A fundamental driver of rich content's growing popularity is the notion that the engagement offered by rich content helps convert page views into purchases. "The more you can engage your audience," says North Plains's Eckler, "the more likely it is to buy your product or service."
Edward Perry, senior director of ecommerce for WORLDHOTELS AG, a 500-property group of independent and regional-brand hotels, agrees with Eckler's assessment. "Rich media can move a consumer's mouse to the purchase button of one property over another," he says. "Especially in tight markets with properties across the street from more properties, superior content will properly position a hotel to sell better."
Perry adds that hotels generally utilize one or more of three types of rich media: video, virtual tours, and slide shows. "Each has their advantages in terms of usability and price point. At one point, virtual tours were the ‘in' thing and everyone had one. They are still popular, along with slide shows, as a less-expensive means to recreate a consumer experience. However, we are now in the midst of the YouTube generation, and video appears to be what consumers want."
When discussing online marketing strategies with hotel owners, Perry says, he points to research that supports the notion that rich media sells. But the information available, at least publicly, is actually somewhat limited and is not always clear. For example, a 2005 study conducted by polling firm Harris Interactive, Inc. for VFM Leonardo, Inc., a distributor and producer of rich media content for lodging and travel, showed that 69% of a nationwide sample of 2,931 adults found visuals helpful in selecting a hotel. When this aggregate figure is broken down, however, it turns out that more respondents rated still photographs as important to their booking decisions (64%) than 360-degree virtual tours (59%) or videos (48%).
Research regarding the impact of rich content is also available from DoubleClick, the Google-owned provider of technology and services for digital marketing, including production and metrics for online ads. In the June 2009 research report "The Brand Value of Rich Media and Video Ads," DoubleClick analyzes online display campaigns from the Market Norms database maintained by market research company Dynamic Logic, breaking them into four categories: GIF and JPG, Simple Flash, Rich Media Without Video, and Rich Media With Video. (Unfortunately, the specific characteristics used to define the categories, e.g., Simple Flash versus Rich Media Without Video, are not provided.)
The report indicates that the effectiveness of rich media in online ads varies depending on the goal of the ads themselves. In message association, for example, which measures the proportion of people who can match a given message with an advertiser, the static GIF and JPG category far outperformed the others and was the only category for which the gain after exposure was greater than the average gain across all categories. If the goal is to influence purchase intent, however, rich media seems to do the trick. The average gain in purchase intent from a single online display ad was 0.6%, while the boost from exposure to a Rich Media With Video ad was 1.16%. "On average," the report concludes, "rich media formats are the most successful at driving purchase intent."
DoubleClick's conclusion dovetails nicely with the assessment of vendors who provide rich content services and products. "The best validation of rich media comes from our customers," Wingo says. "Over the past several years, customers of our RichFX line have reported an increase in online conversion of more than 10% when adopting rich media products."