The word consumer is as old as capitalism itself. It’s that all-encompassing term for the people you want to do business with. The word is not bad or evil in its own right. It was created to aid in understanding, as words tend to do. The human language has all sorts of terms that help frame the context of a group of people including audiences, congregations, patients, etc. These terms help define the context and norms with which we interact.
The C Word: People Don’t See Themselves As Consumers, So Why Do We
From the marketer’s perspective though, those norms have become too one-sided. We speak regarding “targets” and “cost per point” that make our work sound more like hunting and financial transactions than productive communication. While it used to make sense for business people (including marketers) to narrowly think about people when they were in a consumption state of mind, digital technology has taken commerce into our homes and can occur at any time. The line between “consumption” and everyday life no longer exists.
Therefore, if you’re worried about your data practices and whether you are utilizing that data in the fairest way possible, simply strip the word “consumer” from your vocabulary and ask instead, how would the people who created this data feel about this effort?
People don’t define themselves as “consumers,” they see themselves as humans. They may add more nuance by defining themselves by interest or activity, but I have never heard a person say they are an avid “consumer.” It may sound silly at first, but trading the term “consumer” for “people” automatically opens the door for empathy and a desire to seek solutions that serve rather than hunt.
To reiterate a best practice, we’re preaching alongside data conversations, always remember:
Ask not what your data can do to reach consumers; instead, ask how this data can be used to serve the people that created it?
Would a person, not a consumer, think it’s appropriate that you have access to this data? How can this data be used to improve the experience for people? (NOT) Another GDPR Article is another recent POV that also encourages this way of thinking.
Humanizing your data by forcing yourself to vocalize that there are always real people who created it will not only help keep you on the right side of an ongoing ethical debate, it may even open your eyes to thinking about marketing efforts in a whole new way.