January 12, 2015
Written by Monika Vaiciulyte
Purpose of the article
There is no denying the fact that the Internet has made a huge development and terrific impact on our daily lives. The main purpose and objectives of the Internet have been changed and adapted partly by society itself and partly by the technological shifts. Business units and entrepreneurs saw it as an opportunity and started to explore the possibilities lying there. The adaptation had to be accepted not only by the managers but from the consumer’s side as well. In this paper the first part is going to focus on the consumer’s changes issue and the second part is going to emphasize on the ways how marketers can adapt to these changes and recommend ways to do it. Including the shift from Web 1.0 where consumer was just the receiver of information and Web 2.0 where the communication and relationships started to matter. Gained experience and understanding of how Internet works allowed consumers to actively participate in the marketing process and be a big part of brand building.
This article is going to present the main changes of the Internet and its impact to the consumers’ behavior, grounded by the statistics available on this theme. Later, the recommendations for marketers will be presented, conducted from the peer articles reviews.
Development of the Internet in last 10 years and consumers’ behavior changes
Talking about the changes in the Internet I will follow J. Macdaniel (2012) suggested changes that were made upon the usage of Internet during the last ten years.
The biggest one and the most obvious is the change in the number of users; the growth of Internet usage is just impressive – from more than 500 million Internet users worldwide to 2.7 billion people using it in 2013 which estimates 39% of the world’s population in total. At 2013 Europe was the region with the highest Internet penetration – 75%, while the Americas had 61% penetration (ITU, 2013).
This growth of course was followed by the business development and shift to the Internet as well. The major growth of websites number was witnessed and the statistics say that in 2002 there were roughly 15, 6 million websites and till the 2011 the number grew to 366, 8 million (Statistic brain, 2012). Of course this affected the amount and variety of information available for the users as well as the opportunities created and services available.
After considering the growth of Internet facilities available the next logical step is to review the availability of the broadband access; that leads to the conclusion that Internet, at the beginning was mostly related with work and its needs; just after a while it moved to the households, letting people to use it in a daily life basis as well as for entertainment. As the statistics are providing, nowadays 41% of the world’s households are connected to the Internet, but the region with the highest amount of household connected is still Europe (ITU, 2013). Considering this, it is logical to say that for users the shift from Internet as a work tool was made towards Internet as a daily life supporter.
Meanwhile, while Internet was developing, a growing platform of e-commerce has made its appearance. In 2012, the B2C e-commerce reached 1 trillion dollars, which means that in only one year it grew 21.1% in total. According to the statistics North America was in the first place of e-commerce sales, closely followed by Asia-Pacific region, which in 2013 was expected to outrun North America. Internet accessibility and high penetration in all regions led to the change of consumption habits. As it is visible from the statistics, contemporary consumers are more relying on e-commerce. Authors Ahuja, Gupta and Raman (2003) researched the motivations for the consumers to shop online and the most trending ones were – convenience, better prices, time saving and availability.
A huge step that moved Internet usage and its applications to the next level was the ability to access Internet through the mobile phone. According to the statistics in 2013 the global active mobile broadband subscriptions reached more than two billions. This is 29, 5% of the general population and in these area developing countries outrun the developed countries (mobiThinking, 2013). As it is observed by Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) mobile Internet access in developing countries gives the opportunity to brands and marketers to reach the audience and expand the market shares in certain areas. Mobiles or so-called smart phones are being used not just for searching information and checking e-mails, but also for social media purpose and entertainment. This had a high impact on the Internet usage time and accessibility.
By the time Internet users became more sophisticated and demanding they needed to localize their search results and companies needed geographically targeted consumers; this need was covered by an online service called Google Local (J. Macdaniel, 2012). After a while, as the Internet and its users were developing, Google started to use intuitive or personalized advertisements, composed according to the e-mails content and users search information. Improvements are being done here constantly as the technological side allows specializing and understanding every consumer as a unique personality (B. Rangen, 2011).
The most influencing change that implemented the environment of the Internet itself was the appearance of various social platforms. Moreover, it had a tremendous influence on users’ interactions and activity online. The emergence of blogs, forums and other platforms where people can create virtual communities and interact with each other empowered users to let the particular brand or company to the community or not. It is the place where users have the power and are able to set up the so called “game rules”. For example fashion bloggers who became famous and powerful because of their social media usage or the companies that created buzz around their brand using videos that became viral, like Vodafone flash mob in the Heathrow airport. As Fournier and Avery (2011) are explaining in their article – brands rushed into the social media, expecting that users are waiting for their one way messages and more information about products; but that was not the case. People came to social media to hide themselves from marketers and were not willing to let them in, using the traditional marketing methods.
First step to successful online marketing implementation
In this part the attention is being paid to the social media and its usage by marketers, because this is the area where the influence for consumers could be made, not taking into consideration traditional online advertising methods, like banners and pop ups.
The understanding of Internet changes and their influence on current or potential clients is crucial for successful e-marketing. Being aware of the consumer activities and attitudes is not enough. New marketers need to know the whole social media ecosystem, to be able to create and maintain flawless strategy and not getting lost with the messages spread to their consumers. As Hanna, Rohm and Crittenden (2011) are explaining in their work, one of the biggest mistake that a company can do is to treat all the platforms separately and not synchronized with each other and with marketing strategy. However, Internet based marketing cannot be treated as a substitute for the traditional marketing. Marketers need to understand that in social media there is no monologue, consumers are receiving the messages and deciding to start a dialogue or ignore it.
Social media usage for better consumers’ understanding
After understanding the social media environment and the principles of how to manage it as a system, it is time to dig deeper into the usage of it. Knowing the tendency that Internet users are keen on spending more and more money online and trusting e-commerce, marketers can conduct the online shopper’s segmentation as it is suggested by Aljukhadar and Senecal (2010). Used to identify characteristics of buyers segments it could help marketers make a decision to move part of their sales online, provide 24/7 online shopping support or any other service to encourage and lead consumer to purchase action. In this case author’s example can be used when the emails inviting consumers to shop in actual shop were used by providing a special discount offer.
Similarly, the social media networks can be used to illuminate consumer world and create better understanding about their environment and problems they are facing (P. Barwise, S. Meehan, 2010). It leads rather more to innovating than instant growth of the sales, but at the long perspective, solving consumer’s problems and making certain things easier, more comfortable or even more entertaining, might drive sales up eventually and create positive brand/company reputation.
Moving even deeper in the online marketing, the analyzed Internet development and usage changes are showing that mobile connection with Internet is growing fast and that needs to be observed and considered by marketers too. Firstly, it can help to gather information in real time; for example from check ins and comments made during the visit, till the particular emotions that a person felt there. Combining this knowledge together with the modern technologies, marketers can reach a great communication level, which might feel like one- to-one marketing and give back some power to the companies (Andreas M. Kaplan, 2012). The author also presented the 4 I’s (integrate, individualize, involve, initiate) model that can be used as a powerful tool by marketers to create, engage and implement relationships with their consumers.
When talking about the creating of relationships, it is necessary to mention that certain loyalty for the brand or company in social platforms can grow into the online communities that could provide incredibly valuable advertising, through e- word of mouth, straight to the potential and undecided consumers. The consumers themselves might create the content and perception of a certain brand. This is one more niche that marketers can explore and use to improve relations with Internet users. Collaboration with consumer’s communities is also being discussed by Antorini, Muñiz, Jr. and Askildsen (2012) who are providing the example of Lego group when the desire to collaborate came from its adult users. The main idea and lesson taken from this case is that after observing people’s want and aspiration to participate in the product creation or development, Lego management provided them with the communicational platform and gave them the tools in order to collaborate with the company. In this way marketers might get not only the valuable ideas for the future product lines and implementations, but also collect information about their users. Some particular expertise knowledge helping to develop and innovate could be gained too. Consumer generated content can be developed and empowered by using Muñiz Jr. and Schau (2011) proposed steps :
- Systematically employ consumer created content in their long term marketing campaigns;
- Consider the role of the firm in facilitating prolonged CGC endeavors;
- Actively encourage collaborative CGC.
However, consumer skills should be examined before investing a lot of time and money to this process.
Having observed the main developments of the Internet (growth and technological) and its effect on the consumer behavior the recommendations for the marketers have been made.
The most important thing in this constantly changing and vital environment called Internet is to keep scanning the periphery for the new technologies coming, appearance of the new social channels or other signals that the environment is likely to make a shift again. As Day and Schoemaker are claiming – being aware of the signals from environment that can have an effect on marketing and business itself, might provide not just understanding about threats on the way, but enlighten the opportunities as well.
The recommendations for marketers are:
- Before jumping into the online and social media marketing to be aware of its environment and understand that it works as a system;
- Conducting the online shoppers segmentation might help to characterize consumers;
- Using social media channels can help to illuminate the so called consumers world;
- Spotting the new coming Internet usage trends – as for now it is mobile Internet usage and try to implement in marketing plan;
- Provide consumers the opportunity to participate and be part of the brand. Provide a platform and facilitate this process.
To sum up, it is just a small list of recommendations for the marketers to implement. In order to achieve success, investment of time and practice is needed.
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