I have always loathed the word “consumer”, particularly when prefaced by “the”. Yes, I know it’s an economic term meaning the person or people who are the end users of products and services and yes, I know it’s long-winded to talk about “the people who use Bloggo or the people we’d like to use Bloggo,” but I still loathe it because it’s de-personalising and lazy.
One characteristic of “consumption” is that the product is not normally improved through the consumer’s use of it. OK, this is all fair enough in the case of products which are literally consumed, but in the case of durables or technology, I’m not sure. If I add a personal touch to my IKEA bookcase, or a super-groovy playlist to my iPod, I’ve certainly improved the product in my eyes through individualisation. It’s worth a lot more to me, not just because it’s got my name on it, as it were, but because I’ve invested time and creative energy in it.
And that’s just products. Now, consider brands. I’d argue that brands, even those where the product is consumable, are improved through people’s use of them. Co-creation has become a bit of a cliche these days, but all brands are co-creations and always were.
Creativity is a fundamental human need. Strangely, it doesn’t pop up as such in the 16 Basic Desires of Reiss, but it’s on Manfred Max-Neef’s 9 Fundamental Human Needs and Maslow has it up in the pinnacle of the pyramid somewhere in the lofty heights of self-actualisation.
Please pause for thought next time the phrase “the consumer” comes trotting out of your mouth. People use or consume your product, but do they consume your brand? I’ll leave you with a quote from Bruce Nussbaum’s Creative Intelligence from the chapter in which he talks about “A Making Renaissance” and how Making can create a more satisfying life and a stronger economy:
“Perhaps the biggest barrier to making things is the fact that we don’t really have to. You can lead a comfortable life without ever lifting a hammer or directing a video or even making dinner from scratch. But all around us are hints that a life without making might not be as satisfying as one in which we do not just consume, but also create.”