The most pernicious thing about marketing these days is how the lines of commerce and social interaction have blurred. You may think you’re having a pleasant online conversation with someone; they think you’re agreeing to be bombarded with email offers until you succumb and hand over a credit card number.
My wife and I have had this happen with salespeople before, where we’d all spend time together talking about anything and everything other than the transaction at hand because they felt a real connection with us, a genuine, human meeting of the min—… oh, wait, you aren’t ready to make a purchase? Ciao. Out of the sales funnel you go.
We should have known better. As a Toyota sales rep told us as he ushered us out the door once it became clear their lack of competitive financing was a deal-breaker, “getting coffee together sometime” doesn’t pay his mortgage. Fair enough.
But we weren’t any more naive than the countless folks out there interacting with brands and their happy, chatty online personas. All that banter is great, but at the end of the day, it had better convert enough of the banterers to justify itself. For many brands, conversation is Scheherezade, staving off its execution with sales instead of stories.
There’s nothing wrong with that, except we consumers forget that, and most businesses are perfectly happy to let us. And then once in a while we catch a jarring glimpse of the skull beneath the skin. All it takes is an obtusely crass use of sales copy or an unartful bit of fake urgency, and for a moment we remember that we only imagine we’re friends — that the relationship goes contact, lead, customer; not acquaintance, friend, BFF.
That’s when you realize you aren’t in a virtual coffee shop or digital agora, but instead in the cold, rapidly narrowing confines of a sales funnel, being pulled headline toward conversion. That term has always struck me as the kind of euphemism for “painful disintegration” that some authoritarian alien civilization would use—right up to the point where Kirk overthrew them and remolded their government into something more like the Riverside, Iowa town council.
I’d actually wonder how Kirk would react to the discovery that a relationship had all been an elaborate charade, except we already know: he’d cure the ambassador’s daughter of Vegan choriomeningitis. I like to think he’d also then unfollow the ambassador and delete his GideonNet profile.