We need to talk about the word “consumer.”

I hate it.

I think it makes human beings sound like flesh-eating bacteria. Or maybe post-apocalyptic zombies. Take your pick.

Whatever. I think we should stop using it.

For a while there I thought I was the only person working with brands who felt this way. Then I finally cracked open Marty Neumeier’s book Brand Flip and read this:

“The best customers are no longer consumers or market segments or tiny blips in big data. They’re individuals with hopes, dreams, needs, and emotions. They exercise judgment, indulge in whims, express personal views, and write their own life stories. They’re proactive, skeptical, and creative. They’ve reached the top of Maslow’s Pyramid, where the goals are autonomy, growth, and fulfillment. They don’t ‘consume.’”

Hear hear.

And while we’re at it, can we stop using “user” too? Another terrible word.

There’s no stopping the use of either one of course, not inside the world of marketing and MBAs and spreadsheets and analysts and all that.

But in my own strategies and strategy teams, I avoid both words as much as I can because I think they are one of the reasons that too many marketing messages fall flat. They’re disconnected from everyday humans because, in terms of language, they focus too much on this abstract thing called a consumer or a user, instead of on the living, breathing people around us everyday.

Sometimes the fact that I’m avoiding either word is obvious and a colleague or client will ask about it. I’ll tell them that I use the word “audience” or “visitor” instead, since we’re focused on getting people’s attention and attending to them once we have it. That usually does the trick.

Very smart strategists I know use both words constantly and seem to do fine, so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt. But IMHO the best brands and messages appeal to our humanity by treating us like we actually are human, starting with the words they use to describe us when we’re not around.