Tech-Savvy Consumers Worry About Computer Terrorism

A study of tech-savvy consumers in 19 cities around the world by Euro RSCG Worldwide found they rely on word-of-mouth for technology information and that cyber terrorism is a bigger worry than privacy issues.

Much has been made of technology users’ fears of loss of privacy. Yet just 15 percent of the total sample of the Euro RSCG Worldwide survey agreed completely that technology is a threat to personal privacy, while another 31 percent agreed somewhat. One-quarter of respondents disagreed completely or somewhat.

But even as the study results dispelled notions of privacy-invasion hysteria, they uncovered a far greater source of widespread concern about technology: the looming threat of computer terrorism. Nearly half (45 percent) of the global respondents agreed completely that computer terrorism against corporations and governments will be a growing problem, and an additional 35 percent agreed somewhat. According to one respondent in San Francisco: “Improved communications will reduce the chance for total war. But more discreet, insidious acts of aggression (like germ warfare and IT terrorism) will exist and become more effective and potentially catastrophic as technology advances in other areas.”

The study concludes that respondents’ willingness to surrender a bit of their privacy in return for the benefits of technology indicates that marketers do not need to take extraordinary measures to gain consumers’ trust. They must simply be straightforward. Users want to know what information is being gathered and how it will be employed. In the wired and wireless business world, a company that holds itself accountable is a company that engenders trust.

Speaking of marketers, one of the most sobering conclusions drawn from the study results is the degree to which advertising and point-of-sale (POS) promotion fall flat when it comes to disseminating information and inventing consumer desire for technology. Only 13 percent of the total sample said they get most of their information about technology products from advertising, and a mere 1 percent said they get it from stores.

The Internet seems to be helping get the word out: 20 percent of respondents said they get tech information from Web sites. However, the most relied-upon source of high-tech product information is word of mouth: 20 percent of respondents turn to colleagues at work, 11 percent call upon their friends and 3 percent rely on family members.

In terms of generating excitement for a product, word of mouth was by far the most influential factor. When asked, “Where did you first see or hear about the last technology product that got you very excited?” 40.5 percent of respondents cited a friend, family member or co-worker. Advertising and POS performed even more dismally in this category: 4 percent named a print ad, another 4 percent chose a TV ad, 1 percent cited an outdoor billboard and 0 percent selected a radio ad. These media were bested by print editorial, with 15 percent of respondents naming a magazine article as the impetus for their excitement about a tech product.

The message for tech marketers is that their budgets would be better spent on creating “buzz” than on traditional advertising, online or offline. Identifying and reaching influencers is likely to yield a better payoff in terms of generating excitement and, ultimately, sales.

The Euro RSCG Worldwide study, “Wired & Wireless: High-Tech Capitals Now and Next,” queried consumers in 19 cities around the world with heavy penetrations of wired Internet usage and/or mobile, wireless devices, as well as in emerging markets with rapidly rising technology usage rates. It was conducted in April and May 2001.

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