Editor's note: Sophie Grieve-Williams is a graphic designer at FlexMR. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared under the title “Animated Insights: Customer vs. Consumer Research.”

All those in customer-facing industries know the terms customer and consumer. In certain circles those terms are used almost interchangeably, but are they really the same?

Consumer research is a well-known practice that brands use to make sure they gain vital insights on those who consume their products and services. Through this consumer research, brands can fully understand the audience they are catering to and retain them by building the perfect products and services that they need.

Customer communities are a common tool to use in consumer research, but only if those consumers are also the customers – and the variance here can mean the difference between success and failure for that brand.

So, let’s go over this definition again: Consumers consume the product, customers buy the product. They can be the same person, which is why these terms can be and are sometimes used interchangeably, but this isn’t always the case. Customers can buy a product for someone else to consume. Consumers can consume a product bought for them by someone else who becomes the customer.

The difference this makes is drastic, because brands can’t gather data on how the product or service works from the customer if they are not also the consumer, and they can’t ask the consumer about the customer journey if they weren’t the customer.

Customer research focused on the customer experience only considers the cumulative impact of every interaction the customer and brand share and has the capability to facilitate a co-creative approach to any upgrades and innovations to the customer experience. Consumer research focused primarily on the consumers’ experience but can see how both consumer and customer experien...