What will the whole field of interactive marketing be like in the year 2000?

It’s always a fun assignment to address this type of question – it can be an opportunity to write an article with fancy visions of the future, one which involves consumers who merrily click buttons on their home PC’s, busy purchasing billions and billions of dollars of product in an orgy of on-line shopping.

Or, it can involve a pragmatic and real view of how the Internet and consumers together will evolve to forever change the very nature of the consumer-business relationship.

Those who know will appreciate the fact that I take the latter view.

The Electronic Consumer

My own belief is that what the Internet really represents is an absolutely massive change in the way that people obtain the information used for their purchasing decisions, and that soon it will change the way they expect to deal with companies.

Several months ago, in a speech for a high profile executive audience, I indicated what we are really seeing through the Internet is the emergence of a new breed of individual in Canada – what I call the “electronic consumer,” individuals whose purchasing decisions and activities are influenced by the information they find on-line. At the end of my talk, one chap loudly disagreed _ and I rather bluntly suggested that he should take a look at his kids to understand where the future is headed.

Think about it – today, we have an entire generation growing up with computers and the Internet. These kids do not suffer from a fear of computers — for them, the Internet is a source of wonder, entertainment, and most important, it is a useful information tool. To them, media consists TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and the `Net – not necessarily in that order. Combine this with the fact that a lot of “old folks” – those over 30 – are getting hip to the Internet.

The trends are clear – more and more people are joining the Internet, and are finding information on-line. And I don’t think anyone can deny that this information is coming to play a role in their purchasing decisions.

By the year 2000, I expect most of us will have come to accept the fact that the “electronic consumer” is a very real – and very large – part of our market demographic. Most of us will include methods of reaching this electronic consumer through the Internet as a fundamental part of every aspect of our marketing strategies.

The key is, how will we really reach these people? To answer that question, I think we need to look to the FedEx and Canada Trust Web sites as a harbinger of the future – for these sites permit the electronic consumer to access shipping or account information of relevance to them, directly from mainframes at these companies.

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