Digital native, immigrant or outsider? User behaviour and online marketing

To understand the own customer is the main conditions of a successful online business – for this purpose, we already mentioned a few tips in one of our blogpost about the target group definition. A factor in analyzing the target group is particularly important in e-commerce: the digital surfing, search and shopping behavior of one’s own customers.

Only those who know how and why their own target group surf on the Internet can optimize their online marketing. The correct form of the advertising message, the placement of online ads, the web design of the homepage or the creation of content are all dependent on the specific user behavior of the customers in the network. To have to know how to use the internet are more than click paths. Behind the user is a person with values ​​and attitudes who influence his behavior in the net.

In today’s blog post, we’ll look at what types of users are on the Internet and what your online marketing strategy means.



Digital Native Vs. Digital Immigrants: User behavior as a generational conflict



Probably the best known concept for describing the different behavior on the World Wide Web is the separation of users in „Digital Natives“ and „Digital Immigrants“.

A digital native is a person who is at home in the digital world. This includes all the people who have been socialized since birth with Internet, e-mail, video games, mobile phones and instant messaging. The term was chracterised by its counterpart Digital Immigrant in 2001 by the educator and e-learning expert Marc Prensky. [1] According to Prensky, the ubiquity of the Internet and technical tools for the post-1980s are fundamentally changing their way of thinking and the way they process information. Digital natives are accustomed to receiving information very quickly and from anywhere, they are fans of multi-tasking, prefer graphics text, work best on a network and expect instant gratification and continuous rewards. This fundamental change in their way of working and thinking stands in contrast to the digital immigrants, all those who grew up with a corded phone instead of a smartphone. Prensky uses the metaphor of language as an illustration. Digital natives are native speakers of the land of the Internet and new technologies, while digital immigrants still have to learn the language of the digital world – which is sometimes expressed in a „strong accent“: they print out e-mails and PDF documents or call people to the office to show a website instead of simply sending the link.



As a pedagogue, Prensky’s primary concern was to find new ways for the teaching methods of „digitally immigrated“ teachers or professors to reach their students who are at home in the digital world. However, the concept of different digital skills and knowledge was quickly discovered for marketing. An example of this is the consumer’s need for more mobility: a digital immigrant would think about buying a classic car while the digital native downloads a car-sharing app or UBER on his mobile phone.


Criticism of Prensky: User behavior is about more than the age

However, with the rising popularity of Prensky’s confrontation of the digital natives and immigrants, criticism of the thesis became louder. One of the main criticisms is that the age or the year of birth is insufficient as the main distinguishing criterion. In fact, a much more complex set of factors determines whether and how PC, Internet and Co. are used. For example, non-use must not only be due to a lack of skills, but may be due to a value-based rejection or insufficient financial resources. This too simple classification omits an important social problem, the digital gap. Even Persky’s theses on the change of thought patterns, which goes so far as to suppose that the grown up with the Internet and PCs generation have „developed physiologically altered brains“ is scientifically untenable.

A more differentiated distinction between online user types also makes sense for the simple reason that the group of digital immigrants logically gets smaller and smaller. So it’s getting more and more important not to ask if the internet and technology are used, but how. And the way that users use the Internet depends not only on their age, but also their socioeconomic position and their values ​​and attitudes. In the next step, with digital sine milieus, we present an approach that seeks a holistic description of today’s user behavior in the network.

Digital Sinus Milieus of Internet users

The digital sinus milieus are a typology for digital user behavior. 6 different basic attitudes are distinguished, which result from the combination of the value and day-to-day world and the concrete surf behavior of the Internet user. The milieus combine a programmatic advertising approach in the sense of real-time user data with the basic values ​​of the users. The goal is to recognize the „people behind the user“ and play out perfectly tailored advertising content.[3]


sinus milieus


The 6 digital milieus differ in their attitude to the Internet, the frequency and type of use as well as the expectations of digital communication. In the following, we introduce the 6 different user types and show which different advertising messages they prefer.

  • Selective: Selective Internet users are confident in dealing with online content, but only measure it as a subordinate role in everyday life. They consciously weigh their Internet consumption and are more pragmatic than entertainment-oriented in the internet. The most important functions are banking, news and information as well as product and price comparisons. They expect depth, value and a clear position from online messages. All this in a professional and aesthetic way. They are not very impressible to conspicuous manipulation.


  • Careful: The cautious still approach the digital world. Although they certainly use the internet for price comparisons, the exchange of images or for navigation, they are often below the group average of online presence. They represent more conservative-bourgeois values ​​and are skeptical of many online topics – especially from the data protection point of view. Digital messages for this type of Internet user should therefore be formulated in the best down-to-earth, harmonious and user-oriented way.


  • Efficient: The group of efficient Internet users sees above all a tool in the network that makes their everyday work easier. They book trips or tickets online, use digital navigation, compare and research, or keep up to date with web news. For them, surfing is not a simple pastime, but should offer a personal benefit. They also expect this from digital communication: Messages should be precise and concise without being too manipulative or persuasive.



  • Effort: The group of the endeavored Internet users tries to participate within the scope of their possibilities in the digital society. In this group, the average age is highest, but also financial resources are often the reason for the lack of opportunity to participate. The “efforts” are often having a lack of orientation in the network, which should balance the right online communication. Clear messages that inspire confidence. An intuitive web design, which is not overwhelmed, is of particular importance to this group.


  • Fun-oriented: This group of Internet users originates from the hedonistic milieu and it’s all about fun and experiences when using the Internet. They are very often online and music, gaming and travel are their main online topics. You can find them mainly in social networks, on entertainment websites or streaming service providers. They are expecting direct, uninhibited messages that surprise them. Here, entertaining content such as Memes und GIFs is more requested than the classic brand slogan


  • Sovereigns: The sovereigns speak the „language of the Internet“ and set trends on and offline – they are the digital avant-garde. This group is almost permanently online and of course digital is a part of everyday life. They are highly networked and mentally, culturally and geographically mobile. The right approach of this ambitious group is individual, trend-conscious, testifies to style and breaks with old boundaries.



The analysis of customer behavior is not just about situational click data, but also about their basic values ​​and attitudes to the Internet. What expectations do you have about online content and how would you like to consume it?

If you know how your own customers are reacting on the Internet, they can tailor their advertising content and products perfectly to their needs and requirements. For example through tailored online ads or an individualized website. This allows to reach every user type with the right message on the right channel.