Are the terms “customer” and “consumer” out of date?
Let’s start with “consumer”
If somebody called you a “consumer”, how would you feel? Would you consider it a compliment?
Consumption is starting to feel like a negative word, because of the impact of over-consumption on our environment. For someone who is conscious of how their purchasing behaviour affects the natural world, “consumer” feels like a bit of an insult. You’re a Gollum acquiring your “precious”.
Are you my “customer”?
What if somebody called you their “customer”? It feels a little better I think, but quite cold. You’re a revenue-generator, a number, a receiver of goods or services. It feels transactional rather than emotional.
When you’re a shoe brand or retailer, you need an easy term to use and “customer” and “consumer” are quite frankly, convenient. When I was working for a global shoe brand, we used “customer” for retail accounts who purchased our products, and “consumer” for the end user. Whilst our “consumers” would never hear themselves referred to as such, perhaps there are more respectful terms we could use.
New terms for your “customers”
How do we invent concise new ways of describing the people who keep our companies in business? Let’s start by thinking about them as humans, people, and even friends of the brand. Is there a term which could describe fans of your products the way that “Beliebers” and “Swifties” refer to Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift’s fans? Even the cult of Harry Potter has its “Potterheads”. This feature on Disk Makers offers advice on creating a fan brand. Whilst fan-brand events may be a stretch for shoe companies, it’s worth a read for their other tips.
We as humans love to feel part of a tribe, particularly in our teenage years when we’re craving a sense of belonging outside of our family units. I would recommend thinking deeply about what kind of club the people who buy from you would be happy to be part of.
If in doubt, talk about people or humans. Few could object to those terms, and they feel better than “customers” or “consumers”.
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