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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

A consumer by any other name...,  February 16, 2007, 2D.

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  This line from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare tells that the flower and its essence is the same, no matter what the flower is called.  “Rose” is simply a name attached to that particular type of flower.  In other cultures and languages, the same flower might be described with another term, but the flower is still the same.

While certainly not as poetic, a statement similar to Shakespeare’s could be said about those whom organizations serve.  “A consumer by any other name is critical to an organization’s success.”  Organizations exist to provide goods and/or services to others outside of the organization.  Firms must exchange their offerings for the resources of external others so that their costs of operation are covered.  Organizations require consumers to consume their offerings—if not, they will go out of business. 

Consumers are entities from outside the organization who exchange their resources for the offerings of the organization.  Customers, clients, members, patients, and students are all different terms used to describe people who consume the offerings of their respective organizations.  Organizations depend on consumers to give them purpose and life.

The term “customer” typically refers to consumers who engage in exchanges with organizations for things.  Customer exchanges are quick and choices are made from a fairly standardized inventory of offerings.  Firms with “clients” typically provide a certain specialty service and/or product which they customize to fit the specific needs and interests of the consumer.  Clubs and volunteer organizations have “members” who provide the resources needed to cover costs and survive.  Physicians, hospitals, and health care organizations provide services to “patients.”  Without patients, those types of organizations would cease to exist.  To fulfill their missions, schools, colleges, and universities need students.  Without the resources brought into the organization by students, learning institutions will close down or become irrelevant. 

Because all types of organizations require exchanges with external others, all types of organizations must exert attention and effort to attracting and retaining consumers.  Some consumers actively seek out organizations that can fulfill their needs.  Patients, for example, might eagerly seek out medical services, clients might desperately seek out firms that can meet their needs, or students might independently seek out enrollment at a particular school.  In other circumstances, organizations might have to persuade and convince customers to come and exchange with them for goods and services.  In almost every case, consumers have choices as to where to trade and do business.  Churches, universities, non-profit agencies, hospitals, and other “non-business” organizations likewise need to attract the attention and resources of potential members, students, volunteers, and patients to survive.

The concepts of marketing strategy apply to all types of organizations.  Firms that do not offer goods and/or services demanded by consumers in places required by consumers and at prices deemed attractive to consumers will have a hard time surviving over the long run.  Promotional activities must also inform consumers (no matter what you call them) of the firm’s offerings and encourage them to trade with the organization.   

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved