Are Consumers Still Consumers?


I've been in consumer marketing for my entire career, and I've been obsessed with understanding consumer behavior from day one.

I was classically trained to think of my customers as consumers... consuming the products and services that I offer to them. They not only consume the products literally into their bodies or into their homes, but also into their lives. It was put into my marketing consciousness from my first days at Johnson & Johnson as a summer intern during grad school. It's been a part of me ever since.

But, I'm beginning to think that I have to change how I think.

Yes, of course our consumers consume our products and services. They brush their teeth with our toothpaste, they drive their children to soccer practice in our cars, and they swallow our medicine when they're suffering from a health issue. They consume our products.

In the process, they interact with our packaging, navigate around our websites, and shop off of our retail displays. They also consume a wide range of information as they seek to consume our products.

But with the advent of social media, they do a lot more than just consume our products.

They participate in our brand.

When we post a picture on Facebook, they share it with their friends. When we tweet compelling information that will add value to their lives, they retweet it to their followers. When we upload a video to YouTube that makes them laugh, they view it and comment on it, and share it...hoping to make people just like them laugh too.

Consumers participate in our brand.

And in doing so, we learn from them. They tell us what they think when they share, retweet, comment, and view. We get a glimpse into what's important to them, beyond just what our product delivers. We start to see what guides them every day, and we thank them for letting them into our lives.

Our brand changes as a result. We adapt to their lifestyle and to their desires. We even change our products to better meet their needs. It's a social form of co-creation that marketers have never seen before.

Which is why I don't think we should call them consumers anymore.

Sure, they consume our products, but they are so much more important that to us than just that.

They participate in our brand, keeping it vital and relevant in their lives. They make our brand, well, our brand.

So we should stop calling them consumers...we should call them participants.

Brand Participants.

There you go!