Let’s do business with people, not consumers
I think language is important. The words we use have meaning and impact our feelings, thoughts and actions in ways we probably don’t totally understand. When we call the people who use our products and services consumers, I believe we are doing them – and us – a disservice. Here’s why.
Originally the word consumer meant squanderer. In ecology, a consumer is an organism that feeds on plants or other animals at a lower place in the food chain. In the world of economics, a consumer is one who uses up goods and services, vs. a producer, the one who makes goods and services.
When we look at our customers as consumers, we are dehumanizing them, seeing them as one-dimensional creatures. Replace the word with consumer with squanderer, or user, and see where that takes you in your understanding of these people. When I reduce people to consumers, I find I don’t like or respect them very much. They are not interesting. They are devoid of needs, hopes, dreams, desires, expectations. They become, well, almost like cock-roaches whose sole purpose in life is to consumer the crumbs I leave behind.
Today, marketers are recognizing that they are no longer in charge like they used to be. Our customers are no longer children who, when we tell them what we want them to do, will do it.
Our customers are growing up and becoming full fledged adults. They are taking control. They are speaking in louder, more confidence voices and sharing more information. And they are impacting the value of our brands with that voice. Think about what people are saying about the Gap (for changing their logo), AT&T (for their level of service) or any of the legacy airlines.
It’s time for the people in organizations to respect the people they do business with. Despite (or even, maybe, because of) the requirements of conducting business on a large scale, we need to see our customers as real people, with families and interests and stories and (most of all) a range of feelings, needs and desires that we (as marketers) needs to understand and respect. That way, we can better meet those needs and better influence how our organizations interact and communicate with these people.