Time to retire the word “Consumer”?

Mea culpa. The subtitle of my book The Business of Choice is Marketing to Consumers’ Instincts so I may seem hypocritical bagging on the word consumer. But language is important, and is describing someone through the lens of consumption the best way to talk about the people we would like to choose whatever it is we are offering?

I am far from the first to suggest this. In an interview in 2013, Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever had this to say

Marketers need to…engage with consumers as people, not as consumers. I think the term “consumers” doesn’t help. Once you start looking at people’s lives, they are not a pair of armpits in search of deodorant or a head of hair in search of hair benefits. They are people with full lives and a lot of challenges in a rapidly changing world.

A large part of Weed’s concern is the practice of defining people through the lens of consumption in an age when all of us (from governments, companies, to individuals) need to focus on sustainability — to be conservers rather than consumers. But in The Business of Choice I put forward another reason to abandon the word.

Instead of consumer, I suggest another option. In her excellent book The Art of Choosing Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia Business School, frequently refers to people who are making, or have made a choice, as choosers. I like this word for two reasons. First, it reflects and respects the importance of the “consumer” in that purchasing/buying/consuming is their choice. Second, the word chooser aligns with something I believe in deeply and that is also a major theme of this book. Marketing should be about making it intuitive and easy for people to choose your brand, your product, your service, or your cause. To buy a product in the first place is a choice, to use a product is a choice, to continue buying a product and keep using it are further choices, and recommending a product (should we be so lucky) is yet another choice.

Marketing is more about choice than consumption…

Which is why, beyond the cover, you will hardly come across the word “consumer” in The Business of Choice.

Matthew Willcox is Executive Director at the Institute of Decision Making at FCB, and author of “The Business of Choice: Marketing to Consumers’ Instincts”, published by Pearson FT Press and available on Amazonhttp://amzn.to/1B4ENam