Old Habits Die Hard

Long-time readers of my column know that I have high hopes for non-PC Internet devices. My belief is that, in a shorter time than most of us might think, the Internet will be integrated almost seamlessly into our lives via these devices.

Wireless seems to be the latest big thing, with other Internet appliances a close second on the hype meter. And the hype is certainly justified – consumers will surely benefit from being able, say, to order flowers online from their handheld wireless device and other such gadgets with Internet functionality.

But it’s important to remember that although WAP and non-PC Internet devices may be the next big thing, we’re not done with the PC-based Internet yet. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Sometimes, our business moves so quickly that we forget how long it takes the average consumer to adjust his or her media consumption habits. I would consider myself an “early adopter,” and it’s only very recently that I made enough of a pain in the neck of myself to get my family to change its habits and learn to rely on the Internet more, and on other communications media less.

Only this year did my father finally cave in and start using AOL on his new PC. He now uses email frequently, which cuts into time he would normally spend on the phone. He researches stocks, which cuts into the time he would spend reading the finance section of a newspaper, not to mention the time he might spend on the phone with his broker. And he goes online every morning at the same time. No doubt the time spent online is replacing time spent with a morning radio show, or maybe a TV news program.

Of course, this is nothing new. The Internet as a communications medium cuts into time spent with other media. We all know this. But think of it this way – I first informed my family of the utility of the Internet in 1995. It’s taken them five years to embrace it themselves and begin to use it in useful ways.

“Old habits die hard.” This adage should have new meaning for all of us as we watch the consumer audience shift its media consumption habits to accommodate the Internet.

So when does the Internet become a “mass medium”? We might think that a channel of communication becomes a mass medium when it reaches a certain level of participation, maybe a certain number of users or subscribers, however one would like to term them. What is that level?

Let’s leave that magic number to the folks who work at universities – they seem to dig that kind of thing. What’s important is that we think of the Internet as its own animal. It may reach a point of “critical mass” one day, but we need to remember that the “mass” is divided up into a kajillion tiny groups, based on interests. And each one of these interests needs to develop on its own.

As I said before, I consider myself an early adopter. But that doesn’t mean I automatically turn to the Internet for all of my needs. I still have to somehow (usually through consumer advertising) become indoctrinated to think to use the Internet to address an interest of mine.

I like to play guitar. I shop for guitars and related stuff through Musician’s Friend and other such catalogs. Have I bought a guitar (or a set of guitar strings or picks or whatever) online yet? No. It’s because I haven’t adjusted my media consumption habits yet. Do I think I eventually will? Yes. When someone puts together a compelling online musician’s catalog that presents an advantage over doing things the old way, I probably will.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done something and then said “Y’know, I should have done that on the Internet. It would have been so much (simpler/faster/less expensive).” It’s not a function of my not having been aware of the fact that a task could be performed online. It’s that I haven’t trained my brain to think of the Internet first when that particular task needs to be performed.

We’ve got a whole world full of people who are adjusting their habits to accommodate a PC-based Internet. While the wireless revolution is just around the corner, let’s not forget that there are an infinite number of PC-based ideas that need to be executed in order to address everyone’s interests.

More importantly, for folks in our business, is the reality that plenty of marketing and advertising skill will be needed to persuade consumers to think of their PCs first.

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