Tuesday, March 07, 2006

We don't consume. We choose.

I'm usually not one to get hung up on semantics, but one of the marketing terms I've long disliked is CONSUMERS.

Sure, I have tossed the term around like my favorite football in all kinds of meetings. I've dutifully read dull research that referred to something hopelessly broad like CONSUMERS 18-35 — and then nodded off. Sometimes, I even mentioned a powerful CONSUMER brand.

I was weak.

Yes, CONSUMER is just a term. But I think it's one of those casual identifiers that further distances marketers and communications professionals from their audience. It's as if we use it to convince ourselves the world is chock full of nameless individuals who constantly forage the planet for toothpaste and crackers and spandex athletic gear.

They're gluttonous, we think. Unrelenting. Insatiable. If we put it out there, surely those damn CONSUMERS will eventually gobble it up. After all, isn't that what these people — these people who inhabit any part of the earth where things can be purchased — are here to do?

For a long time, I simply tried to use the word PEOPLE. Now I believe companies would do well to replace CONSUMERS with something else: CHOOSERS.

Everyone can choose to buy your product or service, someone else's or just stick with our current foul-smelling spandex athletic gear. Sure, we will run out of toothpaste, but we might be convinced to go with some new herbal tooth and gum oil. While we will eat all the crackers, we may replace them with a loaf of multi-grain.

CHOOSERS watch your commercial or ignore it. We all know what most are doing these days.

CHOOSERS sample a different automotive brand if they decide their dealer has a mediocre service department.

CHOOSERS decide that a new putter will lower their scores. Or refuse to believe such nonsense.

If marketing organizations started to talk about CHOOSERS instead of CONSUMERS (or, for that matter, some Prada-wearing account planner's term such as, say, URBAN INDIVIDUALIST or GLOBAL CITIZEN — I have witnessed much pain and suffering inflicted upon helpless creative by both of these monikers), better solutions would undoubtedly surface.


Blogger sammo said...

Good insight. The term "Consumers" never quite sit right with me either.

6:00 AM  
Anonymous lisa said...

What really bothers me is how human service agencies use the word "consumer" to talk about the people they serve. Such an impersonal term.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Profgart said...

Only those who have lost all touch with business-to-business marketing use the word "consumer" at all. It follows from the semiotic abstraction necessary to make someone "choose" one cola over another, one Chinese sneaker over another. B2B reminds you that you should always assume the end user is the smartest person in the room. They will know what they want when they see it.

But I wonder if "chooser" is really any different from "consumer" when we're talking about mass produced commodities that have no real differences from their competitors. When you "persuade" someone to buy your unremarkabe beverage by draping it in a feature-unrelated "brand identity," have those people really become "choosers" - or are they more accurately a herd of consumers?

I think I'd pass on "choosers" too, if we're trying to turn "consumers" back into individuals who make conscious decisions when offered a choice. Why not the old but useful "prospects," signifying people who you have reason to believe might give a damn about what you have to offer?

You have an interesting blog, and the Black Lab 5 site is very clever. I'd be interested to read your thoughts about the agency scene in Kalamazoo. The large place in town has no accounts that tie it to Kalamazoo, while the smaller, creative shops seem to be withering away. Who is doing the work for all of the businesses in Kalamazoo and the surrounding counties?

9:19 PM  
Blogger Black Lab Five said...

Good thoughts from all. My only thought is that if it's choosing among unremarkable products, people can still choose nothing — which probably means I've suddenly aligned myself with Naomi Klein or Adbusters. The term "prospects" certainly has some merit — I just wish that sales people had not burned it out quite so much. I'm still not big on semantics, so I guess I'll leave a larger debate on the merits of "chooser" for another day.

Good questions about the business here in Kalamazoo. It's probably similar to most small, regional markets — difficult to make the traditional agency model work anymore. I'll try to tackle it in my next blog entry.

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dean, just rattling your cage here.

You suggested you might do a writeup about the agency scene in Kalamazoo. I'd like to hear your thoughts, especially as they relate to the recent demise of Copper.

10:33 AM  
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