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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Consumer is a word

That I really don't like.

To me, it carries the same connotation as 'educate'. We don't need to 'educate' consumers, we need to engage, interact, talk to - anything but educate. And now I feel 'consumer' has joined the group of words that make me cringe when I hear them used during agvocate-speak. I don't even like to hear myself say it because I'm sure it inadvertently comes out as demeaning or degrading.

"I am a producer and you are a consumer - allow me to impress you with my agriculture knowledge." Bleh. If I was a 'consumer', I'd smack me.

Do I have a solution? No. I don't get paid to find solutions. Actually, I don't get paid at all. Anyhow, I'm not the only ag blogger/speaker/representative who feels this way. I've spoken with a few others who recognize the problem, but like me don't really have a solution.

What do you think aggies? Anyone else feel this way? What are your thoughts? I feel we could eventually alienate our employers i.e. 'consumers', to the point that they don't want to hear what we have to say. At that point, they'll turn to other sources for ag and food info - Mark Bittman, Oprah, Kathy Freston, Wayne Pacelle, Ingrid Newkirk; folks who will likely not represent ag truthfully or positively.

For those of you reading this who aren't agvocates, producers etc - what do you think? Am I just imagining that using the word 'consumer' in this setting comes across as hoity-toity? Maybe so - actually, I hope so.

Would love to hear some feedback on this. And since Google images didn't have an overly impressive selection of photos for this topic here is a picture of the wheat fields near my house that are nearly completely turned.

Amber waves of grain
Picture from my Instagram feed (@brandibuzzard)

Until next time,
~Buzzard~


10 comments:

  1. I have heard that people don't like the word consumer- I haven't heard any great alternatives yet. Buyer, user, purchaser, client, customer, all sound worse to me. I see it like it is. If you produce, you're a producer. If you consume, you're a consumer, but I know sometimes it isn't taken that easily. Good question, hopefully you get some input! :)

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  2. Good questions & when you find the answer let me know! :) Serious though, I just thought about it yesterday as I was writing a story. But I am in the same boat...how the heck do we replace it? And does it actually depend on how we go about approaching the topic that makes it sound hoity toity? Rather than the word itself? I think you should do a whole blog post on the responses you get on this!

    And one last thing, I completely agree on "educate." I don't need to "educate" anyone, I think instead I need to build relationships, find commonalities, create a connection and trust.

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  3. Regardless wheather anyone likes the words or not, the correct words are producer and consumer. In ag of course we have alternative words for specific types of producers - farmer, rancher, etc. And there is at least one alternative for consumer - eater.

    I think that wheather one comes off as hoity toity has more to do with how one presents one's self. The key in my opinion, is to be elegant, eloquent and humble in the presentation. We as producers should impress the curious as to our agrigultural knowledge. We're supposed to be professionals in our fields aren't we? If I were to ask a lawyer about the law I would expect that person to be an expert and very knowledgable, able to answer my questions and be litterate. We expect that of anyone who is a professional in any other field of work or business. We should expect no less of ourselves. And I believe that the consumers expect that much of us.

    On relationships, it's difficult to develop relationships with consumers when you're not selling direct to those consumers, but rather through long supply chains in which you become just another component in the raw matterials supply. That's where producers have been hamstrung by organizations like PETA, HSUS, ect. Consumers have been disasocciated from farming for long enough that companies marketing our produce, meats, eggs, etc. have been able to present a fairytale front to the non farming public that is in some instances quite different from how plants and animals are really raised and processed. And then you get outfits like HSUS not only show them how things are really done, but they use the worst of the bad apples as examples of 'the norm'. So, the consumer is a)horrified at the treatment, b)says to him/herself "Hey, if I treated my dog or cat like that I'd be thrown in jail", and c) ultimately gets pissed off because they've been lied to for the past 40 - 50 years.

    As an example of what I'm saying, next time you go to the store, take a look at any of the marketing images on labels, signs, etc. Have you ever seen a picture of a line of battery cages in the egg section? How about a picture of the feed lot for beef, or the gestation stall for sows? No, what you will see though are pictures of cattle out on pasture when the beef's been finished in a feed lot, you might see a picture of a happy hen when she was actually in a battery cage with a stocking density so high that part of her upper mandible had to be cut off to keep her form killing her cage mates.

    It's pretty hard to combat that type of PR. Add to that, some practices in animal agriculture that I think actually are bad for the animals and a producer is presented with yet another hurdle.

    I think that one of the solutions to the problem, at least for the types of ag that are under attack by HSUS and their ilk (and yeah, I used that word on purpose, I have absolutly no love for HSUS, PETA, etc.) is to educate. When asked, be a professional who's knowledgable about your trade. It's honorable work. There's a large dairy farm, I forget the name of it, and they allow the public to come in and see the farm, milking, calving, etc. If you want the public to accept the common industry practices, you have to invite the public in and stop remaining hidden. You can do that either in person with tours like that dairy or virtually with farm cameras. I don't have farm cameras because I invite the public in. But if you want to turn this whole PR debacle around and take the teeth away from HSUS and the rest of those organizations, you really do need to 'educate' the 'consumer'.

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  4. I agree with a lot of what Joanne has to say, but I think there is one very important distinction that needs to be made. All of us are consumers - every single person on earth. In the U.S., I would guess there is not a single person who only consumes what they produce, but even if I am wrong, these individuals are still consumers. Only a small percentage of people are producers, but all producers are consumers. In addition, food producers often "specialize" in less than 5 products. For example, my family raises beef, corn, soybeans and sometimes wheat. We have never eaten the exact grain products we produced (i.e. we sell them or feed them to livestock) but we do eat our own beef. Mind you, not all the beef I consume has been produced on our ranch. A girl's got to eat out sometime! However, I consume lots of meats, fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. that I (and no member of my family) did not produce. Most producers are larger consumers (variety of products) than they are producers.

    I also don't have a major problem with "educate." A lot can be said non-verbally and via context that can make almost any phrase both good and bad. The word I use frequently both ways is "interesting." Think about it. Yes, both "consumer" and "educate" can come off hoity toity, but when used properly, are probably the best two words to accurately convey meaning.

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  5. I think it's the way it is used - especially in ag papers and topics. Sometimes it sounds like we are talking down to "them". Which is a huge turn-off. I am also not impressed with the word "science" in these papers. I feel as if that word is losing some standing too.

    There is an excellent article written by Suzanne B. Bopp that was in March 2012 issue of Drovers that highlight ways to the people who have a non-producer part in agriculture. Here is the link http://www.cattlenetwork.com/drovers/columns/What-consumers-think-142526115.html

    I recently wrote a post on my blog along the same lines and how to talk to these folks among other ideas. A fellow blogger and I have a project we are trying to get off the ground. Would appreciate if you would give it a look and share your input! Thanks!

    http://wagonramblins.blogspot.com/2012/05/faces-of-agriculture.html

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  6. Hi bloggosphere-
    I write from sunny Perth in Australia, where things may be a little different. We don't talk just about 'educating consumers' (a double whammy for you there B!) we are all about LEARNING from our consumers. We are working really hard to get into the mentality (and encourage our beef farmers to get into the mentality) that generally the consumer is right. We work to meet consumer requirements in terms of meat quality and presentation. Of course, this leads to a question from producers 'what if the consumer doesn't know what they want?'. eg in Australia our beef has significantly less marbling than in north America. I love it- because beem with marbling is put into budget packs- I get higher quality beef for less dollars! However, we KNOW that sensory panels conducted with panelists eating under red lights PREFER MARBLED MEAT! So I guess this leads me to thng that Brandi- you are spot on- its Engagement we need. It is a two way street. We need to communicate in a mature and open way to ensure that we can meet in the middle.

    Thanks

    Hayley

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  7. Hi Brandi! I receieved a little blog love from Jamie @ Cows, Corn and Country Girls and wanted to pass it on to you. Read the post for details. Hope your week is off to a great start!
    http://nlstarr.blogspot.com/2012/05/passing-on-liebster-award-love.html

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  8. I agree with several comments above that we are all consumers of some sort no matter what we consume or produce.

    I choose to think of my job as a marketer is to "inform" rather than educate. I am helping the consumer make better decisions and/or solve their problems rather than making them smarter.

    Keep up the good fight!

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  9. Just checked all of the comments on here - great responses everyone. Thanks for reading! Elizabeth, I am reading those two links as we speak!

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  10. I struggle with using consumer, customer... I don't know what to call the people who buy from us and follow us on social media!? Most of the time I call them customers because that is what they are. To me consumer feels much more disconnected when we are trying to connect and engage with people. I don't have the answer either, but let me know if you find the answers :)

    What has been driving me crazy lately is when I see people talking about how "farmers work so hard"... We all work hard, no matter what the field. We all have our sacrifices and things we do that keeps us away from our own lives, families, and free time. And throwing that in someone's face just seems so "hoity toity" to me. Anyway, great post here Brandi! Keep connecting and engaging, you do a fantastic job!

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