Consumer Centricity Means Respecting the Consumer

Being centered around the customer is considered part of a good marketing strategy. After all, you need consumers to buy your products and services. Books like Groundswell and published papers like the McKinsey Consumer Journey all prove that understanding the consumer’s attitudes and the behaviors which she undergoes to reach a decision assists brands in understanding how to best position products for maximum receptivity, and in turn, purchase.

Yet, being in the center of the advertising/marketing industry, I feel that most of the time, a “consumer” strategy is only reflected in lip service, to appease clients and present the brand as in touch with its consumer base. I hear conversations between media professionals about increasing consumers’ purchase rate, thereby selling them as much products as possible, even at times when they don’t naturally need them. Others cringe when we talk about clients’ products that are not exactly in the best interest of consumers– these include products that are unhealthy and perilous to the health of the consumer, or made of materials that are hazardous or borne out of a process that is not environmentally sustainable. Clients of top CPG companies would even describe their products in passing as “good”, which they would “actually buy some.” We recently had a marketing executive from a top food manufacturer tell us to buy their products, to “use, live and breathe” them, in an effort to encourage us to better understand the products we are branding.

But how many packs of cream cheese is reasonable to buy for one household? And how often? This depends on their usage. So we use tactics to persuade people to use it more. Here’s a cupcake recipe for this afternoon. Oh, and don’t forget to spread a generous amount on your bagel tomorrow morning. Did you also know that your husband/father/mother/sister/aunt wants a slice of cheesecake after the family dinner on Saturday night?

I am wary about promoting a culture of excess, and it is something I cannot get out of my mind when I’m working on a marketing campaign. Others don’t seem to have a problem with this. Perhaps it’s my upbringing that denounced excess and focused on minimalism and sufficiency.

When we talk about consumer centricity, isn’t the unstated corollary, placing the consumers’ best interest at the core, which is a sign of respecting them? When our clients are selling products and services that they, or us media professionals, don’t even buy for themselves because of their adverse effects on health or finances, how can we stomach promoting those to consumers?

Many at the agency try to live with this fact by saying that they are there for the experience of marketing something, and ultimately, they are not owners of the products, and therefore, are not doing harm. Yet, if we are the ones promoting these products and communicating their benefits to various audiences, and are ultimately responsible for generating demand, aren’t we the very people responsible for consumers buying those products? And if we respect our companies and pour our best energy and intellect into our jobs, we want to do right by the clients and sell more of their products. But if promoting their products mean we could be persuading consumers buy products that could be harmful in their lives, it is hard to make sense of the value of what we do.

Either we persuade consumers to buy our clients’ products at a reasonable rate that matches their actual need for the product, or we create a false need for the product in their minds and sell less of our clients’ products. If we want to be good marketing professionals and focus on the needs of the consumers while also respecting them, then we do poor service to our clients because that means we are not maximizing the opportunity to grow their business or sell the most products possible.

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