Some ten years on from the year 2000 - dubbed the first year of broadband - the Internet has spread with astonishing speed and completely changed our lives. It is a given now that you can shop at websites overseas and access a broad variety of information while you are here in Japan, and you can even interact with all kinds of people throughout the world. In these ways, the information environment surrounding us has changed dramatically. How has consumer behavior changed through the influence of the Internet?
Exposure to Information
The amount of information available to consumers has increased exponentially through the development of information technology and the spread of the Internet. According to the Results from Research on the State of the Japanese Information and Telecommunications Market and Measuring the Amount of Information Distribution (2009), released in August 2011 by the Institute for Information and Communications Policy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, there was a two-fold increase in the amount of information distribution transmitted through the media by television stations, publishers, and the like from 2001 to 2009. The increase of information distribution via the Internet was particularly salient, up some 716-fold.
The amount of information has increased in these ways, but not all of this information is processed by consumers. According to the survey referenced above, of the information received by consumers, the amount of information that was recognized and processed on a conscious level by them hardly changed over a period of eight years. We choose the information we process, by unconsciously not paying attention to certain information, or by consciously ignoring it. Therefore, unless they are really exceptional, most of the advertising messages that companies transmit are passed over by consumers.
Searching for Information
Needless to say, the advent of the Internet caused a sea change in the way that we search for information. Before the appearance of the Internet, for example, if there was something that you didn’t understand during a university lecture, you would typically go to the library and look it up in related books. Today, Google alone will usually suffice.
Consumer information search behavior generally varies according to the type of products or services that interest the consumers. For search goods such as electrical appliances and personal computers (products and services that consumers can evaluate in terms of quality to some extent before purchasing), for example, searches focus on objective information such as specifications and prices, whereas for experience goods such as cosmetics and restaurants (products and services that consumers can evaluate in terms of quality only after using or experiencing them), searches tend to focus mainly on subjective information such as user reviews.
Consumers’ information search behavior is not limited to pre-purchase, but occurs post-purchase as well. One of the purposes of the post-purchase behavior is to reduce cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance refers to the state of consumers being conflicted after purchasing as to whether or not they have made the right choice. Recall, for example, a time when you bought some clothes. Many of us have regretted things like wishing we had chosen a different color or an item one size larger than the one we chose. Consumers search for additional information in order to reduce this cognitive dissonance, and to convince themselves that they made the right decision.
Information searches conducted after purchasing may also be made in order to substantiate kuchikomi (comments on an Internet forum or webpage) later. A survey conducted by the Marketing Communications Institute at Waseda University in collaboration with the Asahi Shimbun Company shed light on the fact that, as kuchikomi on the internet has the attendant risk of so-called flaming [computer slang: to send an angry, critical, or disparaging electronic message], consumers conduct various information search behavior before participating in such behavior.
Through Internet communities, blogs, and the like, consumers can now transmit information to an unspecified vast number of others. This kuchikomi over the Internet derives from a range of motives other than consumer experiences of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with products or services. It has become clear, for example, that there is a desire for self-expression by having others know about one’s opinions and experiences, and a desire for social interaction by meeting and exchanging comments with others who share common interests. There are also economic motivations including points that can be acquired through kuchikomi.
When developing marketing communication strategy, the consumer engaging (exposure to), searching, and transmitting information behavior mentioned above should be considered. Consumers engage information extremely selectively, ignoring the majority of the information that they encounter. On the other hand, they actively search for information on the Internet, and have begun to transmit a variety of information through kuchikomi as well. Information for consumers is changing from something pushed through the media to something pulled out by them.
Therefore, much of mass advertising transmitting messages unilaterally is regarded as noise and is not processed by consumers. However, It would be premature to think that the effectiveness of mass advertising will decline. Consumers cannot conduct a search unless they have some idea about the brand. Mass advertising plays a vital role in providing consumers with leads or triggering a search. Rather than pushing information unilaterally, then, we should promote the development of mass advertising intended to generate searches or data retrieval.
Also, when designing a forum for consumers to pull out information, such as a company site, brand site, and the like, we should be aware that the purposes of the information searches by prospective customers are different from those by existing customers. Providing information that offers reasons to purchase is effective for prospective customers, while offering reasons assuring customers that they have made the right choice is effective for existing customers.
It is essential to be aware of the respective roles of advertising and company sites, linking all media while considering the flow of information for the consumer, from engaging to searching and transmitting.
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