Can we at least agree that “consumer” isn’t the best word to describe the people we’re trying to reach and convert? The same goes for words like “buyers” and “shoppers.”

Why not just refer to them as “people”?

People in all the shapes, colors, sizes, ages, and ornate packages that we all come in.

People like you and me. But people first, not primarily consumers.

Maybe we don’t need to necessarily strike any words from our marketing vocabulary just yet. After all, these are people who (hopefully) also happen to also shop for and consume our products. And many of us work very diligently to creatively identify, reach, engage, and convert them to become loyal buyers. A lot of you even have cool nicknames for those people with whom your product seems to resonate.

But they are people first. WE are people first.

And none of us can be primarily tagged and counted by just how we interact with your cereal, my yoga pants, those coupons, his furniture store, or those social media influencers.

“Consuming” is not the sum total of our lives.

We are three-dimensional, nuanced, complex, and deep.

What’s interesting is that we know this inherently. Yet, we seem to forget it in our line of work.

But acknowledging people as people matters in marketing. And it matters more now than ever.

It matters because we are also people who have endured a collective trauma.

Since March 2020 one thing has dominated our lives: COVID-19.


The virus.

The pandemic.

This thing shut down businesses, impacted religious gatherings, paused family celebrations, kept friends separated, and suspended graduations.

And it killed people. By the millions.

But we adapted. Through technology, perseverance, and sheer determination, we moved forward.

We worked from home.

We went to school on laptops, tablets, and phones.

We ordered supplies from the internet.

We watched movies on big screens in our living rooms and backyards.

We took up new hobbies like baking and gardening.

We took a lot of walks.

We wore masks like our lives depended on it.

And we stayed home … a lot.

Of course, some of us still had to go to the front lines — grocery stores, healthcare facilities, transportation, and logistics companies — to make sure that the world was able to keep safely running.

But every one of us was interrupted, disrupted, annoyed, and slowed.

It started as “two weeks to slow the spread.”

By the time Thanksgiving dinner rolled around, it dawned on many of us: “Nothing’s going ‘back to normal’ any time soon.”

Now that the vaccine has hit some critical mass, states and municipalities are starting to “open up.” Life is feeling a little less restrictive. Something like “normal” feels like it is emerging, even if it is a bit tentative.

And as people, we want to be happy about it.


Giddy even.

But, as people, that optimism has been mitigated a bit by some harsh realities.

Some of these realities were brought on by the pandemic, some were simply exacerbated by it, others are completely unrelated.

But these realities — from rising prices and cabin fever to racial injustice and political divisions — have very real impacts on how we do the commercial activities of shopping, buying, and consuming.

But even as we continue to wrestle with these issues and a million other things, we are human beings first. And we’re ready to get this thing started up.

So, what can people like you do? What should those people do who represent the innovative, interesting, value-added brands and life solutions that all of us really want and need?

It starts with understanding. That’s why we asked people what was on their mind. And we put together an in-depth report of what they told us.

To discover what we learned, check out the new Consumer Intel Report from Valassis, a Vericast business: “The Cautious Return to a New World.”

Matthew Tilley is senior director of content marketing for Valassis and leads content marketing for the company. He has more than 20 years of experience in digital advertising and consumer promotions to develop, communicate, and distribute ideas to make modern marketers more effective.