If you are in any way an entrepreneur or are hoping to make an online business work for you and your customers, you will know the scenario - you are scrolling through your newsfeed and up pops an ‘exciting new webinar’ on a topic that you’re interested in. You have to sign up for it; you’re presented with a number of ‘time zone options’; and you get bombarded with messages like ‘Reserve your seat now!’, ‘Only a Few Places Left!’ and so on. At this webinar, you’re assured by a message in capital letters, or a short audio talk, that you will be spoken to LIVE about a number of ‘secrets’ which whoever it is is giving away for FREE in this ‘once-only presentation’. ‘Don’t miss it!’ Then some kind of countdown clicks in, telling you that there is 1 day, 17 hours and 5 minutes’ left until the webinar begins, or something like that.
I have to admit that I have fallen for this a couple of times. At my first webinar, I believed that the whole thing was a live presentation, and considered the value of the information being presented was so high that I made the time to attend the carefully choreographed session. Once you show up, there’s usually a preamble, in which the presenter advises you to take notes and to switch off all other devices or close down your social media windows, and so forth, so that you won’t miss a word of what he’s going to tell you.
Then the ‘live webinar’ begins: the presenter appears, seems to chat a little with an out-of-camera-shot film crew, or speaks to you as though he’s watching a hive of audience activity online, before he says something like ‘OK, let’s get started’.
The first third of the thing is usually him telling you how he is going to get straight to the point and reveal all kinds of wonders to you, while in actuality spending endless minutes telling you all about himself and how successful he’s been. It’s always ‘But before we get into all that, let me tell you a little bit about myself…’ which then makes you wonder how he defines ‘little’ and ‘bit’. Of course, it’s not usually possible to ‘fast forward’ through all this, you have to simply sit and wade through the boredom as he tries to identify with you and your situation. Eventually, he brings in the slides which start to tell you his ‘secrets’.
By the time you get to the final third of the thing, he is beginning to talk about what the whole thing is actually about: the expensive course, or book, or club that he wants you to join so that you can be sure that you will apply all of these secrets correctly. At this point, he seems to engage with other individuals at the webinar who have asked him questions about whatever it is - ‘Yes, Frank from Ohio, we can take instalments…’, and so on.
The whole thing falls apart once you realise that it’s all just a recorded ad. You feel embarrassed that you have been duped - or I did, anyway. Then I started to watch for all these tricks.
It would be like having someone interrupt a TV show that you’re watching to tell you that the commercial break is coming up and that you should go and get a notepad so that you can write down the key facts about the advertisements that are going to appear soon.
Please. We are British. We can spot false attempts at authenticity a mile away (or we can once we have been fooled by them a few times). We don’t like them. Marketing of this kind is very much like shouting, like being chased, like being regarded as a fool or a sheep who is just going to respond to the ‘triggers’ as though being herded by a dog. Of course, each and every internet guru or entrepreneur has something of value to say, given that they have usually made a fortune and are famous. But the Webinar Trap has had its day. Like the ‘sales funnel’, with webinars, the few products they get are because the person wanted the thing being offered so much that they were prepared to endure the embarrassment of being driven down a channel in this way.
You sign up for a webinar, or scroll down one of those apparently endless ‘squeeze pages’ with the ‘special offer’ at the end, because you are interested in what is being presented. You will tolerate being shouted at, or being ‘upsold’ or ‘cross-sold’ or ‘down-sold’ or even sold to in any way because you have some desire for the thing being sold; if your desire isn’t strong enough, you won’t sit through the 45 minutes of commentary about someone else’s ‘secrets’, you won’t make it to the bottom of the landing page, you won’t click the buttons offering you this or that. And if your desire is strong enough, you just have to put up with all the waffle until you can get your hands on the thing that you think is going to fulfil you.
I overheard by accident the other day a baker giving a live lecture at a country show about how our food has been tampered with over the last half a century or so, in order to make crops hardier or more pest-resistant, or to try to preserve whatever it is from going off. Then he mentioned the example of Canadian wheat, which he said hadn’t been interfered with very much at all: farmers in Canada just grew wheat, and if it was eaten by pests, so be it, and if the bread had a shorter sell-by date, then that was the way it was. I don’t know whether or not that’s true, but the point parallels the one I’m trying to make: Life is too short to sit through inauthentic processes and procedures which create false impressions and which manipulate our attention.
There is more to Life than business. That’s blasphemy in some parts of the world now, but it needs to be said. A business either has something of value and is able to sustain itself with a body of customers for that value, or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, maybe there’s something else that the people involved with it could be doing which does provide sustainable value. In other words, the engine of capitalism has been whining at top speed for too long now - businesses succeed and fail based on the value they offer.
Yes, of course, you can twist things out of all recognition and grab customers from wherever you can and manipulate their emotions and attention until they flow down your ‘sales funnel’; you can destroy your competitors, or trick your public, or produce things of apparent value which turn out to be disappointing. You can even offer things of genuine value and get huge numbers of customers by shouting very loudly.
Or you can develop something of real value and present it authentically and sensibly to people in your vicinity or somehow within your sphere of communication whom you think might be interested. Your business will quietly grow, suffering occasional hardships and uncertainties along the way, but as long as you remain authentic and sensible, you should be all right. And if you fail, then there will be other things that you can do which people will recognise as authentic and so on. You don’t have to make so much noise about it, and you don’t have to pretend to be delivering live presentations to huge audiences to provide people with something that they need and in that way bring in a viable amount of money.
So I think I speak for many - not just the British, perhaps - when I say ‘Please, enough with the webinars. Just get to the point and stop trying to trick me into believing that you are something that you’re not’.