Tupperware and Conversations

I don’t necessarily disagree as strongly as Dave Rogers does about the concept of markets are conversations. I do think his points are good, especially the most recent one about a salesperson using a situation to turn a supposed customer service interaction into a sales opportunity:

I have a fair amount of heartburn with a situation like this, because I think it’s fundamentally dishonest on its face. This sales person makes a call on a customer who has made a decision not to deal with the sales person’s company. The pretext is that the sales person wishes to understand how the customer arrived at his or her (negative) decision, with the intent that they will be able to use that information to improve their sales force. It seems to me that since about half of such calls are converted to sales, that’s a false pretext and one that is used, mainly, to reopen the “conversation.”

Think about it, the sales person wants something from someone else, essentially “for free,” and at the same time is making an effort to sell them something. Sounds like a pretty asymmetric “conversation,” if you ask me.

I don’t particularly care if marketers want to have ‘conversations’ or not with their clients. If everyone benefits, more power to them. But I do want to know that when I’m talking to a person, whether directly or through writing, they view the discussion as a discussion, not as a marketing opportunity.

In the last year I’ve come to feel I can’t continue reading several of what used to be favorite sites because I no longer trust that what they’re writing isn’t related to some ‘business opportunity’. It’s not that the webloggers are writing about business per se; nothing wrong with that. I have a few friends who have businesses related in some way to weblogging, and I wish them nothing but success. It’s when I feel that the words are measured, calculated, even goal oriented and the goal is to get me to ‘buy’ into something. It seems that much of the writing lately is staged to lead to some “Aha!” moment, when the weblogger rolls out this new invention, or that new company, or new partnership. Like Dave’s customer, the only value I then add to the discussion is if I’m buying or not.

Some would say that writing to persuade is selling; when we write about politics or feminism or a certain kind of technology, we’re doing so as ‘marketers’. But there is a difference between writing about something you’re passionate about, solely because you are passionate about it, and doing so to create a ‘market’.

I have become distrustful and disillusioned–made more so by jumping on the bait, joining the discussion, and then ultimately finding out that what I took to be an open exchange, isn’t. Oh, I realize that not every discussion is capable of sustaining all threads at equal weight–that’s just noise. But any true conversation should be open to disagreement as much as agreement; new voices, as well as old. Most importantly, true conversation isn’t steered in calculated steps, to a pre-planned outcome. This latter is where markets are NOT conversations, because marketing is about selling no matter how you package it.

It’s difficult to refrain from responding when someone writes something interesting. Lately, I have come to care less about doing so, primarily because I think to myself, “What’s the use? The end result of the interaction will be the same regardless of my input.” It goes back to Dave’s salesman, and the only two possible outcomes from his interaction with the client: a new sale or not. I am disappointed, because I have really come to enjoy cross-weblog and cross-comment discussions.

There is nothing wrong with marketing. I happen to respect it as a field, and am impressed when I see excellent uses and campaigns. I see nothing wrong with being an evangelist for a company or product, or to write a weblog for a company. But I don’t want to innocently join in with others, only to find out I’m at the equivalent of an online Tupperware party; being thrown the verbal equivalent of a container full of water; being laughed at when I grab at it.

I’ve come closer to quitting this weblog for good this last month then I ever have in the past. Every day, I find myself pulling away from it–the marketing, the lists, the cliques, the games, the personal hurts when I’ve assumed a greater degree of friendship with those online then really exists–bumping nose against the reality. Even now, the only thing that’s kept me here, in this environment, are the people I know, know deep in my soul, write for the joy, the comradery, and a delight in the very act. Even if what they write about is marketing.

I am still feeling very tired today, so I imagine this comes across as maudlin, and I as a blogging equivalent to a luddite. Maybe today is a good day to just code.

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13 Responses to Tupperware and Conversations

  1. McD says:

    “I imagine this comes across as maudlin”

    Not at all… it’s the best writing on the web I’ve seen today. And I’m looking for something a cut above.


  2. because marketing is about selling no matter how you package it.

    I think you’re wrong.

    Marketing is fundamentally about propogating memes. It is a historical anomaly that most memes currently being propagated via marketing are concerned with commerce in one way or another, but even today there are plenty of non-commercial memes being marketed, including anti-commercial ones.

  3. Medley says:

    I mused on similar things the other day… no real conclusions on my end, or even actions to take, just contemplating the issue a bit and being grumpy about it.

  4. Scott Reynen says:

    Lately, I have come to care less about doing so, primarily because I think to myself, “What’s the use? The end result of the interaction will be the same regardless of my input.”

    Me too, though I hadn’t recognized that as the reason. That’s why I commmented on Kathy’s post here rather than on her weblog – because the last time I commented on her weblog, my comments seemed to be summarily dismissed. I’m not sure I understand your Tuperware analogy, having never been to a Tuperware party, but I suspect I felt somewhat like that.

  5. dave rogers says:

    Well, Michael Bernstein, I think you’re wrong. ;^)

    Assuming I understand what “propagating memes” means.

    Technically, a “meme” will propagate itself, it doesn’t require marketing to do it.

    Marketers have learned to exploit some aspects of meme propagation; but memes presumably predate marketing, and marketing is, most assuredly, all about selling something.

    Shelley, don’t you quit. Hell, it’s just fun to be just a couple of “small pieces, loosely joined,” “subverting hierarchy,” and thumbing our noses at the “wisdom of the crowds” and all the “smart mobs” with their “memes” and conversational metaphors.

    And not every bit of discourse is a conversation. Sometimes it’s a discussion, a debate, an argument, a verbal altercation, a vigorous exchange of opposing points of view.

    Sometimes it’s easier to speak the truth when you don’t have anything to sell, because you have less to lose. You don’t have to flatter your audience.

    There is no “conversation” going on in the marketplace, and the audience doesn’t need flattery. It needs a 2×4 upside the head. Highest profit margins on record while we record four straight years of more people in poverty. More and more wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people, while all us “cluetrainers” who are “immune to advertising” are borrowing ourselves into record levels of debt. The rich get richer while the poor become more numerous. Woo-hoo! The internet “changes everything!”

    That’s not going to change until people begin to experience the consequences of their actions. Then it probably won’t be pretty.

    Of course, that’s all just my opinion.

  6. Scott Reynen says:

    I think Shelley is right that all marketing is selling something, but not all selling is for money, which is where I think people start talking about marketing that has nothing to do with money. But I’ve noticed those tend to be people who get paid to talk about marketing that has nothing to do with money.

  7. Kathy Sierra says:

    Scott: I am really, truly sorry. I screwed up, and I can’t blame you for wanting to complain here rather than on my blog, or to me directly.
    In looking at comments on the “sheep” blog, I did a lousy job at handling them. I meant that blog as a completely ridiculous tongue-in-cheek joke and didn’t expect (and was not prepared) for it to be taken seriously, so I thought you were simply trolling. (And I’m not a good enough writer to have made my intention in the post clear, so it was all too easy to misinterpret). I didn’t even take the time to think about your comment (and not just yours), and did exactly what you said — just dismissed it.

    I still don’t actually *agree* with what you said on the blog (or some of what you said about the marketing post), but now that I understand you were NOT trolling — you certainly deserved way better treatment than I gave you. And I don’t have to agree with you to have learned something important from what you were saying — but I didn’t even give it the time of day.

    GOD, I’m sounding like Scoble now — “I’ll try to be better.” But I mean it. I can’t promise that I won’t make the same mistake again (interpreting a genuine, valid criticism as simply a troll), and I’m not sure how to resolve my feeling that perhaps a lot of folks just shouldn’t be reading blogs written by people who they really don’t like. But… it’s better that I at least stop and think about it.
    Sorry this ended up on your blog, Shelley… but I’m glad Scott at least DOES feel comfortable writing on your blog, or I’d never have known.
    (And I’ll be responding to your other post Shelley on my own blog, rather than piling on more comments here. It’s an important question, and I’ll see if I can come up with a better answer than the one I left you with.)

  8. Scott Reynen says:

    As I said in email to Kathy, it’s not as if I unsubscribed. It takes two to miscommunicate, and she remains an excellent writer with interesting things to say.

  9. Lisa says:

    Well! I was directed to your blog by Hands In Dirt I think it was when the Monarch pics were up. I have checked back several times since then and still the Monarch pics. Suddenly today I realized that DUH I had saved that page, not the site. I am so pleased to have found your current stuff…and please don’t stop writing now that I found you. :)

  10. dave rogers says:

    I think Shelley is right that all marketing is selling something, but not all selling is for money, which is where I think people start talking about marketing that has nothing to do with money.

    I think Scott’s correct, to a point. But we have to understand what “selling” is really all about.

    Whether I want you to pay me for something I can offer you, or I want you to sign your name to a petition, or I want you to use a Mac or a Linux computer, the underlying motivation to all of these has something to do with authority.

    Authority is the means by which we get others to do things for us, even if it’s sometimes just to listen to us. If you want the clerk at the convenience store to let you have that candy bar, your authority is the cash you surrender to “buy” the candy bar. You presumably earned that money by using your authority over your time to perform a job for someone. To persuade you to use your time in that fashion, someone else has offered you a wage.

    Sometimes we can get people to do what we want them to do by appealing to moral authority, that something is the right thing to do. That’s based on a shared belief which governs moral agency in decision making.

    Physical coercion is a form of authority, albeit one we tend not to promote. Nevertheless, it is the one that underlies most other forms of authority.

    To address, perhaps obliquely, Michael Bernstein’s memetic reference, getting people to imitate certain behaviors (to include expressing a belief), which is the essence of a meme, “selling” people on a different computer platform is about reinforcing one’s own view of one’s authority. Even though no money may change hands, the “influential” person experiences a feeling of reward, which probably propels him or her to continue to promote or proseletyze an idea for which they receive no overt financial reward.

    “I’ve managed to get 10 people to convert to Linux,” is less a statement about history than it is a statement about authority.

    When I get you to sign a petition, I’m actually getting you to lend your authority to an idea that I’m promoting. To “subscribe” literally means to lend your name, and therefore some measure of your authority, to whatever it is you’re subscribing to, even if it’s National Geographic (though you’ll also have to pay the subscription costs!). Which is why we can say “I don’t buy the idea…” or “I don’t subscribe to the notion…” and essentially mean the same thing.

    It’s all about authority, and authority is how we determine rank in the hiearchy (and there are many hierarchies), and we all compete for rank in one form or another, unless we happen to be content where we are, in which case we usually act to hold onto where we happen to be against other competitors.

    Money is the most liquid form of authority; but with authority must come responsibility or we have a very imbalanced situation where those with the most authority can exploit or take advantage of those with the least. Government has a role in managing that balance, but lately government itself is more beholden to those with the authority of money than those with the authority of their vote.

    Something I wish more people would think about than foolish distractions like the “markets are conversations” meme.

    Again, just my opinion. Which is to say, you should do your own thinking.

  11. ARJ says:

    In a funny bit of synchronicity the radio alarm went off this morning in the middle of a conversation with Laura Penny, the author of a book titled “Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit”. It turned out to be a very entertaining way to wake up. She mentioned that she didn’t have any practical solutions to dealing with being “marketed to” in the book, but when pressed on air, she recounted an anecdote from Canadian politics, where assembled members of the press burst out laughing at a politician’s baldly false statement. She concluded that we needed more pointing and laughing to cure our society of these types of attitudes. As I have grown increasingly cynical toward constantly being perceived as a consumer and not a human being, hateful of being the target of attempted manipulations in order to “buy into” something (whether with money or just conceptually), I found Ms Penny’s conclusion incredibly helpful.

  12. Shelley says:

    ARJ, pointing and laughing works for me. Who shall we pick on first.

    Lisa, Dave, me quit writing? Would have to shoot me. And then take the keyboard from my hands.

    Michael, I’m with Dave and that I don’t see marketing as propagating memes. Marketing is very deliberate, while memes just ‘happen’.

    Medley, hear you on feeling grumpy.

    Kathy, this wasn’t meant to single you out. I know it followed on closely from the other post, but this has been on my mind for a time. Dave’s post triggered it more than anything. That and I really haven’t been feeling great this week. So, if you’re inspired to write on it, cool. If not, that’s cool too.

    McD, thank you.

  13. Tonya says:

    Aren’t all good sellers great conversationalists. You often don’t feel you’re being sold .