"What do People Want Online?
It’s not what you think it is."
by Jay Conrad Levinson
What people want online is a question guerrillas ask themselves
a lot. Whether it's for fun or work or something else, understanding
a consumer's motives once he or she logs on is a necessity. But
the experts don't seem to agree on what people want.
Some folks see the web as a vast, new field for advertising messages,
assuming that while people may want to do something else, if we
can entice them with flash, we can sort of trick them into paying
attention to our products and services.
Guess what. That’s not gonna happen.
Other folks seem to subscribe to the notion that people online
are looking for entertainment on the Internet, and therefore they
construct messages aimed at persuading while playing. And, in
other cases, the time-honored direct-response model wins out:
Grab people when you can, get 'em to take an action, and then
market, market, market. The answer may be that the consumer has
and wants a lot more control than we give him/her credit for.
Today, webmeisters are in control. Sort of. In a perfect cyberworld,
people will be in control. Sort of.
Two recent studies shed light upon this dilemma. One was conducted
by Zatso. The other was conducted by the Pew Research Center.
Zatso and Pew. (Those guys didn’t spend much time reading
"how-to-name-your-company" books, I guess.) Still, both
of their studies illuminated the answer as to what people want
to do online.
The answer, as most answers, is very utilitarian: People want
to accomplish something online. They're not aimless surfers hoping
to discover a cybertreasure. Instead, the average Net user turns
out to be a goal-oriented person interested in finding information
and communicating with others – in doing something he or
she set out to do.
Look at the Zatso study. "A View of the 21st Century News
Consumer" looked at people's news reading habits on the web.
It revealed that reading and getting news was the most popular
online activity after email. The guerrilla thinks, "That
means email is number one. How might I capitalize on that?"
One out of three respondents reported that they read news online
every day, with their interests expanding geographically —
local news was of the most interest, U.S. news the least.
Personalization was seen as a benefit, too. Seventy-five percent
of respondents said that they wanted news on demand and nearly
two out of three wanted personalized news. The subjects surveyed
liked the idea that they, not some media outlet, controlled the
news they saw. They feel they're better equipped to select what
they want to see than a professional editor. Again, control seems
to be the issue. Again, guerrillas think of ways to market by
putting the prospect in control.
The Pew Research Center study revealed that regular net users
were more connected with their friends and family than those who
didn't use the Internet on a regular basis.
Almost two-thirds of the 3,500 respondents said they felt that
email brought them closer to family and friends — significant
when combined with the fact that 91% of them used email on a regular
basis. That’s 91%. It took VCRs 25 years to achieve such
What did people in this study seem to be doing online when they
weren't doing email? Half were going online regularly to purchase
products and services, and nearly 75 percent were going online
to search for information about their hobbies or purchases they
were planning to make. Sixty-four percent of respondents visited
travel sites, and 62 percent visited weather-related sites. Over
half did educational research, and 54 percent were hunting for
data about health and medicine.
A surprising 47 percent regularly visited government web sites,
and 38 percent researched job opportunities. Instant messaging
was used by 45 percent of these users, and a third of them played
games online. Even with all the hype in the media, only 12 percent
said they traded stocks online.
What does this mean to e-marketers? It means that if you’re
constructing a site for goal-oriented consumers, you'd better
make sure you can help facilitate their seeking. Rather than focus
on entertainment, flash, and useless splash screens, the most
effective sites are those that help people get the information
they want when they need it. Straightforward data, information
that invites comparison, and straight talk are going to win the
A client buddy of mine showed me his website which heralds his
retail location and attempts to sell nothing online. He said it
has been the biggest moneymaker in the history of his 35-year
old company. Then he apologized for its lack of glitter and special
effects. He asked how his site could be so successful even though
it lacked anything to add razzmatazz and dipsydazzle.
Now, you know the answer.
Jay Conrad Levinson is probably the most respected
marketer in the world. He is the inventor of "Guerrilla Marketing"
and is responsible for some of the most outrageous marketing campaigns
in history -- including the "Marlboro Man" -- the most
successful ad campaign in history. In his book, "Put
Your Internet Marketing on Steroids" Jay reveals how
you can use marketing steroids legally to make your business insanely
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