There is no doubt that the internet is an extremely useful platform, in fact in this day and age the majority of people would find it impossible to live without it. However, it’s far from perfect, therefore it’s crucial for marketers and brands to gain a thorough understanding of both its best and worst aspects in order to ensure their practices fall on the right side. When analysing the highs and lows of the internet we wanted to delve deeper into people’s perceptions of the online world than the more traditional quantitative research methods normally allow.

To gather a more accurate idea of consumers’ true feelings of the internet, we encouraged interviewees across Europe to reveal their attitudes of the online world in a more reflective way. We wanted them to reveal what they specifically felt are its best and worst attributes. Users were shown a random set of words including ‘mail’, ‘Google’, ‘spam’ and ‘addictive’, which they then had to assign to either the ‘best’ or ‘worst’ column. To make the results as accurate as possible, users were asked to create their own word cloud to help visualise their thoughts. The most highly and least regarded words were made bigger or smaller according to how important these concepts were to them. To make the graph more engaging words were also highlighted green if they were perceived positively and red if negative.

The results received were fascinating, particularly the attitudes towards marketing activity. In summary, advertising and branded content may exist for the same purpose, but they are perceived in entirely contrasting ways. Additionally, consumers displayed quite a negative outlook towards advertising, whilst the more subtle concept of branded content seems to be embraced more openly.

Unsurprisingly marketing is looked upon more favourably when it is considered useful and informative. This could refer to attributes such as reviews, recommendations and subscriptions. However, this kind of content is used more by consumers who have a better understanding of the digital world to begin with. This group is the audience who are able to source content more easily and in turn understand the benefits of brand communications.

Perceptions of online shopping provide an interesting insight into the consumer’s path to purchase journey. Whilst the resource is rated as important for digital users, it lacked the same level of attention given to other aspects of the internet. The consequences of this indicate online retail is still not being translated to purchases as frequently as we’d hope, which from a marketer’s perspective is not ideal. Brands need to concentrate on driving more transactions online by providing a more enjoyable and secure experience whilst shopping. Despite this, online shopping is still considered one of the main advantages of the digital world, coming in at third place behind ‘email’ and ‘Google’. The lack of follow through can be attributed to its strong connection to privacy issues. Shopping online may be seen as a major convenience but there is a sense of risk implied. Ultimately, brands need to define specific communication strategies that help signify and facilitate the online purchase process.

Looking at the differences between audiences across the various EU countries included in our study, there are some interesting discrepancies. As a whole, positive perceptions of the internet tend to outweigh the negatives, but there are some stark differences across Europe in the details. Germany, for example, has the most negative attitude and Romania the most positive. Common threads, however, exist throughout the feedback. All countries tend to be drawn towards the internet as a source of information, knowledge and its ability to communicate easily. Consequently brands such as Google and Wikipedia stand out significantly in the diagrams the survey generated. Though when it comes to issues that people value as important, it is interesting to note that ‘spamming’ and ‘advertising’ were rated above ‘addiction’, ‘safety’ or ‘hacking’.

It was also considered important to single out people who work in creative and marketing agencies to get an idea of perceptions amongst those most likely to be very knowledgeable of brand practice and the digital environment. For instance, it was found that this is the demographic to mention words such as ‘E-commerce’ with more intensity and is indicative of the disparity among the public. Amazon ranks as the third most mentioned word as opposed to the brand’s global ranking at nine. Technology concepts have a far stronger presence with phrases such as ‘real-time’ and ‘cloud computing’ appearing in the top ten. However, it is telling that this group still voices considerable concern over problems such as online theft, irresponsible use of the internet, copyright and e-warfare. Suggesting that those in the know may be able to take advantage of the best of the internet, but they are only too well aware that it’s still a less than perfect environment.

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