Rats, Responders, or Consumers: What do we call these people?

As scientists and researchers, the lowly or lovely rat,
depending on your perspective, has allowed us to research many things over the
century. Rats have told us how live tissue responds to a variety of diseases
and drugs. Rats have also taught us about concepts like positive reinforcement,
punishment, socialization, team work, and much more. Rats have taught us so
much that for a long time, we used the same vernacular in our research with
human rats, or ‘subjects’ as we more kindly referred to them.
Over time, we realized that even that kind term wasn’t as
nice as what we’d been led to believe. The term ‘subjects’ still seemed to infer
that humans were disposable live samples to be treated and mistreated however
we desired. Clearly, treating our moms, granddads, and loved ones as subjects
didn’t feel right.
In recent years, we’ve worked hard to find words that more
aptly described what we perceived the relationship between research and human
subject to be. We sought words that focused more on the contributions our
humans made, on the respect and trust we have in them, on the effort and
passion they’ve gladly given us. We stumbled over words like responders,
participants, consumers, and people, each one of them lacking in various ways
to truly describe what really takes place.
But have we ever asked the human subject what they wanted to
be called? I hazard a guess that for most people, the answer is no! Recently, I
had the opportunity to do just that. I was able to simply ask a human subject
what they wish to be called. And the answer was surprisingly simple.
‘Call me your client.’ Full stop.
That never occurred to me before.
But really, when you think about it, aren’t people,
responders, participants, humans, consumers really our clients? We conduct all
this marketing research to provide better products and services for them. Which
means, of course, that they are our clients. How did it take me decades to get
to that answer? I really don’t know but at least now I have a good answer.

And on that note, perhaps I will pop into a #FOCI14 presentation by Kelley Peters, Neil Fleming, and Emily Stern of Post Foods when
they discuss how consumers are people too.
Annie Pettit, PhD is the Chief Research
Officer at Peanut Labs, a company specializing in self-serve panel sample. Annie is a methodologist focused on data quality, listening
research, and survey methods. She won Best Methodological Paper at Esomar 2013,
and the 2011 AMA David K. Hardin Award. Annie tweets at @LoveStats and can be reached at annie@peanutlabs.com.