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Synectics, Consumer Insight, Synecticsworld, Innovation Consulting

Connie Williams, CMO, CKO Synecticsworld

By Connie Williams

I had a conversation with a client the other day about the word “consumer,” which I increasingly find limiting and insufficient.  Many of my consumer packaged goods clients make a distinction between “consumer” and “customer.” For them, the consumer is that ‘end purchaser’ and the customer is the medium, the retailer or intermediary who provides the distribution and makes it easy for the “consumer” to purchase their product.

After over 30 years in a range of marketing work wherein the consumer was, paradoxically, both “king” (if they were loyal purchasers) and not so smart (if they did not), today I find the term ‘consumer’ disturbing and nearly disrespectful.

In a newer, greener age, both the word and the concept of “consumers” feels so yesterday. Who are these people who do nothing, apparently, but consume stuff?

All those “consumers” are much more than automatons, fixed on the practicality of getting a job done.  And, if they don’t buy the stuff that marketers are marketing, they are more than just needing to be “educated” on our brands so they will make the “right” product choice. The more I work in insight and innovation, the more I believe that we need to be much more respectful and conscious of the their intelligence and thoughtfulness. (Yes, even those – or perhaps particularly those – who are not “consuming” our stuff).  We should be working to motivate them to decide on our brands and products.  How can we inspire them to want to join our fan club?

If I check my Microsoft Word synonym finder, I find the following alternatives to consumer:  Customer, shopper, buyer, user, purchaser, end user and even punter (that’s a new one for me). Not especially satisfying.  I know many retailers, even those outside of the hospitality industry, use the word ‘guest.’ To airlines, we are passengers.  I think this is inherently limiting, too.  Other alternatives are client, sponsor, fan, or even benefactor.  I vote for a change — a change in language that reflects new respect… for our prospective deciders.  After all, they are the ones who are purchasing our products or services….or not….even if they are making quick decisions in their fast paced, ever stressful lives.

What do you think?  How would your organization capture the notion that they are more than consuming automatons, that they are deciding on products and services that enhance their lives?

 

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One Comment

  1. Great post – always seems like a good idea to examine the labels we assign and think through their connotations. Thanks.

    Based on my own career history spanning B2B and B2C I do have a comment.

    “Consumer” may or may not seem disrespectful – personally I never thought it signified an assumed status as an automaton – but I do think “decider” glosses over the range of involvement and interest consumers – er, buyers – bring to a transaction. Cars and cameras = heavily considered, with a higher-order cognitive decision. Ditto these days for a food shopper with a family member newly diagnosed with diabetes or another health conditions that require behavior change, and education to understand the change in needs. Gum, socks? Not so much. Of course, not all unconsidered purchases are based on impulse – sometimes you need socks and you’re going to get socks at Target, but with lower-order cognition. So to me, “decider” feels different but ultimately insufficient to cover the range of buying modes.

    r.

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