Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Of consumers and unicorns

B2C marketers talk about consumers all the time. Consumer insights. Consumer needs. Consumer benefits. Consumer centricity. The entire marketing enterprise is supposedly built around this thing called "the consumer."

There's just a small problem. Consumers don't exist. There's no such thing. "The consumer" is a chimera, a reification.

There is consumption behavior. People do engage in the behavior of buying and then consuming various goods and services. But identifying or defining people as "consumers" is entirely inappropriate and it masks the complexity of human nature - and, even, human behavior.

The "thing" that is buying and consuming is not a buying / consumption machine. (Though we have done our best to confuse this point.) The "thing" is a human being. A person. At one moment it buys or consumes. At another it loves or grieves. At another it reaches up to the heights to exalt itself and others. And at another it stoops down to commingle with the dirt. Even more, it does all of this at once.

When we attempt to succeed in business by somehow influencing a "consumer," all we are doing is closing our minds to the richness of the person we seek to influence. Our behaviors are, thus, necessarily shallow and incomplete. If we were, instead, to insist on always imagining a complete human being in front of us, I suspect we would realize that our marketing efforts are not only woefully inadequate, but often counterproductive.

So let's stop using the word "consumer." Or, at least, let's use it as we use the word "unicorn." Instead, let's think about people. Talk about people. And seek to make people's lives better. In so doing, we can create success for our businesses.

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