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MAX 2005 – Macromedia's Tessa Ragan on Designing and Developing with Rich Media

Fame? Fortune? Maybe Not, But Rich Media Strategies Pay Off

Teresa Ragan, in an exclusive guest editorial for MX Developer's Journal, writes: Aside from the sheer excitement of digging into new technology, why bother designing and developing with rich media in mind? From a business standpoint, does it really pay off? According to key organizations, the response is an absolute "yes," and the data is rolling in to prove it.

Previously regarded as experimental, expensive, or difficult to implement, rich media-centric Web sites are now critical to companies' business strategies. Gartner's research found "Companies that emphasize customer experience as a strategic objective enjoy up to 60% higher profitability and are twice as likely to exceed analyst expectations." A university study concluded that products displaying interactive features are 70% more likely to be purchased than products with static images. And for companies doing online advertising, industry leader DoubleClick found that organizations saw an 80% lower click-through rate for non-rich media ads.

The industry is moving fast to replace static Web images and table-based designs with more sophisticated CSS-based layouts complete with interactive video, multi-user communication applications like blogs and chats, and real-time RSS feeds. Companies like MINI USA, Penske Trucking, and Scripps Network's HGTVPro.com are getting measurable results like increased Web traffic, brand awareness, and revenue by evolving their sites to support rich media design and development.

MINI USA, a division of BMW of North America LLC, decided to reintroduce the MINI line of passenger cars to the U.S. market after a 35-year absence and drive interested shoppers to its network of 80 dealers nationwide through an ambitious Web application. MINI USA faced a three-fold challenge. It needed to create a new automotive segment (MINI is the smallest car on the American roads), launch a new brand, and introduce two models simultaneously. As the team approached the design, the considerations were: how to leverage MINI's rich heritage; how to express the BMW Group's state-of-the art engineering; how to differentiate MINI's motoring fun and exhilaration; and how to promote the brand's unique selling proposition of customization and personalization.

Partnering with BEAM Interactive and using Macromedia Flash, MINI USA brought the brand to life online. It created a highly interactive Internet application on www.MINIusa.com that resonates with the self-expressive nature of MINI prospects. The heart of the site is the configurator, which lets people customize their own personal MINI through a simple, non-linear, five-step process that includes adding after-market accessories such as custom graphics and wheels. The navigation guarantees that absolutely everything is viewable on one page at all times. Users can see the exact car that they are customizing and can better understand the price implications of their configuration choices at each step in the process. The site's rules-based architecture ensures that users can actually buy the car they configured, despite the million design possibilities. MINI easily maintains the rules, although vehicle specifications change from year to year. When users have finished configuring a car, they can name it, save it, calculate the payments, and send their configuration to a MINI dealer where it can be purchased. They can also download and print a fully customized color brochure of their creation.

The site provides a seamless user experience with the dealer network and dealer sites, providing a sustainable stream of highly qualified leads, while at the same time remaining consistent with other off-line branding efforts.

What was the pay off? MINI USA exceeded its lead generation by 52% the first year, and 79% of all the leads were generated online. Of all the visitors, 73% of the registrants configured a MINI and the conversion into sales averaged 30%. MINI USA exceeded its sales goal by an incredible 25%, increased brand loyalty, and continues to give interested prospects a unique shopping experience compared to traditional carmaker sites.

Would you like to save $220,000 in development costs? The team at Penske Truck Leasing Company did when it replaced the company's enterprise content management system with a new advanced one. Penske has grown tremendously over the past 36 years. It started as a small truck leasing firm in Pennsylvania to becoming the number one truck rental and leasing company in the world. Its growth strained the enterprise content management system that managed the critical data assets that drive the company's daily operations. The system wasn't exactly small: it contained over 13,000 HTML files, 18,000 Microsoft Office files, PDF and image files and 2,000 other kinds of files. The PENSKE team leveraged Macromedia Dreamweaver and Contribute to design, develop, and maintain the new content management system.

At the end of the project, the team had saved over $220,000 in development costs. A team of 50 Web editors used Contribute, the template-based content management software that integrates with Dreamweaver, to quickly create and edit Web sites in a tenth the time of the old system. The cost-savings, streamlined maintenance process, and overall success of migrating an enterprise-critical system proved to Penske that its strategy was worth the effort.

How are broadcasters better monetizing their ad services across TV and the Web? Scripps Networks Home & Garden offers advertisers a comprehensive, coordinated campaign that extends rich media assets as they target relevant audiences from on-screen to online. The Scripps Networks Home & Garden channel reaches nearly 80 million U.S. households on cable television. Its online property, HGTVPro.com, attracts nearly two million unique visitors a month on average. The challenge was to drive traffic from its cable TV channel to the Web site and vice versa to leverage advertising opportunities as well as expand the network's fast-growing brand as "America's leading online home and garden destination." HGTVPro.com's best practices video site, www.hgtvpro.com/hpro/best_practices, offers valuable on-demand home repair how-to's previously broadcast only on cable, so its dual-medium presence expanded its audience.

HGTVPro.com's strategy to increase ad revenue was backed by designing and developing an integrated platform for delivering coordinated advertising units (video, static, and banner ads) with useful home how-to video programs, giving the advertiser greater reach.

According to Tim O'Hare, a Scripps Networks Flash developer, "One of our main challenges was to offer an informative video application with extended content links, all within a limited space." Beyond providing smooth navigation of a content-rich site, Flash's ability to synchronize separate page elements was important. "We were able to tie our advertisements to one another so that the ad unit within the best practices framework could be synchronized with the video ad as well as the leader board ad at the top of the page."

Flash let HGTVPro.com animate and synchronize its video content to best suit its users, meet its editorial needs, and deliver unobtrusive, targeted advertising to its growing audience. HGTVPro.com hit its advertising revenue objectives, and met the demands of its advertising clients through a rich-media delivery platform.

While our industry may not have an illustrious recognition platforms like the Nobel Prize or the Academy Awards, companies like MINI USA, Penske, and Scripps Networks deserve credit for executing rich-media strategies and making them pay off with tangible results. Overall, rich-media offers a great payoff for everyone: the customer experiences rich clean Web sites, the company achieves critical business objectives, and designers and developers advance their knowledge base by working with the new tools and technology now arriving in the market.

More Stories By Teresa Ragan

Teresa Ragan is senior director, product marketing at Macromedia

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