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Motivating the Consumer

Every e-business wants to have the "next big thing" or the next "killer app" for the Net. Whatever that may be, to succeed it must seize and hold the consumer's attention. So how do you seize this attention? By finding out what motivates the consumer.

Human beings are motivated by what they feel is in their best interest. As an e-business, you need to know what your buyer thinks is in his or her best interest—what motivates him or her. Different things motivate different people—even at different times. So, when trying to come up with the "next big thing" or "killer app" for the Net, keep the following human motivations in mind:

  • Information

  • Economics

  • Entertainment

  • Socializing


One of the great human motivations is the need for information—and that's where the Internet shines. The Internet is like the Library of Congress multiplied millions of times. But it's also a vast information storehouse that's hard to navigate. This navigation problem has proven to be a rich vein of e-commerce opportunity. First exploited by search engines such as Yahoo!, Excite, Alta Vista, and Hotbot, others with more sophisticated search technologies followed, such as Google.

If you think that the major search engines are the only place to find information, think again. CNET's Search.com is a perfect example of a comprehensive search service—and an infomediary. True to the definition of an infomediary, most of the search engines they offer really don't belong to them. Search.com links users to specialized engines on Web sites all around the Net, employing over 700 different engines with one search.

Another type of information-retrieval technology is the software "bot." There are shopping bots, news bots, data-mining bots, research bots, email bots, newsgroup bots, stock bots, and knowledge bots. And more bots are appearing every day from a variety of technology companies on the Net. If your company trades in technology, creating a new information-retrieval bot would position your e-business in this expanding marketplace.


A second very strong motivation is economics. What motivates a shopper to buy? A quality product, a nice selection, a secure and convenient way to purchase—even a great deal! All these and more would entice a shopper to open his wallet and buy from your online store. Looking at the multitude of different kinds of products and services you can buy today on the Net, you might think that finding a unique selling category is close to impossible. Not so. New ideas for products and services are invented each day—some that can only be provided using the Net.

Here's an example. Career services that help job seekers find their dream job have been around for a while. But many of these sites (such as Monster.com) are just that. Huge sites with hundreds of thousands of job listings. There are opportunities to niche market these services by e-businesses that specialize in one particular industry—nursing, teaching, construction, law, and other professions.

Here's another example. Career sites are not limited to just consumer-oriented jobs. Personic is building a B2B trading hub that links human resource departments, recruiting companies, and electronic job boards. They don't seek résumés from individual job seekers. Rather, they aggregate data from individual job sites as well as from recruiting and staffing companies to create a central marketplace. Companies submit job requisitions and, in turn, receive data on candidates that fit their qualifications.


We all love to be entertained. We'll even pay for it if we feel the value is there. So entertainment is another good motivation. Entertainment sites of all stripes have blossomed on the Net, including sites for movies, games, music, and TV. Most are content sites, but more and more are turning into portals where individual consumers can entertain and interact with each other.

Napster is a good example. Napster has created a new way to find and exchange music entertainment on the Net. Using their Web portal, consumers who collect MP3 files can exchange them with each other. Users download the Napster software and then are able to search the MP3 files of other users and download the ones they like.

Unfortunately, users like it too much, and this site has become the touchpoint for an ugly struggle with the Recording Industry Association of America, resulting in a court injection to prevent Napster from offering any copyrighted songs through its service.


Finally, the urge to interact with other people is a strong motivational force. The opportunity to hobnob with those of similar interests can be turned into a profitable business. Large community sites such as Yahoo! GeoCities and Delphi.com have developed successful community-generating sites. Delphi.com, in particular, has built a successful site with its discussion board building model. Delphi.com has hundreds of thousands of discussion boards run by individuals on every conceivable subject. They also provide live chat for each of the boards on their site. And companies like Yahoo! GeoCities have attracted millions of users who have built home pages using their services on the Net.

All the online companies mentioned here have succeeded in one way or another by identifying a human motivation and seeking to meet it. But this success hides a growing problem and a rising debate over who owns the content of the Internet. The question raised is this. Can a company sell anything using the technology of the Net? And just because it could—does that mean it should?

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