We were at dinner.
There were 6 of us. One of the six is Ann.
Ann is the token loose cannon. We all are nice to Ann, but think she’s crazy. She’s a grandmother, very friendly, a little nutty. We’re polite and generally try and ignore her conspiracy theories or neuroticism because, you know, manners.
So, we’re at dinner.
And Ann says that Obamacare is taking all the care away from people who need it.
Everyone continues to be polite.
Then Ann explains that good hardworking Americans are having their America taken away from them.
I’m seated next to Ann and it’s increasingly difficult to ignore her. She goes on about how “illegals” are endangering our country.
So, like any sensible person, I say:
“Ann, I know. I even heard that they’re letting black people vote now!”
Ann says, “That was a very bitchy thing to say, Margo.”
I say, “That was a very racist thing to say, Ann.”
The rest of the table stares at me and then proceeds to make small talk about the weather.
Being an asshole is not how you make change.
Granted, it was hilarious to me for a solid 4 seconds, but after those seconds I felt like crap.
Regardless of our disagreements on policy or belief or actual facts, I publicly shamed a grown woman, a family friend, and someone who had been nice to me.
My mother raised me better than that.
I’d confused activism and being an asshole.
For a few minutes, I genuinely believed I’d stood up for something important. The way you feel when you post your social justice rant on Facebook.
On the way home, I wondered why I felt so damn vindicated when I’d accomplished literally nothing.
The temptation of Vanity Metrics
Marketers are exceptionally skilled in convincing clients they’re doing something useful when really they’re doing nothing.
And that’s because they have metrics to prove how many useless things they’re actually doing. They’re called “vanity metrics.”
Vanity metrics are self-affirming activities that you can quantify, but they mean little-to-nothing when it comes to sales. We love vanity metrics because they feel really really good to our egos.
Like Facebook likes or ad impressions.
It always feels good to get lots of Facebook likes.
Just like, it always feels good to bully someone who deserves it.
Being an asshole was great for my vanity metrics.
I got the halo effect of a good story to go back to my echo-chamber with and I could quantify it!
In fact, it made all my numbers go up:
- Number of people you’ve antagonized who “deserved it.”
- Number of self-affirming articles you forwarded to your friends.
- Number of superheated conversations you’ve had with your mom.
The trouble with vanity metrics is they make you believe you’re doing something useful. But you’re not.
A better way to determine success is to measure conversion rates or sales.
Conversion rates are the percentage of non-buyers you turn into buyers.
(For you knit-pickers, yes it’s used for other things, like list building, but come on I’m making an important point here!)
In this situation, my conversion rates would be the percentage of people I’ve successfully converted from “disagrees with me” to “agrees with me.”
And for someone who understands the mechanics of persuasion, influence, and manipulation, I was doing an exceptionally shitty job.
Can you get to the point, Margo?
No, I have one more marketing lesson. But it’s a good one I swear.
When you want to sell a product to a person who doesn’t want your product, it’s…hard.
And that’s often what marketers are tasked to do. Get people who don’t want my product to buy my product.
Name-calling is ineffectual here.
You can test it (please test it!!), but I’ll put money on the fact that this headline will not work.
If you want to convert someone who doesn’t think they need what you’re selling, you have to work a lot harder. It starts with meeting your audience where they are.
(For my copy nerds, I’m talking about market sophistication and awareness.)
If you want to sell someone a solution to a problem they don’t believe is real, you have to start by convincing them they have a problem in the first place.
Now, that’s an effective ad.
Here’s what that means for my conversation with Ann, aka all the conversations y’all are going to have over Thanksgiving:
If you’re talking to someone who doesn’t fundamentally believe that sexism is real, you cannot start the conversation by calling them sexist. You have to explain to them what sexism is.
Alternately, if you want to explain that Trump is the voice of the people with someone who thinks Trump is a bigot, you have to explain to them what you mean by “voice of the people.”
Ok, now are you done?
Yes. I’ll wrap it up.
I have been exceptionally dismissive of people like Ann and so has the majority of the left.
Ann’s feelings, though I might disagree with them, are real.
By labeling her “racist” and “idiot,” I separated her from me. Which is the opposite of how you get people on your side. You have to bring them closer. (Same thing with ads btw. If you want to nail that headline, you have to be able to get into the head of your market. You have to bring them closer.)
When I separated her from me, I saw her as evil and someone to vilify. I lost my ability to reason with her, talk to her, understand her, and – more importantly – convert her.
Ann is a person.
I’ve spent enough years in psychology to know that anyone angry or racist is actually scared.
Instead of being an asshole to her, I could have acknowledged that she is scared and tried to understand why. Inquired about where her bombastic conspiracy theories came from. Validated her feelings. Treated her like a human.
We are all trying to increase our conversion rates. We want to convert people from that side to our side.
And we suck at it.
Instead of having productive conversations, we insult each other.
The reason being a bully doesn’t work is that it doesn’t increase your conversion rates.
You try persuading someone of your side while insulting them.
Good luck to you.
If we have any hope of productive discourse in this country, we have to start with seeing the other side as human.
I failed with Ann. But you don’t have to be like me. Be better than me. Be better than bullying.
Measure yourself by your conversion rates.
It’s the only metric that matters.