As Users Get Smarter, Marketers Must Keep Up

The Web hasn’t changed much, but users have.

The Internet no longer makes the news every night — it’s a fixture in our lives. It’s now a utility, not a novelty. The medium hasn’t changed much, either. We’re seeing much the same Internet we’ve seen for a few years now. Perhaps a little more multimedia, a few more cool features, but basically the same old HTML. What has changed are the people using the Internet. It’s no longer something Aunt Betsy calls up about, breathless that she’s “on the line.” It’s turned into something less exciting, but more useful. The Internet itself isn’t a revolution; it simply revolutionizes the way we send and receive information. People now focus more on the information on the Internet than on the information about the Internet.

People are now figuring out how to drill a direct line to what they want. Once, Web users used search engines to find everything. This was nice for portals, such as Yahoo, that built big companies because people needed to find stuff. Search engines are wonderful, but they can weaken our individual hold on the Internet and its information. Once, people searched for everything (one popular search was: “www.amazon.com”) rather than just going to a specific URL.

The Web population is a little more savvy. According to a recent study, 52 percent of users go directly to sites they want rather than using a search engine, up from 46 percent last year. Over half of Internet users know how to take more control of their time online. This means branding is getting more important.

Business projections are still built on the continuing growth of the number of people with Web access. The Web population is maturing. You can tell by the increasing visibility of the “I don’t want the Web at home” contingent. These people are Internet users, so they understand the power and utility of the Web, but they don’t see the need for home access. These people either don’t want to pay the monthly fees or are satisfied with their access elsewhere (work or school). They get what they need and aren’t pressured to log on after hours. They view the Internet as a tool. We need to work toward providing more and better service online. We can’t wait for the crowds to just show up — they need a compelling reason to do so.

Our customers are wising up. They’re learning to get what they want, when they want it. We have to start delivering, or they’ll move on.

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