Business Media

Changing Behaviors Online

By Jason Burby , July 17, 2007

Over the past few weeks, I’ve experienced a few things that helped me see how the Web is changing — and changing significantly. Once again, it got me thinking about how individuals use the Web, what we as Web professionals need to provide to our audiences, and the importance of understanding all the touch points our customers and prospects can have with us online and off-.

There’s the obvious issue of consumers researching online, then buying offline. And there’s the more complex problem of offline campaigns driving people to your site to begin a complex sales that may occur offline — potentially months down the road (consider how people research and buy vehicles or acquire a mortgage).

I intentionally oversimplified the second example by saying they visit “your site.” But increasingly, people don’t research your products, services, or offerings on just your site. They use sites like eBay, CNet, Epinions, blogs, shopping bots, news articles, and more. Often, they’re looking at your site, these sites, and your competitors’ sites all at the same time, in multiple browser windows or tabs.

In addition to looking at these sites for research, people also form opinions through other brand experiences, conversations, and friends. Again, these experiences can occur online on sites such as YouTube, over blogs, through conversations, and so on. The way people research, create perceptions, and make decisions continues to evolve.

Just over the past 24 months, increasingly more people have began to use blogs as information sources. Companies are trying to figure out how to leverage these changing behaviors and to use sites like YouTube to influence customers.

What really got me thinking about changing behaviors were Apple TV and the iPhone.

I recently purchased an Apple TV so I could enjoy my music collection, pictures, and movies on my TV. As usual, Apple’s great interface makes it very easy. After a software update recently, a new option appeared: to watch YouTube videos through Apple TV. This is one more way people can interact with the Web, interact with brands, and be persuaded. This isn’t to say there’s YouTube has a ton of intentionally branded content, but it does have a ton of content that can change beliefs and perceptions.

The second was an experience with a friend’s iPhone (no, I haven’t bought one and I don’t have any plans to give up my BlackBerry). We’ve all heard plenty about the great features, but the one that grabbed my attention was Web browsing. I use my BlackBerry to view the Web. So I either see content designed for mobile devices or have a fairly negative viewing experience. That’s not the case with the iPhone. You see the real Web, not the stripped-down version.

How will these — and other — new technologies change the way consumers access information and make decisions?

We can no longer be satisfied with just understanding how people use corporate sites. We must understand how they use our sites in conjunction with other sites and interactions, both online and off-. We must better understand our customers, what they think, why they make decisions, who their influencers are, and how best to communicate with them.

Apple TV and the iPhone won’t revolutionize the way people research offerings or make decisions. They’re simply new avenues in technology that people can leverage. Many more will come down the road. And that means consumers will have more avenues than ever to research, be influenced through, and gather opinions to make decisions.

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