At Starcom MediaVest Group, we create experiences for people - we are the Human Experience Company. One thing I love about using the word ‘experience’ is that it recognises we are talking about people - their passions, interests, relationships, behaviour and attitudes.
So when we talk about ‘creating experiences’, we make what we do personal - we want to add to people’s lives, make a difference, give them something to talk about. When we experience something, it involves our emotions, senses and thinking. We may feel happy, sad, thoughtful, curious, calm or passionate. We may hear one thing and laugh; we may hear something else and feel moved. It may stir us to action, to find out more, or to talk about it. I remember watching this ad by Coca-Cola recently, and I just had to tell the guy sitting next to me about it.
In his book, Shaping Things, Bruce Sterling talks about the language we have used throughout history to describe people. Once we had handmade artefacts used by ‘farmers’, ‘hunters’, ‘craftsmen’ and the like. Next came machines, which were used by ‘operators’. Now we have the service industry that has ‘customers’, electronic gadgets that have ‘users’, and the advertising and market research industries that have ‘consumers’.
Terms like these depersonalise the people with whom we want to engage, create conversations with and provide experiences for. They create distance between us and other people. They shape how we think about them, design for them and act towards them, instead of personifying them as real, living, breathing people. Look up ‘consumption’ in the dictionary and you will read definitions like ‘use up’, ‘burn up’, ‘exhaust’. This is hardly descriptive of what we want people to experience what we create. And it hardly gives justice to people’s behaviour around the brands to which we want people to be loyal - people who create content and post comments to brand owners on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, who upload photos and share their thoughts about our brands with friends and family, who create their ideal homes, who plan their ideal holidays or enjoy the experience of driving and showing off a brand new car.
People are complex, with different goals, experiences and aspirations. Reducing them to ‘consumer’ or ‘user’ ignores our intricate and multifarious make-up. It’s time to stop talking about consumers and start talking about people. Understand people. Design for people. Talk to people.
Steve Smith is Head of Thought Leadership, at Starcom MediaVest Group, London.