There is a revolution afoot in the business world, one that will profoundly change how we communicate with our customers and prospects, the way we deliver our sales messages, and even the very messages we send. We are witnessing the influx of a steady flow of interactive communications, collectively called the new media.

Interactive media have been described by Advertising Age as "Madison Avenue's newest religion." And they are sparking considerable interest in all areas of business.

How do you define interactive media? They are any computer-based programs that feature high-level graphics and that allow the user to interact with the information being presented via keyboard or touch screen.

Essentially, when creating an interactive message, we include layer after layer of information, everything anyone would care to know about a particular subject or product. Then we add an interface that enables the user to easily get to all or a portion of that information. Viewers can then skip the material they already know, skim what mildly interests them, and review, again and again, the information that appeals to them most. In essence, users have the ability to customize their own message - a message that, because it goes directly to their own interests, is more relevant and ultimately has more impact.

The new media genre provides plenty of options. In banking, much attention has been focused on interactive kiosks containing sales-oriented presentations. Strategically positioned in malls and other high-traffic retail settings, these self-serve, touch-screen information centers complement a bank's other sales channels, making it possible for customers to apply for loans and request investment advice on the spot.

The goal is to provide the ultimate in convenience and speed -which today's consumers demand - while facilitating a bank's desire to be a full- service institution.

Some banks are also beginning to communicate sales messages on-line using vehicles such as the Internet and its child, the World Wide Web, as well as Compuserve, America Online, and other similar networks. With 35 million people currently subscribing to the Internet alone and an estimated 20,000 more going on-line every day. it is clear that these channels have the potential to be more far-reaching than any other visual medium.

Additionally, some organizations are creating their own interactive networks exclusively for customers' use. In the financial arena, programs like Alltel/CPI's Interchange, Freddie Mac's Loan Prospector, and Fannie Mae's Mornet are prime examples, all designed to add efficiency to mortgage originations.

A short hop off the information superhighway, we find interactive laptop shows, used by salespeople to give one-on-one presentations right at a customer's desk; electronic brochures and newsletters; custom-written, single-disk presentations, often used as direct mail; and the touch-screen kiosks used in retail settings and on the trade show floor.

How readily will the public accept this new form of communication? A significant segment of the buying population is already hooked on new media. Right now, there are potential new banking customers sitting in front of PCs in homes and businesses and universities around the world, cruising the Internet or using other on-line services. They're doing research, playing games, downloading shareware, shopping for a new car. Undoubtedly, a few of them are looking for banking services.

Some are actually finding bank offerings. Larger banks, such as Bank of America and Citibank, have been experimenting with delivering financial services on-line for a number of years, and in recent months have begun to experiment with selling and delivering their products via interactive channels.

Next: Using the power of the new media

Mr. Seroka is president of Seroka & Associates, an advertising firm in Brookfield, Wis., that has created interactive presentations for Alltel/CPI, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Association, and other financial companies.

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