I woke up early today to dial into a webinar for a product that claimed to be able to revolutionise my productivity. It’s the season for such things, the Christmas to New Year lull, where approaches to work are up for review more than at other times of year.
It was a ninety minute webinar with a nominal sign-up fee, and I should have been able to tell immediately when there was an up-sell at the checkout to attend an additional “VIP session” that it would be a particular kind of session, but I pressed on (without the upsell) as sometimes there is a benefit just to carving out some focused time.
Predictably it was a slow start, with the “type where you are dialling in from in the chat”, kind of zoom webinar. I was gratified to hear my location read out in the chat: this was actually a live session, as far as anyone can tell, not just a pre-recorded session being passed off as live.
There was some useful content about an hour in, but that’s when my AirPod battery dropped out, and that broke the spell as they toured through another software platform to help with the personal goal setting and tactics that exists, in various forms, across a range of products.
The secret sauce this time was in a further upsell, to buy a year of online community and coaching for a larger slice of money, that comes with the software package as well. Buying all these things, if you do the work, is an investment in yourself not an expense. All the usual phrases from this kind of self-help product.
And I really wish them well; they’re helping a number of people, there is a level of enthusiasm around these things, but the search for a silver bullet, when the same people in the call have any number of not-completed information products in their email.
When my AirPod batteries ran out, I think I saw the framework even more clearly: keep building a marketing list with free content, hit them with a series of promotional emails around the webinar, create the FOMO, add some additional products you haven’t sold for a while to create an offer that’s worth some thousands of dollars, round down to a price ending in $97, and create some artificial urgency with a deadline of a day or two.
There is less and less new “under the sun” here; the long-tail of work done by Product Launch Formula increasingly making the experience of learning online products almost homogenous.
Whether it’s an Instagram reel that re-markets across other social channels, the automatic sign-up box, the 5-10% off first sale, the drip feed of freemium content that slowly up-sells to a paid product offering to a subscription to a masterclass, it matters less and less what the actual product is.
And all of this means that the marketing team that creates that funnel and integration is increasingly pushing a commodity; APIs talking to each other, making more and more similar content.
My device-time is increasingly spent watching short, shallow, amusing videos, interspersed with ads for products of dubious quality, which, if fleetingly engaged with, will then follow me around for a day or two until growing weary and looking for someone else to bother.
I’m not working as much in this space, so I haven’t been trialling chatGPT, but its media cycles are predictable. As the output from digital workers becomes more and more creating grist for the mill, do we really need the spark of human creativity? Does the algorithm, as we keep feeding it from an increasing array of sensors on our devices, triaged against ever growing datasets, know best which levers to pull so as to engage the wheels of commerce?
Or is this just another chapter of dystopian sky-falling prediction that will show itself to be misguided ten years hence?
Maybe this whole pattern of thinking is just an indication I need some downtime and then to get back to thinking about the Great Commission.