Customer, Supporter, Consumer, Client?:
Time to re-classify our most important audiences.
When you work with clients across the Profit Spectrum, invariably there comes a moment when the conversation leads to which term will best describe the people who transact with that brand.
In Not-For-Profits (NFPs), the prevailing wisdom is that ‘Supporters’ is the appropriate term to describe those who finance an organisation’s activities.
With For-Profits (FPs), the most common term is ‘Customers’. Or if you want to elevate the status (e.g. value) of the transaction, it’s ‘Clients’. ‘Consumer’ sounds like some battery-hen commodity kept in a big warehouse; that’s farmed for all it’s worth.
NFP’s don’t embrace the idea of ‘Customers’, because the driving force behind the relationship is a shared connection around something that is inherently altruistic, not acquisition or self-satisfaction based. And it’s demeaning to treat someone who supports your cause like they’re an ATM.
That got us thinking about whether what’s in a name can entrench the perception of a group; influencing perceptions or stereotyping them to the point where the classification becomes the defining characteristic of the relationship.
Anyone aware of the history of slavery in the United States and the latest protest movement taking place will know that the language used to describe Black Americans has evolved from the pejorative N*****; to the more appropriate, African American; and individually empowered and geographically-inclusive, Black. To us, this represents meaningful steps towards the type of society where people are treated equally, by every interpretation.
Disclaimer: This is not intended in any way to compare the huge human cost of racial violence and pervasive systemic injustice with how brands treat their valuable audiences, but reflect on the power of classification to skew and embed perceptions; and why being aware of, and understanding the changing dynamic of relationships between groups should drive considered thought and proactive, positive action.
The challenge in using entrenched terminology to position a group (or groups) that’s critical to the viability and success of brands is that it collides head-on with the reality and expectations of digitally empowered, self-expert audiences. Online consumption is ubiquitous; omnipresent and, most importantly, has shifted the power away from brands: to people well aware that they have real choices, expectations (and multiple platforms) where their voices aren’t just heard, but magnified and high-impact like never before.
In this, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto….” dynamic, surely there is a need to reframe how brands perceive and engage with the millions of people who can make up their own mind on what they want, and what they’ll choose. And because there’s something inherently remote about the terms Consumer, Customer, Supporter and Client, consequently it’s too easy to use these terms as a box to put them in; where brands view them as a captive resource to be mined till exhaustion, or easily replaced; something like:
“A customer’s escaped from the paddock?! Well, drag them back!
“Supporters aren’t giving like they’re used to? Don’t make them feel good, just keep milking them…!”
This is facetious, but we’ve worked in (and with) organisations where it’s just a numbers game, and the ‘customer’ is part of the process; not the reason-for-being. This behaviour works for a while, but in the world we’re in now, with the volume and variety of brands available, you’d better be showing the love to those people who chose to prefer you over others, or you’ll get found out, or worse, dumped and trash-talked.
So, we’d like to introduce you to:
To select from a number of possibilities; pick by preference: She chose Sunday to depart.
To prefer or decide (to do something): He chose to run for election.
to want; desire: I choose moving to the city.
We’ve decided that the way to avoid the repeating conversation of, “How do we classify audiences to best reflect the value they bring to brands in the 21st Century?” is to use a single term that represents:
- The ‘Choice and Voice’ available to people now
- The changed dynamic of who’s in charge of the relationship (Tip: it’s not brands)
- The respect and connection required to make the relationship mutually beneficial
- The evolved state that brands can occupy: faster, easier; and that’s much more valuable and fulfilling.
The Chooser is active; in a position to transact with; believe in; advocate for and feel great about the brand that connects to them in the way they expect.
The Chooser says:
It’s my decision to do what I want with my money, and to whom I decide to put my belief and trust in. And I can take that away, at any time, if I choose.
The only ones without choice in this dynamic are brands that refuse to embrace and value the new, “I Have The Power To Choose” attitude (which, by the way, is here to stay).
Our role in creating ‘The Chooser’ is to help brands understand the implications of what this means; and how to use this tectonic shift in the brand/chooser power balance as an opportunity to prioritise activities that attract; connect; engage; and embed a mutually beneficial, longstanding connection.
Or the Chooser will find (and build), a relationship with another brand.
It’s their choice (and money), after all.