09 June 2010

Is "Consumer" a bad word?

EDINBURGH – Yesterday in our meeting with European colleagues we returned to the subject of empathy and Dev Patnaik’s book, Wired to Care. (We posted about this in January.)

Discussions with people from around the world always force us to clarify the meaning of our words. Dropping our idioms and figures of speech make us communicate clearly in international audiences.

In yesterday’s discussion we agreed that the word “consumer” describes what someone does, not who they are. Empathy is not about getting people to consume, but understanding who they are as people so we can get them to consume.

So, to drop the jargon and speak plainly: Shouldn’t we just call them “people”?


  1. Most marketers are looking for "people who consume" they're simply short-handing to the word "consumer"

    The key is segmenting those people into the appropriate targets for a marketer's product/service.

    Consumer is a fine word. It describes desired behavior.

  2. Interesting.

    I've always been amazed at "marketer talk". It seems to me that we tend to use militaristic, adversarial words for our craft.

    We TARGET consumers with CAMPAIGNS and PENETRATE new markets.

    "Consumer" is, as David says above, our view of the people in whom we're interested. We want them to "consume." We often use this as a distinction from customers, who are people with whom we already have a business relationship.

    I've had vigorous discussions on this topic (often after the consumption of many ML's of bourbon) and have reached the conclusion that we're actually uncomfortable with the idea of our targets being "people."

    Targeting "people" is a war crime while targeting consumers is a marketing function.

    Perhaps when we mature more as a discipline, we'll be more comfortable with our terminology and our practices.

  3. While we want them to consume us we want them to adopt us in the lives they live as people.

    if we think beyond the state of consumption we might have a better shot at being something deeper to them, sort of the way a complex brand like apple has successfully done or something as simple as coca cola.

    Do we want them to only consume and that ends our relationship with them?