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WORKWISE — Audio Is One Way to Personalize E-Commerce

Most Web sites, products of technical genius, create a buying experience that almost thumbs its nose to relationship selling.

But audio on the Internet is emerging in a number of forms, attempting to make virtual customer relationships more personal. It airs as entertainment (taped content), radio broadcast, technical training, live voice, even voiced E-mail, all designed to draw and help retain customers. Will it continue?

The need for personalization is substantial because of the growth in Internet traffic. Arthur Souza, vice president of marketing at Ezenia! Inc. in Burlington, Mass., a $57 million provider of multimedia communication servers to corporate and public networks, has a global employee base of more than 250.

“Interactivity on the Web,” his white paper, states each day, in excess of 150,000 people flood the Web for the first time, contributing to a daily total of more than 171 million.

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Bill Tomeo, president and CEO of TellSoft Technologies Inc. in Colorado Springs, Colo., declares, “Growth in E-commerce is predicted to rise from a volume in excess of $7 billion in 1998 to between $40 billion to $80 billion by 2002. From 1998 to 1999, the number of people connected globally via the Internet grew from 140 million to more than 200 million , 40 percent growth in one year alone.”

Why is the stampede significant?

“Web site visitors constitute a ‘community of interest’ , a group of like-minded people who are drawn to a site for a particular purpose, or by a particular subject,” Souza writes. Certainly, some of them are qualified virtual prospects who will materialize into sales, while others may present opportunities to refer to other companies, leading to strategic alliances in the future. Marketers already know that prospects are weary of the monotony of silent, impersonal online transactions.

E-commerce trendsetters are nurturing audio’s emergence as a strong vehicle for personalizing the Web experience, especially for customers. Tomeo writes about the static nature of text, while the more dynamic voice improves “stickiness,” an industry term for attracting and retaining customers: “Voice, alone, has the ability to enrich the value of the communication experience via the Internet. Voice is touch. Voice builds community. Voice can convey the entire message, in and of itself.”

Humorous audio plays a special role on sites. Peter Propp, managing director of the Westport, Conn.-based Digital Idea, a newly formed Internet consultancy about E-consumers and business end-users, comments, “Humor is always a key to building an audience, because it’s easier to establish rapport with customers.”

He advocates two kinds , being self-deprecating or poking fun at a broad topic. Tomeo observes that while audio “helps people get beyond pure text or flashing banner acts,” interpretations vary, depending upon the listener’s generation or culture.

Propp maintains knowledge about what end-users want , and believe , rather than what you think they want, is critical to developing and retaining customers on the Web. Digital Idea draws upon a base of 1.4 million Internet users worldwide.

For this column, Propp surveyed 100 people informally about audio on nonentertainment sites.

“More than half believe that audio improves experience on a Web site,” he reports. “Twenty-one percent believe it gives the feeling you’ve arrived. Two-thirds of the end-users say that nonentertainment Web sites are offering audio.”

Tomeo also believes it creates results. People retain only 20 percent of what they read, jumping to 70 percent when they either hear or see something, he says.

Audio replaces the sterility of the Web experience with what he describes as, “The emotions and feelings only associated with voice.”

However, the Digital Idea poll found that host companies are still “fighting the basic issues” with their sites. Asked what they need to improve, they responded, in this order: speed of (text) downloading; efficient navigation among sections, overall navigation; simplification of the first screen; audio usage; and color.

Propp summarizes, “When audio needs improvement, it’s second-to-last, a nice-to-have. When it’s there, it’s useful. Do I need it? No.”

For a free copy of “Personalizing the Web Experience with Streaming Audio,” contact Tomeo at (bill.tomeo@tellsoft.com) or write: TellSoft Technologies, 2 S. Cascade Ave., Suite 150, Colorado Springs, CO 80903.

Culp sponsors the annual WorkWise Award. For information visit (www.work-wise.com).

& #352; 2000 Universal Press Syndicate


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