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May 24, 2015
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Snake Oil in the Grass?

Some of my greatest learning and teaching experiences come from random encounters. Some are definite "angel moments", when one feels that one has been put in a situation precisely because one's background and expertise is necessary to aid a person or persons in trouble; others are not nearly as "divine" or "otherworldly", but it's still a matter of expertise meeting learning need, and it's still my honor to help or learn.

Sometimes, though, one has to wonder.

My sister and I had planned to walk to the nearest Dunkin Donuts on my day off, both to get out of the house and to take advantage of a special points offer from DD Perks, their loyalty/app program. The national donut chain has been incentivizing its current loyalty customers to evangelize their smartphone app through email. While I'm not about to spam my friends and family (most of whom either already have the app or are Not Interested), I'm perfectly fine with suggesting an app that might save someone a bit of money. (See my 2012 Power Point slide deck on "Making Your Data Plan Pay for Itself".)

As we were sitting in our local Dunkin enjoying our cold drinks, we were greeted by one of a group of people as they sat down at the table next to us. One had an iPhone sitting on the table; another had an Android phone. They looked and acted like "regulars" — which gave me enough reason to casually ask them, "Do you have the app?" The fellow who had greeted us had no idea what that was. I showed him what mine did, and how it could save me money over time. Like many smartphone users, he had no information about the App Store or how to download applications to his iPhone 4. I, on the other hand, run our local computer club's Mobile Devices meeting; apps and classes of application are part of my stock-in-trade. While we couldn't complete his download (he'd forgotten his Apple password), we were able to tell him about some of our computer club's interests and services.

As we talked, I learned that he and his buddies were into Network Marketing.This is a sales structure where you don't just sell products to people you know — you also sell them on joining the business. If you are successful at selling the business to people who are successful at selling the business, you don't just earn money on your own sales, you earn money on their sales, and their recruits' sales as well, and rise higher up in the overall organization. To do this well, you need to be excited enough about the product to want to evangelize it, you need to know and/or meet enough other people who can use the product (and afford to purchase it) and will love it enough to evangelize it, they need to know enough people, and so on (just like that old Fabergé Organics shampoo commercial). Most people who start out in a network marketing business buy a bunch of product (either a starter kit or samples) and end up with few or no takers. That "most" includes us — multiple times over.

The product these people were selling is a vitamin and supplement line that our new acquaintance said is popular in 107 countries around the world, but which has not gained traction in the US because most of the higher-ups in the chain aren't native American English speakers. This, despite an English business name. Their products include various supplements that are supposed to keep one vigorous while aging, control blood sugars levels if you have diabetes, control hypertension, cholesterol, and every other chronic ailment under the sun. [Insert a healthy dose of suspicion here.] Each associate in the network is required to purchase and use at least $100 of product per month, so that they can evangelize the product from personal experience. [See previous remark about excess product inventory.]

When I got home, I looked up the product line. I found some very expensive vitamins and supplements, most of which added the company's proprietary "special blend" of something to exotic plants that can't be found in my collection of (mostly-European-plant-based) herbals. While I know enough about herbs to be comfortable recommending medicinal tea brands such as Traditional Medicinals and Yogi, I don't know enough about this other company's plant materials to be consider them any more effective than that bitter melon extract claim that circulated a few years ago.

While there are some other business opportunities we might be able to pursue with this new acquaintence, buying into his current product line will not be one of them.

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Megan Holmes
Megan Holmes Megan was diagnosed in 2009 with Type I. As an RN, she was familiar with the medical side of her diagnosis; learning to be a good patient on the other hand, was and continues to be the challenge of her day to day life.   (Read More)
Michelle Kowalski
Michelle Kowalski Michelle Kowalski, a writer, editor and photography hobbiest living in Phoenix, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in February 2005. In January 2008, as part of her quest to start on an insulin pump, Michelle learned that she actually has type 1 diabetes.   (Read More)
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