The “More Me” Internet

Yahoo and the agency network ISOBAR (of which my employer, AMMO Marketing is a member) recently debuted some new research called “Fluid Lives.” It’s pretty interesting stuff. The research team chose families in several different countries and gave them the kind of technology I imagine you’ve already woven into your life: broadband, WiFi, Sony PSPs, and Blackberries. They then watched as the families behaviors began to change in the presence of the new technologies.

Now, technology infrequently has the ability to drastically improve a person’s — or a family’s — life. I don’t think that was the intent here. Instead, the idea was to try to get an understanding of how lives grow and adapt when pretty powerful tools are lying around the house among all the other appliances. Mostly, we’ve acquired these technologies slowly, and one by one. It’s hard to discern the impact of individual tools.

But put them all together and drop them all at once and you quite clearly see the effect. It’s sort of like the difference between a slow drip over the course of a day and a big bucket of water on your head.

More Connected = More Involved

I believe there’s a reflex built into the human mind. Give a person technology and they immediately think “power.” As in, “Think what I could do with this!” The effects are strongest when the technology has a built-in use, like a crossbow or a cotton gin. But what about the computer? A computer (with an Internet connection) isn’t “for” something in the same way a cotton gin is. Computers aren’t purpose-built objects. So to provide a computer to someone means watching him or her invent their own purpose out of their own individual needs or desires.

This invention of purpose is (to me) the most compelling part of the research and the bit that should grab marketers’ attention. Consider the following statistic from the research: people become more involved when they have an Internet connection:

  • More involved politically: 26 percent

  • More involved with my community: 29 percent
  • More involved with organizations related to my interests: 55 percent

When people have an Internet connection they suddenly become more involved in, well, the things they’re already interested in. It’s not as if they suddenly become interested in something. And they’re not interested in the computer itself. No, the purpose that’s invented for the computer is (in part) a means by which they can more deeply involve themselves in the things that matter most to them.

Why Does This Matter?

Did we know this already? Maybe. Shoot, behavioral targeting is essentially predicated on the concept that people use the Internet to find out things that are interesting to them (leaving digital trails all along the way). Buzz measurement services such as Nielsen BuzzMetrics, Umbria, Brandimensions, and others as well, rely on the fact people reach out to one another to discuss their needs.

I think there’s something deeper going on here that bears working out. If people presented with technology think “power” and that power (for computers) equals “the ability to be more me,” then the computer may in fact be that self-actualization tool it’s sometimes promised to be.

Consider a few examples, pulled from real life:

  • A casual but committed runner begins using search engines to find out more information about his sport. He goes from reading just boring magazine found on the newsstand to reading notes and reports from sports labs, as well as learning more about national and international athletes. He begins to shift his training and competing up a notch (his purchase patterns follow, too).

  • A new mom reaches out through an online service to other new moms and joins a discussion group. This young woman begins to learn more about the products she uses with her child and her opinions start to solidify. She decides to avoid certain products, try new ones, and feels more confident about the decisions she makes.
  • A guy who’s very involved in politics in his local community decides to sign onto a blogging service. Little by little, the things he knows about his community begin to show up on the blog. Shortly after that, his opinions about what should happen show up there, too.

In each of these cases, a person became more deeply involved in his or her interest because there was a very clear method for doing so. Marketers should want every single person to walk down this path because consumers who feel better about their options make more confident decisions.

A casual runner may be Nikes one year, and Reeboks the next. The athlete this person turned into will choose one and know why he chose it. There’s a great chance he’ll tell his friends why as well.

This (I hope) is the lasting legacy of the computer and its effect on consumers: a pathway through which they become not only more educated of their choices, but more involved and engaged in them, too.

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