in a matter of months. Using online tools effectively presents many opportunities, but also significant challenges. The best way to prepare for a successful career in interactive marketing is to earn a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

Since this is such a new field, the greatest collection of knowledge is with academics and industry professionals who teach in marketing schools. They have done in-depth research into effective interactive marketing strategies. Specialized degrees in digital and new media marketing will teach students a range of skills that are vital for marketing online. Students will learn about web design, search engine optimization, and Facebook marketing, among others. With a mastery of these tools, marketers are equipped to interact with customers in new and exciting ways.

Spending on Interactive Marketing

According to a study conducted by Forrester Research, US companies will spend $76.6 billion on online advertising efforts by 2016. That is equal to the amount now spent on TV ads and will represent 35% of the total money spent on advertising, up from just 19% in 2011. It is clear that the Internet is becoming an ever more valuable space for advertising. The chart below, based on data from the same study, illustrates the areas that will see the most growth.