People Go Online to Access... People

One of the first big shockers in Ruder Finn's new survey and online "Intent Index" tool about why we go online is the relatively low status of shopping. Only 33% of users surveyed said they go online to buy things and even fewer (28%) say they log on to compare prices. Compare that gauge of online intent to the motive for socializing, where 92% of users say they are here to connect with others, "share" (86%) or "discuss" (76%).


"I was surprised how high the socializing intent came up and how low shopping intent came up," says Michael Schubert, Chief Innovation Officer, Ruder Finn. With the rise of eBay, Amazon, and comparison engines, for many years the Web was characterized as a "task-oriented" medium whose most direct appeal for marketers was accelerating the purchase process. But in the wake of Web 2.0 and highly evolved Internet habits, that path to purchase is a lot more complicated than it once was. "As a marketer, I can't just sell by pushing and selling," says Schubert. "I have to engage and entertain. These people are not coming to buy but to do these other things." In fact fully 100% of users admit that one of their main reasons to be online is to "pass time" and 82% are here to be entertained.  

The newly launched interactive tool from Ruder Finn polled 500 users about their intent for coming to the Web. Ruder Finn contends that an Intent Index helps get at underlying motivations that marketers can use to leverage digital more effectively. Ordinarily, markets might go online to harvest "buzz" or understand tone and desire from people's activities and discourse, but "even looking online doesn't always get you the answer," says Schubert. "Sometimes someone's intent isn't addressed yet online."


After offering users nearly 300 possible reasons for coming online, the researchers created a matrix of intentionality around seven key behaviors, from socializing to entertainment, shopping to learning. The data is also verticalized across key age and gender groups, and Ruder Finn will update the data quarterly to start to see trending as well. "The beauty of a system like this is that you can build the sample up over time," says Marty McGough, Director of Ruder Finn Insights. Ruder Finn seems to have learned from its own data as well. The Intent Index is itself a fun click-and-learn experience that zooms in and out of the data mine.

One of the data points that surprised McGough was how the future of Internet behaviors is not only apparent in youth but in ethnic minorities. "There is an interesting correlation between youth and minorities," he says. "They go online for similar reasons. African American and Hispanic [users] are being driven to social lives online and using it as a primary mechanism for establishing their own consumer dialogues. They come to socialize and to provide more opinions."

Indeed, across the board, one of the striking indicators from the Intent Index is the premium all Web users put on self-expression. About 62% of respondents said they are on the Web to voice an opinion, whether it is about politics, a restaurant or someone else's blog post. This represents a deficiency and an opportunity for marketers, Schubert argues. "Most of marketers' online communication doesn't allow someone to do that with them. If someone wants to sway opinion about something they have to go somewhere else. But if I am a marketer and someone is going to say something about my product I would rather be part of that conversation."

Schubert says that the lesson in this research so far is that many marketers still lag behind the motivations of their users and are marketing to the last stage of Web behaviors. "Marketers have moved from promoting to educating, but educating isn't enough. It isn't engaging in dialogue and conversation. I can tell you clients are thinking about doing these things, but they are not prepared to engage on an ongoing basis. They are used to a ‘two-way' conversation when someone doesn't have to respond to the user."

Recommend (43) Print RSS
4 comments about "People Go Online to Access... People".
  1. Andrea Learned from Learned On, LLC , July 6, 2009 at 10:31 a.m.

    "...many marketers still lag behind the motivations of their users and are marketing to the last stage of Web behaviors." So true. It is hard to keep up with ever-changing consumer motivations, but that just tells me that marketers should never think they've completely solved the puzzle of why their customers buy. Instead - the "getting to know" process via conversations and feeling really solid in those connections should be the goal (and thus - it is the means to the end, not the end that matters). No marketing team or research firm will EVER EVER be able to say they've got it all figured out. But, those folks should be proud of really digging in and letting consumers guide them along the way.

  2. Paula Dauncey from Imaginet , July 6, 2009 at 10:40 a.m.

    This research is great and shows how important social media is as part of the marketing mix for an organisation. I'd love to see a comparison of the intent for using the web of today and that of 10 years ago, when I'm fairly sure the net was used for research and ecommerce. How things have changed, but I'm unconvinced that many organisations have caught up just yet.

  3. Doug Poretz from Qorvis Communications , July 6, 2009 at 10:48 a.m.

    The comment "Only 33% of users surveyed said they go online to buy things" has a misleading connotation. "Only" 33% of everyone who goes on line does so to buy something? That isn't an "only" -- that is a "WOW!"

  4. Dave Kohl from First In Promotions , July 10, 2009 at 2:24 p.m.

    I think these findings are too general. You have some retailers offering different prices online vs. in the stores for the same item, offering "online only" specials, and some entertainment and game web sites which are specific to eventually selling product whether online or in stores.

    Put the statistics aside and, for example, think about parents or grandparents. You will get responses ranging from "I don't know how to turn on a computer" to "I buy everything online because it is so challenging for me to go out and carry something home".

    It is not always about statistics, trends, and research. It is about best reaching your target audience and giving them enough choices to purchase the product or service you represent.

    Using the senior citizen example, a smart company would be easy to work with for those who don't know how to use a computer right along with having everything available and easily purchased online.