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Peri Orbus

Don’t Call Me a Consumer

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Editor’s Note:

While we live in an age of increasing reliance on data and analytics, we can’t lose sight of the value of nuanced human and cultural insights. As communicators, these insights are critical to ensuring that brands and companies are relevant and connect to people on an emotional as well as a rational level. This is evident to me as I have the opportunity to speak with people around the globe.

That’s why we have asked Howard Pulchin, executive strategic director based in New York, to help us hone our focus and approach to cultivating cultural insights. The way we envision it, Howard and those who join him will have the opportunity to be like intrepid reporters. But their guiding principle will be empathy rather than objectivity. They will meet people face to face, in Jackson Heights and Jakarta, stepping into their lives for a moment to listen to what matters most to them.

This work isn’t part of a new department or business structure at Edelman. Rather, we hope it will be a step to continue to evolve our mindset. The insights we learn will be a foundation for communication strategy, and ultimately, richer communications for our clients that will connect to people – really, not just virtually. I’ll let Howard explain more.

Matthew Harrington

Please don’t label me a consumer.

My husband doesn’t; if my dog could talk, he wouldn’t; my friends and family don’t.

Yes, I do consume, but I also eat, play, travel, exercise, sleep, love, act, believe…you get the point.

We’re living in an increasingly complex and ever-changing world (which is a good thing), but oftentimes we try to simplify the most exciting aspect of our world: people.

It’s understandable that we look for the similarities – moms do X; Millennials think Y; health care professionals respond to Z. But our nuances and differences are far more compelling. To me, the communications genius of the Obama campaign in 2008 was a singular call to action that was flexible enough to come to life in so many different ways as people interpreted that call through their own lenses.

As media channels change, proliferate and invariably change again, it’s critical that companies and brands have the foresight to resonate with the people they hope to reach, just as the Obama campaign did. Cultivating cultural insights is vital part to this mission.

I’m lucky to be tasked by Matt Harrington to convene our firm’s thinking and point of view around global cultural insights. If I am good at this task, I will be joined by many others across Edelman, and together we will turn our thinking into actions that have an impact on our clients’ businesses.

So what does this mean? Let me start with what I believe to be a simple definition of insights: a fresh illumination of an objective reality. An insight is not a fact. It’s not a trend nor is it an observation. But it can be the connection between them.

Cultural insights look at that reality through the lens of the world we live in today – what matters to us as individuals and as collections of people.

You may think that this sounds right (and tell me please if you don’t), but isn’t this sort of like boiling an ocean? Where do you start?

To me, the journey begins with two of my favorite words: Curiosity and Humanity.

Curiosity is different from search (both are important). Curiosity starts before you even have the question. Search begins with the question you want answered.

Curiosity is a door opener to humanity. Through curiosity, we avoid labels, feel empathy, view situations with an open lens and allow ourselves – at least for a short while – to see the world and experiences through others’ points of view.

Having a dog has been revelatory (yes, my friends knew Jackson would somehow be worked in here). Every time we walk Jackson, we marvel at his curiosity. Everything and everyone is worth his attention. He makes no assumptions. (At least I don’t think he does.) And the interesting aspect of this all is that because of Jackson, I know so many more people than I did before. I speak with strangers. They speak with me. And I have a more fully rounded view of those I share my community with. Looks can be deceiving; true interaction can set you straight.

So part of this journey is to really get to know people – not by studies by real interactions – talking with, being with and observing in real time in real situations. We’ll go beyond the fact, for instance, that Millennials like to express themselves. We’ll try to understand why they do and why some of them really don’t.

With true insights about people, I think brands and companies will be much better equipped to not only have them “consume” their stuff, but also have a deeper and more enduring mutual respect.

Howard Pulchin is executive strategic director, Edelman Strategic + Creative Guild.

  • Gael de Talhouet

    Dear Howard and Matthew,
    You are so right that calling people “consumers” is a thing from the past.
    It refers to a model where companies push products to people who at best receive them in a passive situation and “consume” them.
    Now we all know that people play an active role in participating, commenting, recommending, and eventually changing these very products.
    Yes they give us a part of their time, a share of their money. More than this, they can be part of the story, change and make our products better.
    It is high time that we name them not “consumers” anymore. But “Contributors”.
    From all standpoints, monetary, emotionally and physically they contribute to us.
    When will we see a first company name their consumers “Contributors” ?

    • howard pulchin

      Thanks for your comment Gael — we’re in total alignment here…”consumer” to me, indicates a purely transactional relationship. And if we applied that to our friends, they wouldn’t be friends for long. The difficulty here is that the term consumer is so embedded into our lexicon — and for me, I try to use People, Men, Women, etc. as much as possible. I like your thought on Contributors. What’s interesting to me about that term is that it shows the individual that he/she is important to the viability of the brand/company, that he/she contributes to its success. Have you used this term at your company? What is the response you get

  • Nametag Scott

    Gorgeous article. It all goes back to the question ,”What do you see when you see people?”

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