As a rule, I only talk about my work and my company when I know it will add value to what you do. That's certainly the case today as Fleishman-Hillard (my company) and Harris Interactive release our Digital Influence Index Study. This study was conducted in Europe (using the UK, France and Germany as the initial round of countries), but you can see trends emerge that I think are global in nature.
The study looks to really dig in to the role that the internet plays in the lives of consumers. It answers the following questions:
- Influence: What is the influence of the internet compared to other media?
- Behavior: What online behaviors are consumers adopting?
- Impact on decisions: What is the impact of the internet on specific consumer decisions?
- Attitudes: What are consumer attitudes towards the internet?
- Geography: What are the differences by country?
The actual Digital Influence Index number shown below in the pie charts is compiled like this:
The chart to the right compares the influence of different forms of media on decision making. As you can see the internet is more influential in each country than any other type of media. It's nearly twice as influential as TV and eight times more influential than traditional print media. Interestingly, consumers spend a marginal amount more time on TV than the Internet, but it's not effecting their decisions proportionally.
The study found that consumer behavior falls into one of five categories. They are research, commerce, communication, mobility and publishing. While you can read more detail in the full report, some highlights are:
- 80% of online consumers use the net to comparison shop
- 3 out of 4 use the net to manage bank accounts
- 30% post a comment to an online newsgroup or website during a typical week
Here is how these behaviors relate adoption levels and influence
Though the study found the internet influential, it showed that there are still trust issues that have to be overcome for it to continue to grow. Trust of information from other users, trust of government information and information provided by companies were all relatively low. Trust in commerce was a little better and trust of the security of communications channels was pretty high as well.
- Across all three countries addressed by the study, the Internet has roughly double the influence of the second strongest medium — television — and roughly eight times the influence of traditional print media. This indicates a need and an opportunity for companies to reprioritise their communications to address the media shift in consumer influence.
- Consumers use the Internet in different ways to make different decisions. For example, consumers are more likely to seek opinions of others through social media and product-rating sites when it comes to making decisions that involve choices that have a great deal of personal impact (e.g., healthcare options or major electronics purchases), but use company-controlled sources when making transactional decisions on commoditised items like utilities or airline tickets.
- While consumers see the clear benefits of the Internet on their lives, they continue to have concerns about Internet safety and the trustworthiness of some of the information they find online. In the UK, for example, 66 percent of online consumers state that the Internet helps them make better decisions, but just 28 percent trust the information on the Internet provided by companies.
I think this quote from Dave Senay (our CEO) addresses the key point from my perspective:
"The research shows that the Internet stands out as the most important medium in the lives of European consumers today, but there's a mismatch between the impact of the digital channel across a wide range of consumer behaviours and decisions and the proportion of resources organisations generally are allocating to it relative to other media.
Insights provided by this study will help communicators be more strategic in their marketing mix. At the same time, we need to be mindful about the concerns expressed about safety and trust, which underscores the need for digital engagement with consumers based on open and honest representation."
So what should companies and marketers do with this knowledge?
- Given the influence of the Internet, audit your current marketing spend and see how it aligns with reality and the influence of the medium
- Make sure information that is provided is done so in a transparent, honest manner with full representation
- SEM/SEO are crucial as search drives the way people find information
- Join the conversation online, support the community and engage in a transparent manner
- Keep an eye on mobile trends and poll consumers to gauge demand for such an offering
So, what do you think about the information? This is based in Europe, but do you see correlations with the US? You can download the entire white paper here, which includes all of the information above with more charts and graphs.