The consumer is dead.

The consumer is dead

March 27, 2014

When online advertising first started, I would sometimes hear a word that sent shivers down my spine: “ConsumActor”. It still sets my teeth on edge to think about this darker time in the history of interactive communications. And yet, there’s nothing unusual about it. The purpose of marketing has always been to talk to consumers. The consumer, like the customer, is king.

In the connected world, a brand is defined by its interactions, and consequently, the consumer must play an additional role – that of “user”. In this context, the agency, as well as the advertiser, must rethink their respective roles as well.

This is why I now think about consumers in much the same way that designers think about the end users for their products. Obviously, this doesn’t mean throwing away everything we know about what makes a consumer. We still have to seduce, persuade, inspire and motivate them with varied media and communications initiatives.

What’s at issue is that it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to predict consumer behaviour because of how quickly new products and behaviours emerge. The ever-mounting complexity of this environment is also a challenge.

How to stay relevant in such a context? In a world where brands are more defined by what they do (and compel others to do) rather than what they say? It’s crucial for brands to capitalize on every opportunity for interaction and to start thinking in terms of user experience.

How? Here are some general guidelines:

  • Do you conduct marketing research? Then allot some budget for user research. You’ll be surprised to discover what your users are actually doing behind their screens.
  • Do you have strategists on your team? Hire interaction designers. Even better, put them in a room with your strategists to reflect on strategies for creating a consistent brand experience.
  • Does your brand just talk? Consider how you can get your brand to act and what you can do to inspire your users to act. Above all, don’t just populate an interactive space. You’ll just be adding to the so-called “digital landfill”.
  • Do you communicate about your products and services? Get your products and services talking for you. Better yet, create interactive services that increase the real value of your brand. Look at what Nike’s done.

Times are changing. Agencies are now working with a broader range of communications, design, development and interactive talents. Users, whether or not they also play the consumer role, will always be at the heart of everything we do. Just remember… Even while the agency is now required to assimilate the two roles of consumer and user, the user still does not recognize the difference between a product and marketing communications.

Long live the user!