Survey shows consumers befuddled by technology

By Published on .

This just in: Consumers are confused.

No, really. They're baffled. They're hornswoggled. They don't know the names of things. They're not sure what you call the thing by the TV that records stuff.

A survey plumbing the digital smarts of 2,000 consumers, conducted by the Yankee Group for Advance Publications' Parade, found that consumers remain unsure about what technology products actually do. They're even confused about which products they own-or at least think they own.

For example, 71% of respondents said they could explain what a digital video recorder is to a friend. But only 36% said they could explain to a friend what TiVo was, even though TiVo is the Xerox of DVRs-a brand name used to refer to a category generically despite its several competitors.

Consumers "are having trouble navigating the waters with all these digital terms," said Dominic Ainscough, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group.

When asked about Wi-Fi, 74% said they'd never heard of it. But 34% said "wireless networking" was an important criteria for their next computer purchase. And while 16% of survey respondents-which a Yankee Group analyst said was weighted to reflect dead-center American demographics-believe they own a DVR, 4% actually do.

Such conclusions have significant implications for how leading-edge consumer-technology companies market their products. That, for instance, 55% of consumers don't know what a "megapixel" is points to a key challenge for marketers touting the features of digital cameras. Digital cameras may well be a mass-market technology-but assuming the mass-market knows what technology to look for when purchasing one is a big marketing misstep.

who's the target?

"This study reinforced some gut suspicion I had all along," said Parade General Manager Lamar Graham, who for three years was its technology columnist. "You've got to wonder who that advertising talking about processing speeds is really reaching," he continued. "A lot of the advertising theoretically aimed at consumers isn't aimed at the right consumer anymore."

Widespread consumer acceptance of any new technology begins with tech-savvy new adopters-and, understandably, marketers hone their initial pitches for them. But those same messages, the survey results suggest, may be lost on the mass-market consumers companies need to reach.

In this article:
Most Popular