The Internet and related digital technologies have shaped how consumers and companies behave in a number of ways, say marketing scholars in Virginia Tech's Pamplin College of Business.

The Internet has “influenced which sources of information consumers pay attention to,” says marketing professor and department head Paul Herr, “and it is probably changing the way in which consumers process information and see the world in general.”

Herr says the Internet and such technologies as social media, mobile devices, and apps have also helped consumer decision making by “reducing search costs and potentially increasing the number of alternatives consumers can efficiently consider.”

As for companies, the Internet has changed how they communicate with consumers. In providing firms with the opportunity to collect metadata concerning consumer search, choice, and behavior, Herr says, the Internet has opened up “a window into the consumer’s soul.”

The Internet has made it hard for consumers to hide, says Herr. “Most of our really neat technologies also reveal our identities — including location, activities, buying behavior — to advertisers and others.”

Marketing professor David Brinberg says marketers today are able not only to “capture real-time behavioral data and use it to segment consumers based on purchase patterns, but also to target individual consumers with specific advertisements based on his or her search behavior and purchases.”

Marketing is, after all, an effort to create targeted change, says Brinberg. It is about “moving a consumer from not owning to owning a product, from not using to using a service, from not performing to performing a desired behavior.”

Consumption has also become a very public activity, says marketing associate professor Rajesh Bagchi. Going beyond merely acquiring and using, “consumers are sharing information about their purchases on social media,” Bagchi notes, through posts on Facebook or product forums.

And, when consumers are dissatisfied, they have the powerful megaphones of the Internet, mobile devices, and social media. Consumer complaints and concerns then have to be swiftly addressed, says associate professor of practice Donna Wertalik.

The marketing faculty members reflect on the biggest changes in marketing approaches and consumer behavior over the past 50 years in “We are what we buy,” part of the 50th anniversary commemorative issue of Virginia Tech Business, the magazine of the Pamplin College of Business.

Learn more about what marketing scholars have learned about how consumers behave and what’s in store for them.