What a Bad Conference Taught Me About Value
Today I attended a conference that was selling “Kool-Aid.” I don’t mean the actual drink powder. I’m referring to propaganda.
Not familiar with the expression “drinking the Kool-Aid”?
It’s a figure of speech that refers to any person or group who knowingly goes along with a doomed or dangerous idea because of peer pressure. The phrase derives from the Jonestown deaths of ’78 when over 900 members of the Peoples Temple, followers of Jim Jones, died by drinking a mixture of a powdered soft drink flavouring agent laced with cyanide.*
So yeah. This conference was selling “Kool-Aid”, but I wasn’t drinking it. Some of the attendees were on board, but the rest of us felt completely alienated by the heavy sales messaging and the lack of content of any value. The speakers didn’t provide any solid information, instead alluding to a vague idea of “success” without giving any tips, approaches, or insights about how to achieve this so-called success.
If you really wanted to learn how to be successful, you had to sign up for the next workshop… at a special reduced cost “just for the attendees in the room”, of course. Give me a break!
It reminded me of the high pressure sales methods used on cruise ships to get people to buy diamonds. While on vacation, my mother once insisted that we attend. She was lured by the possibility of winning a small piece of jewellery. They dangle the prize in front of you like a carrot in order to get you to attend their talk, and during the talk they brainwash you into becoming diamond-crazy.
The speakers at this conference were similar, though not nearly as slick as the diamond-sellers. It was a painful experience, and my client and I slipped out half-way through the day.
The whole episode got me thinking about just how much of today’s online marketing norms have also turned into this “Kool-Aid” kind of selling.
The Pop-Up & Hard Sell Trap
Let me ask you a question: When you visit a website and you get a pop-up asking you to sign up for a newsletter, what’s your reaction?
If you’re like most people, pop-ups are a major turn off. Particularly when you’ve only been on the site for 30 seconds or less. People overwhelmingly dislike them, and those people are your potential customers. Yet so many websites continue to browbeat visitors with in-your-face newsletter sign ups, so determined to build their mailing lists that they ignore the negative customer experience.
If you actually like pop-ups, it’s probably because you use them yourself or you’ve been told that they’re a good idea. The reality is that pop-ups come across as a hard sell, and most people recognize and hate a hard sell. It causes them to pull away and become mistrustful of your brand.
You may think that you need that pop-up to reel customers in, but you’re more likely shooting yourself in the foot. The ABC (always be closing) method is a turn off. “Sell, sell, sell” marketing efforts are actually being equated with spam.
It isn’t just pop-ups. Your brand essence also comes out in your copy, and if your copy reads like an infomercial or click-bait, for every person who buys into it, you’ll turn off dozens more.
Never Lose Sight of the User Experience
People don’t want to be pushed into doing things, and they don’t want to be told what they want. But they do, on the other hand, respond to value.
At the conference I attended today, if the speakers had ditched the hard sell psychology and the vague, mysterious references to “success” and instead provided some concrete information and tips about how to organize your business, set benchmarks, and achieve goals, they might have won me over. If they had established themselves as experts by backing up claims with actual facts, my ears would probably have opened. But instead, they tried to trail us along with the bait and hook. Ick.
As a marketing copywriter, the question I strongly encourage every business owner to ask themselves is, what is your website telling your visitors about your brand? Are you hard selling and vaguebooking, or are you providing your visitors with real content?
You Have to Give to Get Back
Your website visitors appreciate information. Facts. Tips. Insights. Real content. Honesty. A strong website should include beneficial information that reinforces your expertise, consequently earning your readers’ trust. When you provide real content and then introduce your value proposition, they will be open to hear it. Instead of hitting visitors with a hard sell, when you earn their trust they’ll remember you when it comes time for them to make their buying decisions.
The Kool-Aid Scale
Take a good look at your brand’s messaging. Where do you fall on the value vs. Kool-Aid scale? If your website says “buy, buy, buy” and “drink me” it’s time to flip your messaging around.
Have you encountered many Kool-Aid moments? What do you think of pop-ups? Do you disagree with my criticism of the hard sell psychology? Leave a comment! I’d be curious to hear your opinions and experiences.