Talk is cheap

Talk is cheap

: A few weeks ago, I was a chump. Well, I’m often a chump but in this particular case, it’s about a call I got from a futurist marketing think tank — read: bullshitshop — that asked me attend a session with other smart people — ah, but they flatter me — to talk about trends we see in media and society. Somebody’s actually asking me to blather? Well, sure, I said. But what I found when I got there was that I was merely part of a focus group and I was paid $200, plus cookies, for consulting. That is consulting for which I should have charged much more (doesn’t mean they’d pay it but at last I’d have found myself in a transparent marketplace instead of talking with a nameless company’s paid middlemen). It was my fault that I fell into their trap, so I played along. But I was the chump.

The irony is that I give opinions for free every day. Right here. Pity you. If somebody wanted to see what I said, they could have come here. They could have emailed me or even left a comment — better yet — to spark a conversation with all of you, where they’d find the real wisdom. They could have dealt with me and us directly. Instead, they paid a middleman and stayed behind the mirror.

Well, as President Bush says, once burned is… uh, what’d he say again?

So today I got email from another such organization wanting me to fly out of New York for a talk with three or four other smart people — ah, now I see through your flattery — for an unnamed client. When I said I wasn’t interested in being part of such a focus group, they protested that “an Expert Panel is NOT a focus group. The tone is more that of a living room setting.” So the chairs are stuffed. It’s still a focus group. If this were a true living-room setting for me, I’d be on the couch with feet up on the coffee table and laptop on lap conversing via blog.

The email also said their firm “is in the newness business. We help our clients gain fresh thinking and insights. We are experts in the process of stimulating new thinking and in designing and facilitating engagements that result in exciting new strategies/plans/products that people are committed to implementing.”

What a hock of hooey. “Newness business”? Sounds like they’re in produce.

It’s at moments like this that I find blogging has affected my worldview profoundly. Yes, it has made me grumpy and opinionated and disagreeable. But I don’t mean that. I mean that it has made me expect transparency and direct conversation.

If this unnamed client were smart, they’d do the same thing. Oh, I’m not suggesting we’d all give them consulting for free. But we all would give them opinions for free if they’d just enter into an open conversation. You want people to reinvent your product in new ways, unnamed client? Well, why don’t you try asking your customers to do it for you; they’re the ones who’d know best. Start a blog. Start a conversation. Read others blogs. Join in the conversation. Ask people what they think. Surprise: They’ll tell you. Then all you have to do is listen.

And you can save on the cookies and the newness gurus.

  • Tom

    But Jeff, how does the hip “market research” company monetize that when they can charge their client thousands of dollars for getting your input in the traditional setting.
    These guys must be scared to death when they look online.
    T

  • Jeff, come on, aren’t you thrilled to be ‘marketable’? Write up a contract that gives you a percentage … okay, I’m not serious. Keep the jammies.

  • rcs

    “There’s an old saying in TennesseeóI know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennesseeóthat says, fool me once, shame onóshame on you. Fool meóyou can’t get fooled again.”óNashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002
    http://slate.msn.com/id/2071127/

  • Angelos

    But Jeff, the people who designed the products are geniuses! They have, like, college degrees and stuff!
    How can we measly civilians offer any advice that would be worth anything? You and I didn’t have to suck all that corporate, um, rooster to get that fancy “VP of Product Design” on our business cards!
    I pay for, and use, a LOT of software and hardware. I have problems with all of that make me wonder WHO THE HELL LET THIS OUT OF QC?
    There is no phone number for that, no e-mail that says “suggestions” on any website that I’ve inspected.
    Even if I call tech support, what would happen? This isn’t a crash or installation issue covered by support, whether paid or free. This is a severe useability issue caused by faulty design, and not corrected in beta. Am I going to tell some dude in New Delhi that this or that feature is really terrible, and you should fix it in the next release? He doesn’t care, and even if he did, who’s he going to relay it to back in the US?
    The American manufacturer and the American marketer don’t care about quality or consumer. Just market, lie, image-build, and keep the product moving.

  • Charlie (Colorado)

    Yes, it has made me grumpy and opinionated and disagreeable.
    Nah, Jeff, that’s age.

  • alan

    $200 seems about right.

  • Jeff, the same thing happened to me and I fell for it too.
    The extra irony is that I used to actually run focus groups and it was a ridiculously well-paid but depressing business. This dull old model of mediated conversations still seems profitable, but it can’t (I hope) carry on like this.