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J. Harry Caufield

I've been thinking lately about that internet-adage, "if you're not paying anything, you're not the customer, you're the product." It comes up whenever someone, frequently the user of some free or freemium service, complains about sudden changes in terms of use or status of their service. The Instagram fracas last year and the Google Reader shutdown this year serve as good examples. Being a customer or a product of either of the two service may be possible but I'm not convinced that the above adage accurately describes any one individual's relationship with a company.

Every consumer is a customer and a product. We all do the whole exchanging-money-for-goods-and-services thing regularly. We all serve as marketing for these products and services as well. It might be the obvious tag on a pair of jeans or it may be more like membership in a club of fellow consumers (i.e.,  diehard Apple fans or anyone eating at Chik-fil-A after its recent PR issues). This marketing is provided free of charge. So are word-of-mouth recommendations, Facebook likes, discarded packaging, stock purchases, and any other interaction with a corporate entity, public or private. Even if all publicity isn't really good publicity, any continually increasing level of interaction with a company builds identity. That's almost priceless.