A consumption is an event, a one-time happening that is over shortly after it’s begun. There is little remnant of a consumption, and what is left over is disposed of as quickly as possible. A paramecium is a consumer. Users are a cold, heartless breed that manipulate others for their own good with little empathy or regard for long-term consequence.
And yet, in marketing, we often use these terms to refer to those among whom we are trying to make a connection. Consumers and users are a faceless mass – a generalized grouping where we often find ourselves striving to deliver against a least common denominator. As smart marketers, we never purposely dehumanize our target audiences. Until we do.
The quest to understand why people consume and optimize the way that they maneuver through an experience is noble and necessary. But we cannot take a chance on becoming enthralled with the process, and less with the individuals involved in that process. Referring to those individuals simply as consumers or users sets the wrong tone from the outset.
Here are a couple of challenges that I’ll offer to help remind us to keep humanity at the core of our effort:
- First, no more use of faces borrowed from Google Image searches to make our persona depictions dazzling. These images register little more emotional empathy than the sample picture inside a frame purchased at Target. Rather, include original pictures of real people that we have taken ourselves. Individuals who have told us about their unique experiences and journeys. Our presentations might not look as polished, but they will most certainly be more insightful, inspiring, and human.
- Secondly, let’s replace the “consumer” in consumer journey mapping with an actual human being. A real person who is in our target audience; one that we have met and spent some time getting to know. Imagine how much more interesting and impactful a channel strategy would be if we were constructing it for Anna Curtis, rather than a faceless, nameless, generic consumer
- Finally, challenge your team to a meeting without “consumers” or “users.” Just like an off-color word or phrase at some workplaces might cost you $1 in a jar, let’s collect every time someone uses one of these dehumanizing words in a meeting. Then stretch the challenge to a full day, and the day to a week. Your teams will start thinking differently about who we’re trying to reach and how they can make those connections more resonant and meaningful (And then donate the proceeds to a good cause, like a Friday afternoon happy hour…).
Does changing what we call our target audiences matter? Clearly, that alone will not guarantee that we will create meaningful relationships. But starting with the right mindset about who we are talking to should improve the chances of keeping our focus on the wonderfully human person at the other end of the mouse, tablet or television set.
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