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Gini Dietrich

Users, Stakeholders, Target Audiences…Or Just People

By: Gini Dietrich | October 23, 2012 | 
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You may have noticed a new feature here that comes out on Sunday mornings.

Very creatively called, “The Three Things,” Howie Goldfarb, Michael Schechter, and I provide links to one article, video, or podcast we think the other should pay attention to that is outside our professional comfort zones.

A couple of weeks ago, Howie suggested, “Robbie and Ruthie Talk about Pickles” from the Ad Contrarian blog.

If you missed it, I’m going to hope Ad Contrarian author, Bob Hoffman, doesn’t mind my posting it here.

The phone rings

ROBBIE: Hello.

RUTHIE: Robert, it’s your Aunt Ruthie.

ROBBIE: Hi Ruthie.

RUTHIE: Hello, darling.

ROBBIE: What’s up?

RUTHIE: I’m calling to ask a favor.

ROBBIE: Sure.

RUTHIE: My pickles are selling very well, and Big Save says they’ll put them in their supermarkets all across the country, but I have to do some advertising. So I thought as long as my nephew is a big shot advertising man, maybe your company could make an ad for me.

ROBBIE: Sure.

RUTHIE: So here’s what I want the ad to say… Aunt Ruthie’s Pickles are homemade, they taste wonderful, and we use fresh ingredients.

ROBBIE: Well, okay, but we really need to think a little more about this.

RUTHIE: Um…okay…what?

ROBBIE: Well, first we need to understand the consumer.

RUTHIE: The consumer?

ROBBIE: It’s a…a person who buys things.

RUTHIE: Everyone buys things.

ROBBIE: Right…

RUTHIE: So how is a consumer different from a person?

ROBBIE: Um…it’s not.

RUTHIE: So why don’t you just call it a person?

ROBBIE: Okay, so it’s a person.

RUTHIE: Okay so you have to understand this…person. Why?

ROBBIE: So we can know how they use your product.

RUTHIE: They eat it. How else do you use a pickle?

ROBBIE: Well, yeah…but why do they eat it?

RUTHIE: Because it tastes good. (PAUSE) Robbie, are you okay?

ROBBIE: I’m fine. You see, we have to analyze who we should be talking to in our advertising. We call that a target audience. Should we talk to women 18-49 or men 25-34 or…?

RUTHIE: Why don’t we just talk to people who like pickles?

ROBBIE: Well you see, the perception of your brand has to resonate…

RUTHIE: My what?

ROBBIE: Your brand…it’s the personality of your product…

RUTHIE: My pickles have a personality?

ROBBIE: Well, it’s not the pickles that have the personality, it’s you, it’s Aunt Ruthie’s Pickles…

RUTHIE: My personality? I’m a pain in the ass. What the hell does anyone care about my personality?

ROBBIE: But Aunt Ruthie’s is your brand.

RUTHIE: I thought Aunt Ruthie’s was my name.

ROBBIE: And your name is your brand

RUTHIE: So why don’t you just call it my name? (PAUSE) Robert, are you having that problem you had back in college?

ROBBIE: You know I’ve committed to never doing that again…

RUTHIE: So why are you talking like this? Is this how you talk in your company?

ROBBIE: Well, yes. You see, Aunt Ruthie, we believe advertising isn’t really about selling your pickles. It’s about developing a relationship between the consumer and your brand by having integrated communications that create advocates by over-delivering on brand expectations and creating relevant brand conversations…

RUTHIE: You know, honey, your cousin Stanley majored in English, maybe I’ll just ask him to write the ad..

ROBBIE: No, no….I’ll..

RUTHIE: Robbie, darling, you know I love you, right? And I would never say anything to hurt you. But listen to me, darling. You people are crazy.

Click

Customers as People

I have you read this because Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter and CEO of Square (the company that lets you take credit card payments via your iPhone or iPad), recently wrote a letter to his team about their use of the word “users” to describe customers.

Just like Robbie wants his Aunt Ruthie to do, we tend to think of our customers as users, target audiences, stakeholders, and demographics while forgetting they’re people.

Dorsey tells the story of being in a Square board meeting when new board member, Howard Schultz, asked him why they call their customers users.

He says:

The term “user” made its appearance in computing at the dawn of shared terminals (multiple people sharing time slices of one computing resource). It was solidified in hacker culture as a person who wasn’t technical or creative, someone who just used resources and wasn’t able to make or produce anything (often called a “luser”). And finally, it was made concrete by Internet companies whose business models depended on two discrete classes of usage, a paying customer (often purchasing ads) and a non-paying consumer (subsidized by viewing the ads).

He goes on to say elevating the term to “customer” and away from “user” automatically creates a better environment for customer service because you begin to think of them as human beings and not just a statistic.

He challenges every business owner to do the same.

So, I ask you, how do you describe the people who buy your product or service?

A version of this first appeared in my weekly Crain’s Chicago Business column.

***************************************************************************

This Wednesday, October 24, join Mark Story for a Livefyre Q&A to discuss his book, “Starting Your Career as a Social Media Manager.”

He’ll be live from 12-1 ET so set a reminder and then come hang out in the comments to ask him questions about love, life, and his book.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

73 comments
twisst34
twisst34

@kmueller62 A very bright ISS will cross your sky tonight. It comes up in Northwest at 7:27 pm. Details: http://t.co/kg06MgA1

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

Maybe it's from my life on the streets (not), but the word users makes me think of drug addicts. I think it's important to humanize your customers, clients, guests, whatever. The word "publics" always drove me insane. Schools need to stop teaching that. 

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

I like "customers," as a word and in real life. I like being a customer. To me it implies a lot of good things, like the freedom to choose who I'll do business with. Business people should honor their customers. I wish I could be a customer more often and for more people. 

So when I hear "don't think of them as customers, think of them as people," I understand what they're saying, but I take it with a grain of salt. If there's a way to be more personal, fine. But the underlying concept of "customer" doesn't offend like "consumer" does. 

 

 

Harry Brumleve
Harry Brumleve

From the software side of the house, I can see how a software company could actually gain a lot of efficiency from shifting from the term 'user' to a more appropriate term. In the case of designing a system where the central concept of the system is a 'user', you end up having to have this 'user' do everything. Because there are no further distinctions between the people who actually use the system, there is really no limit to what is possible for each 'user' and that has to be represented by code.

This leads to software that does everything, that has routines that act as a blanket for _anything_ that could happen, and the person's intent is lost in a flurry of anonymity and thoughtlessness. Not only that, but systems where the user does everything are pretty hard to test ... how do you even plan that?

 

In building a 'user-centric' system, many developers focus on what the user would _want_ to do, but not _why_ they would want to do that. Addressing the 'why' first actually gives you a great deal of insight into the people that use your system and if you actually spend the time to go ask real people 'why' they would use your system, you can even begin to figure out how to sell your product well before you build it.

 

This means: you only build what sells, you know to whom you're selling, you know they will buy it ... and you certainly don't call those people 'users'.

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

I have sat through a million meetings where I have posed the question about whether the people in the room would be happy if they were treated the same way that employees treated the average person who used the product/service.

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

Hah that was a funny story! I certainly never call my peeps "users". I even struggle with calling them "customers', truth be told, but "peeps" doesn't cut it either. I want to call them "partners" but someone would probably smack me in my smug little mouth. Are there any other options that move away from seeing "them" just as a transaction, but won't make people roll their eyes? 

cloudspark
cloudspark

@ginidietrich a-hay-men. people are people.

Shonali
Shonali

I agree. However, I also think that some companies take it too far. These days, when I travel, I invariably hear airline staff page people by asking "Guest So-and-So" to come to the gate (for an upgrade, they're on stand by, whatever). And I roll my eyes, because 99% of the time, NO one wants to be a "guest" of an airline, especially if they're flying coach, and chances are only if it's Virgin America are they ok with that... somewhat. In that case, call it what it is - a passenger. Hotels have guests. Restaurants, buses and airlines do not.

MrTonyDowling
MrTonyDowling

Doesn't this miss Aunt Ruthies point a little? All she wants to do is sell the pickle right? Call the people she wants to sell to whatever you like, but keep it simple stupid! 

I love the part where Ruthie says people eat her pickles because they taste good. Her product has an advantage over the competition and shouldn't that be at the centre of the marketing? 

You can't sell a bad product to anyone, a customer consumer user or anyone else, if its a useless product :)

I wish Aunt Ruthie was my customer/client/user/partner/ whatever 

 

Carmelo
Carmelo

Good stuff. I think what we call people depicts and reinforces what we think about them. I've always hated the term consumers. That's so confining and demeaning. Customers is better but "client" is better yet. But, what do we call those who aren't yet clients?

 

Seth Godin calls his people (ha! HIS people?) his tribe. Dan Kennedy calls "his" a HERD. A herd? Okay, I'd rather be a consumer. Yeah, this pisses me off royally. So, what do we do? We have to have terminology for our business discussions ... ways to quickly and easily differentiate the people we're marketing to or serving and what categories they fall into. But, it de-humanizes them too.

 

My previous dentist took pictures of all their clients and every person in his office would call us by our first names no matter how long it had been since we were in. Of course, not everyone can do this. But, I believe we really have to change our language when talking about our "community" or clients because our words affect our perceptions. 

JayDolan
JayDolan

Fine. Everyone on Facebook is now a person.

 

Especially my two cats and all the robots.

Latest blog post: Fighting on Twitter

Nylons
Nylons

@ginidietrich Yep - that's the focus of a talk I'm giving this weekend - the 'web' is people and 'Apathy is the Enemy of Awesome.'

KenMueller
KenMueller

I  have a client (a restaurant) and in their pre-shift meeting the two owners show the wait staff pictures of regular customers, or describe them, and they have to come up with their names. The goal is to make sure that the people who support this business regularly are known by name by everyone. Not sure this can translate to every business, but it sure works well for them. It's kinda like walking in and everyone yelling out, "Norm!"

thebaldbiker
thebaldbiker

@belllindsay @SpinSucks I call them "family". Stop selling, start solving!

Carmelo
Carmelo

 @barrettrossie Yeah, I agree. Customer is just fine ... client is okay too but that suggests a more intimate relationship that isn't always necessary depending on the service and the longevity of the relationship i think. Customer is actually a pretty good word etymologically too i believe. if you own a costume shop. ;-) (i should check these things out before i speak!)

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

 @RebeccaTodd Janet Slaboninskovech once called me a user when we were sophomores, but I don't think that's what you're talking about. 

I'm glad she didn't call me a "client."

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@cloudspark We forget we're just human beings out here in the world.

joshchandler
joshchandler

 @Carmelo The word tribe is now quite common amongst small business owners with a personal brand online.

 

I personally quite like the idea of using a word like 'tribe' because I believe it humanises the experience a business owner has with his/her community.

Carmelo
Carmelo

 @KenMueller Ha ... Norm! That's good, Ken. My dentist did the same thing and it really does make you feel welcome ... even at a dentist's office! Imagine that.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @KenMueller That is SUCH a good idea! It's easy when you have a handful of clients (like we do). But when you have hundreds, or even thousands? That gets a little more difficult.

belllindsay
belllindsay

@thebaldbiker @SpinSucks Exactly. ;)

Shonali
Shonali

 @joshchandler I don't. Not in that context. A guest is someone who wants to be there. A passenger is someone who has to be there. But hey, we each have our opinion, right?

Latest blog post: It’s Friday Somewhere

Carmelo
Carmelo

 @joshchandler Yes, I have no doubt that people have varying opinions on this. And it's easy to be too critical of things. Thanks for the feedback, Josh! I suppose as an Italian, I never thought of myself as a tribe member. ;-) 

KenMueller
KenMueller

 @ginidietrich It's really nice to walk in and be recognized, even by staff that have never waited on us before. Now they can only do this for regulars, but I imagine if someone is there for the first time, and they see regulars being recognized and greeted so warmly, it might make them want to come back and perhaps become regulars.  It also helps that the owners regularly walk the floor and greet guests, and that includes the chef who is one of the owners. A really warm environment.

SpinSucks
SpinSucks

@belllindsay @thebaldbiker Love it!!

thebaldbiker
thebaldbiker

@ginidietrich Thanks for the follow. you like cycling, food and wine? I think we'll get along famously!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @KenMueller If I were to write a book about customer engagement, I would use them as an example.

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