Evolution Of The Internet & Its Impact On Consumers & Marketers

Written by Yeh Her Teo


This e-paper seeks to discuss how has the internet changed consumers over the past 10 years and how can marketers best adapt to these changes. The discussion presents the evolution of the internet, consumers and what marketers need to do. Several examples of firms are also included in the discussion to illustrate the changing era of marketing and branding. Finally, we will look into what is the future for marketers of our time.

The internet (Web 1.0) that existed from two decades ago was a platform that was static, informal and very autocratic. Although many companies had created a web presence and communicated with email in the mid-2000s, many did not realise that the digitalization of marketing was only beginning to disrupt marketing practices (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2013, McIntyre, 2013).From the mid-2000s, the internet (Web 2.0) further evolved thanks to the design of web technologies to allow a more interactive, participative and real-time experience for the user. With the advancement in interactive technologies, the birth of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn increased the opportunities for people to create and participate in online global communities (McIntyre, 2013). An astounding number of people participate in social media such as Facebook, Google and Youtube seven years since its establishment. It was reported that one out of seven people on the planet is currently an active member of Facebook. The marketing model has significantly changed since the introduction of social media and resembles the metaphor of a pinball game, where marketing in a social media environment is unpredictable, chaotic and interactive. This replaces the traditional linear and one direction approach in marketing (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2013).

Another major change from Web 1.0 to 2.0 enabled a shift in focus from companies to consumers, individuals to communities, with Web 2.0 main focus and effects in sociology (Berthon et al., 2012). As more and more people gain access to the internet and become more social with other consumers, this empowers them to select the type of information that they are exposed to. Thus, consumers in the digital age are a group of people who are well informed with options, opportunities and are equipped with information to make purchase decisions. Additionally, the empowerment of consumers enables them to participate via social media in sharing and exchanging product/service experiences thereby seizing, to a certain extent, the initiative and control in the branding game (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2013).


Purpose: What are marketer’s choice in an online world?

The choice is yours and there are millions of business opportunities waiting for you to tap into. Marketers need to understand and look for ways and channels to reach the consumers; various web based communication channels can be utilised to reach consumers directly. As Scott (2007) suggests, that marketers need to understand consumers persona and build messages that the consumers will want to hear. Gone were the days where advertising and marketing was an outbound marketing approach. Knowing what the consumers want is important but also knowing what they think about brand and product is also equally critical. By understanding and mapping out the consumers various personas, marketers can then sell the product that consumers want and not what the company perceives a user needs (Scott, 2007).

With the use of inbound marketing i.e. pulling customers to their product, marketers can tap into blogs, online forums, social networking sites and participate in conversations with consumers by commenting and contributing their views (Scott, 2007). The power of word of mouth is even more realistic than ever; a comment made in one place can travel across the world in the blink of an eye. Marketing through social media and the internet allows for input from consumers and not only is this more personal, it also creates a relationship between consumers and the brand at a lower cost. Another advantage with the increase use in social media and digital technologies is that greater geographical and market reach can be achieved without blowing the budget (McIntyre, 2013).


Who’s out there making a scene and catching the waves?

With an increase usage and exposure to social media, consumers now have the power to engage with retailers and companies to obtain the best consumer experience. For example, the furniture giant, IKEA, has 1.5 billion visitors to the company’s website to gain inspiration and purchase furniture as opposed to only 716 million people visiting its traditional store. IKEA’s customers generally do most of the research online and prefer to shop online. As IKEA’s stores are usually located in the rural areas to keep product costs low, the company’s online strategy has proved to be successful (Evigo, 2014).

To reach its customers on the go, IKEA has established online catalogues for various platforms, from the traditional desktop to tablets and mobile devices apps. IKEA has also tapped into social media in launching its web based catalogue amongst other purposes. IKEA utilizes Instagram to build brand awareness and consumer attention. Instagram functions mainly as a photo centric hub encouraging consumers to share ideas through sharing and tagging pictures. At the same time, consumers can discover new products to buy and can provide valuable insights to future product launches. Additionally, this helps IKEA to influence the social engagement between consumers and drive a purchase decision. This is in line with Barwise & Meehan (2010) as they discuss social media as tools for engagement and collaboration, exchange with and among customer sites (Barwise and Meehan, 2010, Evigo, 2014). IKEA has recently established that they are the ‘go-to’ brand for innovative designs and communication; the company recently launched a smartphone keyboard that comes with custom emoticons. IKEA is drawing upon consumers’ use of social media and smartphone apps to promote its home related products through communication between consumers (Moon, 2015).

In the automobile industry, several carmakers have also hit the tide, acknowledging the trend that more and more consumers buy cars from their computers. Japanese carmaker, Mazda seeks to promote its MX-5 model in Canada by unveiling it in a new magazine through Instagram in addition to the regular print, paper and even desktop. The campaign seeks to draw consumer’s interest in a weekly information reveal until the new MX-5 is launched through the hybrid platform that Instagram offers through both static image and video. The company has opted to not have mass media involved but instead supported by other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter during the soft launch. Even the way customers are consuming advertising has changed, in that Mazda reveals that they want “quick, consumable content” as shorter videos receive more hits that longer-format videos (Haynes, 2014).

The Swedish premium automobile manufacturer, Volvo has announced its new global marketing strategy for 2015. One of its main strategy is to have new online marketing channels

in establishing digital leadership. Within that digital strategy, three elements have been identified. Firstly, digital commerce where the company will sell its cars online across the globe, complementing its dealership network. This step followed its successful online sale of the Special Edition Volvo XC90 in September 2014. Secondly, the industry-leading configurator, where customers are given a designers choice car online and the car can be customised based on personal taste and budget. Once the customisation has been made, the customer receives a short video of the customised car in motion, resulting in a fun and premium experience. Lastly, the Volvo car website will no longer be just a platform of information but will be a place where the information displayed will be reflecting Volvo’s brand and values (Volvo, 2014).


What’s the future for marketers?

With the rise in companies moving their marketing efforts to be “close” to the consumers through social media, the obvious future in business is definitely to continue in integrating the physical business into an online reality and the same goes for the organization’s marketing strategies. It is important to realise and understand that digital marketing is the fastest growing channel for branding, targeted communications, interaction and engagement (Corion, 2014). However, with the rise in social media, it urges companies to get the basics right, by developing and reliably delivering a compelling brand promise (Barwise and Meehan, 2010). Delivery of that promise is pivotal as it will shape what and how (?) consumers perceive a brand, and consumers will carry that perception and stories to determine the brand’s general associations, image and what consumer do with the brand (Gensler et al., 2013).

The new generation of consumers i.e. the millennials rely more and more on eWOM (electronic Word of Mouth) and brand communities to gauge the worth of product/services. This, therefore, makes a strong genuine social presence critical for companies. Popularity and the cool factor of a product/service is measured in the form of “likes”, “shares”, “retweets” and “pins” with the new generation of consumers but the question asked is how can the marketers of today ensure an engaging and long term relationship? The key would be to create and maintain a relationship that is genuine, individualised and personal (Corion, 2014). Moreover, consumers are crucial authors of brand stories and instead of resisting this change in brand ownership, brand managers must coordinate the consumer generated brand stories into communication to enable compelling stories (Fournier and Avery, 2011, Gensler et al., 2013).

The millennials is a group of sophisticated consumers that has learnt to shut off traditional forms of marketing and promotions. For a company to capture the attention of this new generation consumers, they would need to develop new forms of content marketing such as blogging, offering useful interesting information without direct selling, social media, e-mail marketing, text marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). As Corion (2014) and BrandBase (2015) presented, the millennial consumers appreciate good online content and may reward the company with their loyalty with offline purchase of products and services (BrandBase, 2015, Corion, 2014). Companies that do not “catch the train” with e-commerce and digital marketing, will lose out significantly in capturing the attention of these intelligent group of consumers. There are numerous methods in which every business small and big can develop its digital marketing strategies and some of them that are very cost effective. There is no excuse to be left behind in this revolution (Corion, 2014).





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