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This chapter is from the book

Factors Affecting Your Online Communications Strategy

The late American psychologist Abraham Maslow was a pioneer in researching how people are driven by needs. He arranged needs in a hierarchy with lower level needs (physiological needs)—such as food, water, and shelter—needing to be satisfied before the higher level needs (self-actualization needs) such as self-development are reached. According to Maslow, when a person has satisfied a particular need, he or she strives to reach higher levels. Following Maslow's theory, it can be argued that every audience has a needs hierarchy that must be satisfied on some level if a company is going to make a positive impression on that audience. To satisfy needs on a higher level, communication and positive interaction with the brand must remain constant. This is not easy to achieve on the Internet, as many brands have experienced thus far. Technology can be unpredictable and often frustrating. Until the medium is perfected to suit every type of user from the innovator to even a laggard (if that's possible), the challenge to satisfy continually intensifies. With each passing day, groups are using the Internet more and expecting more from any brand with which they choose to interact.

Determining the needs of those interacting with your client online requires you to know something about the macro and micro environmental factors that shape their needs. The macro factors are the kinds of things that you can learn about through a review of the secondary research that we discussed in Chapter 2. They include indicators such as the following:

  • Demographic factors: World population growth, population age mix, ethnic markets, educational groups, household patterns, and so on.

  • Economic factors: Income distribution, debt, credit availability, and so on.

  • Technological factors: Pace of technology, opportunity for innovation, increased regulation for technological change.

  • Political and legal environment: Legislation affecting businesses, protection from unfair competition, consumer protection and privacy issues, and so on.

  • Social factors: Audience views of themselves, views of others, views of society, and so on.

The micro environmental factors that shape your audience's needs are closely related to a person's general lifestyle and are gathered by using primary, firsthand research tools like online surveys of site visitors. These factors include the following:

  • Cultural factors: Culture, subcultures, social class, and so on.

  • Social factors: Reference groups, family, roles, status, and so on.

  • Personal factors: Stage of the life cycle, occupation, economic circumstances, lifestyle, personality, and so on.

  • Psychological factors: Motivation, perceptions, learning, beliefs, attitudes.

The relative importance of these various factors to your online communications strategy is going to vary based on the type of audience you're addressing. If you're developing a plan for a business-to-business company seeking to sell its widgets to manufacturers, it's probably less important to know about the lifestyles and personalities of your online visitors and more important to know about economic factors such as credit availability. On the other hand, someone crafting an online communications strategy for a consumer-oriented company, like a cosmetics retailer, would be very interested in knowing about the cultural factors affecting its online users. Such a company might want to know about the age, race, ethnicity, economic circumstances, and perceptions of its online visitors. We'll talk more in Chapter 5 about tools that can be used to gather this information, but our purpose here is to point out the types of information that you need to know to be a better online communicator.

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