Paul M. Banas on Consumer Insights, Marketing Research, and the Digital Media Landscape
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Category — Trends

Is RSS Dead?

Is RSS, the backbone of content distribution online, tapped out from broader consumer standpoint?

According to Forrester Research it is:

With only 11% of consumers using RSS, and of the remaining 89% of those who don’t use RSS feeds, only 17% of them saying they are interested in using them in the future, it looks like broadly distributed online content has a dark future.

However, I have to take a different tack then Steve Rubel or Forrester on this.  If I were to survey US consumers right after World War II on whether they think they would use a television, and for those who don’t, do they think they would in the future, I’d probably get roughly the same data back as Forrester got on RSS.

I agree that RSS is a geeky term and most of the broader base of the US public still don’t use RSS readers.

But just like Apple was able to use consumer insights to make music downloads and the mobile internet interesting to the broader public, and Google was able to make search engines decidedly not techie, I think there is a great opportunity for someone to take all the content currently available in RSS format and make it as easy to access as the evening news on TV.

RSS in its current form may not be the answer, but that doesn’t mean we should be reading its obituary.

October 21, 2008   10 Comments

Is Online Video Ready For Primetime?

Are people ready to give up their traditional television viewing habits and spend significant amounts of time with the emerging technology behind online video?

These numbers from eMarketer certainly indicate rapid household penetration growth of online video, with at least 50% of US households expected to watch online video in 2008, up from less than 20% four years ago.

emarker_online_video.gif

However experimenting and watching a YouTube clip here and there is one thing, but truly replacing significant amounts of television usage is something else entirely.

Michael Estrin at iMedia Connection has done some informal qualitative research to see if online video is ready for primetime, by gathering together a small group of twentysomethings who weren’t heavy online video users, then showing them some examples of different online video services, and then discussing their merits and shortcomings.

Here are some key insights from the discussions:

Expectations for online video are low (the YouTube effect)

With its buffering and the amateurish quality of most of the content, YouTube doesn’t fit with what people are looking for from long time frame entertainment:

“If I want to be entertained, I sit down on the couch,” says one participant, “this other stuff [short clips on YouTube] is just for killing time at work.”

Response is better with more professional sites that feature professional quality content (such as Joost)

While sites such as Joost have better quality content and a more technologically sophisticated interface, the lack of more popular TV shows and videos is disappointing:

“We open the Comedy Central channel and disappointment sets in. ‘It’s got everything you don’t want to watch,’ Todd says.”

The television advertising that was hidden by Tivo is now back

Other sites such as Veoh have some of the more popular shows available, however to people accustomed to using DVRs to skip ads, viewing pre-rolls was a disappointment:

“I could just as easily watch this on TV without the ads because I have TiVo”

In the end, while participation and interest in online video is certainly increasing, its ability to garner significant amounts of viewer’s time is still being constrained by expectations and technology. Michael Estrin summarizes it this way:

“There’s something terribly basic about TV from a user perspective. You watch the show, the ads come on, you go get a snack, and you watch the rest of your show. But while internet video may look a lot like TV (assuming the content and the quality make their way to the computer screen), the advertiser/user relationship is something quite different.”

While this could all change with media providers moving beyond dabbling and getting serious with online video, people probably won’t be getting rid of their television sets any time soon.

February 21, 2008   7 Comments

Consumer Behavior In Recessions

“When your neighbor loses his job, it’s a recession. When you lose your job, it’s a depression.” – Harry S. Truman

As the US economy looks to be sliding towards recession, if it isn’t already there now, consumers will start to alter certain behaviors in reaction to economic realities. And not all areas of spending are reduced; in fact, some increase at the expense of others.

Here are some more general ones that marketers need to be cognizant of:

Not surprisingly, consumers reexamine their regular spending habits

  • Restaurant and take out meals decline, and in home meals increase.
  • Coupon usage increases, and they become more aware of in store sales and price reductions.
  • Entertainment has some interesting shifts, as movie ticket sales tend to increase during recessions, but spending $250+ on Hannah Montana concert tickets for the kids is certainly over with.

A counterpoint is that sometimes consumers will maintain their “little luxuries”

  • These may be simple things, like a Starbucks latte in the mornings, since it can be an inexpensive mood lifter during stressful times.
  • However, they will probably focus on just one “little luxury”, and try to pare down the rest.

Big expenses like home remodels and extravagant vacations are postponed.

  • If consumers do work around the home, it is probably DIY, and even then to help boost the saleability of a home in a poor housing market.
  • Traditionally, consumers used to cancel their foreign travels and focus on places they could reach by car. However, with gas prices as high as they are, even this behavior is in jeopardy.

Consumers try to get a better handle on their credit card balances and monthly budgets.

  • This means consumers finding out that cash still works to pay for groceries and the sales of personal finance books take off.
  • However, consumers who lose their jobs tend to fall on back on credit, which then leads to a personal finance doom loop.

Hang on tight, we are all in for a rough ride.

January 22, 2008   No Comments

Is it a Consumer Trend or a Passing Fad?

Most market researchers have a good tally of how many times they’ve heard “How come we didn’t know about this trend earlier?” or conversely “Why did we spend all these dollars on new product development when this was only a temporary fad?”. It’s truly a no-win situation. Most of the time, it’s not that marketing researchers haven’t seen some consumer shift coming, it’s that we didn’t have a good sense of its scale or duration. I’d argue that another problem is that we don’t always have our terms right. While we may not be any better at predicting the future, we at least should be able to agree on what’s a trend versus a minor fad.

Trendingwatching.com is an excellent resource for anyone with an interest on how the consumer landscape may be shifting. Their monthly briefings have a wealth of information and a quick search through their back issues can find something for everyone. Their latest issue attempts to define what a trend is and what it is not and to provide a common language we can all use to discuss them. They define a trend as:

A manifestation of something that has unlocked or newly serviced an existing (and hardly ever changing) consumer need, desire, want, or value.

What a trend isn’t is a fashion, color, or flavor fad that will be gone by next year, or something that’s still 15 to 20 years out from having a major impact on society.  Predicting what’s the next major consumer trend is not a sure science, but having one’s terms right can at least eliminate a lot of confusion.

September 20, 2007   1 Comment