They're Just People

>> Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I was in a meeting the other day and caught myself doing something that, in hindsight, really made me stop and think. In the course of presenting ideas on how to engage a particular audience, I kept using terms like "patients," "customers," "consumers," and "targets" almost interchangeably, as if the label didn't matter and that one way of describing these groups was just as good as the other. I realized how limiting and narrow minded all of these labels are in describing anyone and tried to think of a better descriptor.

The answer that hit me was the obvious one: our job is to communicate with PEOPLE. Human, individual, unique people.

Of course we have to recognize that at different times throughout their days and lives, yes, people are our "customers" or our "consumers" (just look at the way goods were consumed on Black Friday), or any other label we want to apply. But these are just glimpses of a much more broad and interesting view. We need to take off the blinders and look at the whole picture.

Looking at this bigger picture makes our jobs as marketers a bit more challenging. Greater differences between people are revealed and the neat little groupings that we assemble for ourselves are now less meaningful than they used to be. Our "segmentation strategies" aren't the only things that are losing effectiveness—so too are the mass media channels that we rely upon to reach people, like TV and print. To succeed in this world, we need to make personalized content available within targeted channels to truly engage effectively.

Why have the rules of the game suddenly changed? I would argue that they haven't—people have always wanted to be treated like individuals, not as segments or targets or by attributes (which marketers make up) that lump them together with a bunch of other strangers. The game is different now because we have the means to do something about it. Whether it's the environments where we can interact better or data that helps us understand better, we have an unprecedented ability to treat people as the unique individuals that they are.

Yes, it's harder to engage and connect with people as people. But by dropping labels which narrow our focus, and looking at how we can relate to them within a larger context, our approach evolves and so does our ability to create things that truly resonate. Gone are the days where we launch messages at targets. Now, we must think about how to create and share unique experiences, in whatever form they may be.

I'm taking the first step. From now on no more labels like patients, customers, or consumers. They're just people.

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