Opinions and Insights

3 Tips for Marketing to Humans, Not “Consumers”

As marketers, we have been trained to target consumers. It’s embedded language, but it assumes that the goal, the purpose, of marketing is consumption—when in reality that is no longer the case. I love the way this article from Digiday (written back in 2013) put it:

“Marketing by nature isn’t authentic, at least by the dictionary definition. Brands try to position themselves in the best light, omitting any details that may be bad for their image and do everything they can to woo consumers. And yet there’s change afoot. We’re clearly in an age of unprecedented consumer empowerment, where the reality of products and services is just a Google search and tweet away.”

Today’s consumer is informed, empowered, and involved—the brands people choose to consume are often carefully selected as a part of their identity or self-expression, seeking connection and experiences that brands can help facilitate. And while today’s marketing tools and the revolutions of our field over the last decade (from the introduction of social media and SEO to automation and machine learning) can help make our lives a little easier, an algorithm isn’t enough. Humans are, as we know, emotional first and rational second—and more than ever, they crave human interaction, not just from their friends or families, but also from their favorite brands.

So, what can brands do to start talking to people, rather than marketing to “consumers”?

We’ve got three quick tips:

  1. Talk to a Friend. The good news is there’s no “right” way to market to humans. Just like in life, you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea—and that’s okay. View those who you’re hoping to entice with your product as potential friends; you want to learn their needs, desires, hopes and dreams, rather than addressing them like a number, dollar sign or, possibly worst of all, a target. When in doubt, take off your marketing hat and simply try having a conversation, literally.
  2. Use Words that Matter. Look, we’re all guilty of using buzzwords—chasing the “meaning” behind them, like a dog to a bone. But in reality, people don’t speak like that; they don’t care about our journey maps or proprietary algorithm, our machine learning or omnichannel presence. They just want to know if we can help them or make their lives and routines a little easier. The quickest way to do that? Start using simple, colloquial language—and then check out this Fast Company article for tips on removing jargon from your vocabulary.
  3. Consider the Human Experience. While artificial intelligence and chatbots have enabled brands to speak to more consumers, answering their questions or addressing issues without the cost of a customer service representative, your buyers still crave human interaction. Move beyond marketing that is only rational and logic-based, and work to understand your consumers people on a deeper level. What are their desires, fears or needs? How can you best position your brand, or design your product, to better serve them? It’s no wonder that some of the last decade’s most successful brands were industry disruptors, solving a people problem other brands hadn’t considered.