Although the Internet allows for more interactive customer service, actual virtual characters as site guides are pretty rare. That’s about to change, thanks to Oddcast Media Technologies.
Although the Internet allows for more interactive customer service, actual virtual characters as site guides are pretty rare. That’s about to change, thanks to New York-based Oddcast Media Technologies, which creates intelligent conversational characters for clients like Coca-Cola, NASA, Cisco, and McDonald’s. Founder and CEO Adi Sideman chats about online media, virtual salespeople, and futuristic Gap shopping experiences.
How did Oddcast get started?
It was the late ’90s and online media was just starting to pick up. We understood the limitations of video as a passive media object. It only goes one way–streaming to the user’s machine. So, we started a company that would provide business tools for the creation of interactive media.
What got you personally interested in doing this work?
I come from a background of online game design. The distance from there to virtual characters is not that large. What excites me is to see new applications of our technology every day. From eBay launching virtual salespeople to NASA using it for education.
Why do you think there’s a need for a dynamic rich media platform?
As you know, selling on the Internet has not changed very much since its initial inception. Unless they want to spend lots of money on Internet video, companies have no choice but to display products and services in a two-dimensional format, and they often bury important key marketing messages in Web site copy. So much gets lost in the multiple images and links that are displayed on the user’s screen.
Our dynamic rich media platform transforms stagnant product placement and messaging, allowing businesses to quickly and easily refine communications based on need. This is why we created [V]Host, and why over 600 small and large companies are gravitating to this product.
Do you use real people as models for your characters, or are they composites? We provide generic base models that our clients can mold into any character they wish. The characters are then assembled on the fly on the client’s machine.
Why do you think interactive characters appeal to Web shoppers?
A Stanford University study shows that 90 percent of people preferred being able to select a virtual guide than no guide at all. Eighty percent of consumers out there have speakers and experience multimedia on a daily basis, yet millions of businesses are selling silently. With the online characters, you appeal to the consumer’s sight and hearing. Two senses are better than one. Consumers crave good communication, and dialogue is simply stronger than just the written word.
What are the largest challenges that you see in deploying these characters?
It’s all about execution. One site improved clickthrough by 50 percent by simply delaying the virtual assistant’s introductory comments by a few seconds, letting the visitors be acclimated to the page first. Our challenge is to educate businesses on the value of “virtual employees” and get them to spend the time to educate them, much like they do with regular employees.
What do you see as the future of this technology?
You remember the movie “Minority Report”? The Tom Cruise character entered a Gap store and the virtual agent in the poster welcomed him by his first name and remembered what he bought last week. The movie was set in 2050, but in reality, this functionality is here today.
You can have a virtual agent that can cater to you, knows every language, all the prices in the store and every single product’s information. That is the power that will be unleashed in digital commerce and marketing in the years to come.
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