I’m going to talk about something a little different. I recently came across a conversation on a brand’s Facebook page. They updated a status saying something like “we appreciate all of our fans” and a person corrected them by saying *customers. First as a writing point, and because it damn well annoys me sometimes, the use of the asterisk ‘*’ online is used commonly to correct a spelling or grammar error. Traditionally the asterisk is used in journals and documents as an indication of a footnote, but that’s not what this insightful person meant. They meant the brand had spelt “customers” wrong, as “fans,” and so were politely correcting them.
Well no, they were just being a pedantic ass. But there you go.
Anyway, what got me thinking was this: are “fans” of a brand, whose main business acumen is to sell things, really “fans” or are they just customers? The correct meaning of “customer” is:
1. A person who buys.
2. A person with whom one has dealings. (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/customer)
Wikipedia also says that: “A customer (sometimes known as a client, buyer, or purchaser) is the recipient of a good, service, product, or idea, obtained from a seller, vendor, or supplier for a monetary or other valuable consideration.” (But lets not listen to Wikipedia, since no-one really should rely on it anyway)
Are we “recipients” of ideas though? Do we willingly and knowingly accept ideas? As a society, not always, so it is correct to assume a customer does not “buy into an idea” of sorts. “A person with whom one has dealings” without monetary value could mean anything. Am I a customer of my friends when I offer to pay for them when we go out? Or perhaps I am a customer to my friends when I borrow or lend something, like a DVD or book, or item of clothing?
Technically, borrowing/lending – yes, you are a customer, just like you are a customer of the bank when you do this. But we don’t use the word “customer” in an informal way because is makes us sound like a bunch of pretentious pricks.
So why can brands not say “fans” instead of customers? Is it because they represent formality – purchase and product – and so therefore can’t be seen as “cool?”
Are we not a customer when we buy a book, film, piece of art or music by someone we are a fan of? Can we not then be called a fan, because we’ve bought the entire series of Harry Potter and are therefore a customer? Whichever way you look at it, anything we like – a hobby or interest for example – we almost always pay for it. If we like walks, we are a customer of the environment, which is paid for by the government or a private company that gains its money buy selling something else. If we like books, we buy them. If we like watching films, we pay for them. Same with music, and television series. Or, you could illegally download these, but you’re still paying for the internet, right? (Or, your parents are). So you are still technically a customer, right?
Not necessarily. I don’t see a customer as a lifetime or long-term relationship between person and interest or brand. The right word to use in this instance other than fan, is probably “consumer” – I’m a consumer of chocolate, a fan of tea, but a customer? Am I a customer of chocolate if I am given some at Christmas and Easter? Am I a customer of tea when offered a cup at someone else’s house?
What the person meant to correct, is that a “fan” of a brand is a customer, because they buy things. Anyone who likes a company on Facebook or follows them on Twitter must do this only because they bought something from them once, and are thinking of buying something again.
Not at all. A person can be a fan of something, or someone, without purchase. They can simply like what they do, what they represent, who they are, what message they are trying to send. Ultimately, yes, brands do things to gain customers and therefore money – but don’t kid yourself that just because you’re a “fan” of Flappy Bird doesn’t mean you’re not buying an idea. Most companies exist to get money for things they like doing, or are good at. Some companies don’t do this, like charities – but also, they want you to buy things for a cause. What this boils down to is money – businesses take your money to do what they do best.
Do brands try to do things to gain more exposure? Absolutely. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they want all your money. Remember that Sony Bravia advert, with the bouncing balls? What about the Skoda adverts? Both great pieces of work, but I neither have a Sony TV or a Skoda car, yet I am still a fan of what the brands stand for. Should I happen to send a video to my friend and say “hey, this is cool” and should they wish to buy a product because it’s cool or because they are oblivious to product placement and are a sheep built by the advertising agencies – well, that’s a customer, and that’s what brands want.
I think too many people place emphasis on businesses and how they make money. You might have heard recently that Facebook bought Whatsapp for a staggering $19 billion. Say what? That means that every single person on the planet would have to use Whatsapp on over three different devices and accounts each year AFTER the year’s trial period for the money people spend on Whatsapp to add up. Well, Facebook is free, and that’s worth like, a bizillion amount of dollars.
Why is it worth that much? In fact, scrap that – why do people at Facebook earn so much? The main reason is advertising. Why do they get money from advertising? Because the advertisers pay them to appear on Facebook. Where do they get the monetary value from to pay Facebook to appear on the website or app? Um…because of you. Customers who buy products from advertising. It may not be you, it may not be anyone you know, but someone is buying stuff from adverts on the internet. Which in turn keeps stuff like Facebook and Whatsapp alive.
And to be honest, that’s how it’s always been. People complain about advertising and money-making brands, but advertising works. Whether you’ve seen it directly or heard it from a friend, or bought something because “9 out of 10 mothers recommend it”, this is all advertising. It all comes down to who you trust, and brands are simply attempting to build that trust.
Brands using the word “customer” does nothing to build this trust. It merely separates us and them, and why do that when they give you something you want or need?
Because let’s be honest, most of us want a better-paying job because we want more “stuff” in order for us to make ourselves feel like ourselves and less like robots. Embrace the companies who don’t make you feel like a robot! Beer brands, make-up brands, fashion companies, film and tv companies, publishing companies, or just the people who make your parks better to walk your dogs in. Brands may want your money, but as long as you’re happy giving it to them, why shouldn’t you be called “fan” and not “customer?” No-one’s asking you to like or follow a company, just so long as you buy something from them every week or month, right?