There are differing accounts as to who actually started the 99 cent marketing concept, but it is known that in 1875, the Chicago Daily News was founded as a penny paper. However, pennies were not in wide circulation at the time. So, the founder asked local businesses to reduce their prices by one cent. Everyone prospered. In 1876, Frank Winfield Woolworth started “the five and dime”—bargain stores that eventually offered everything from clothing to medications to ice cream sundaes for prices that fit every budget. And did you know that Richard Sears began his business as a watch seller in 1886? Later, Alvah Roebuck joined him, and Sears and Roebuck was established before the dawn of a new century.
This generation of children has not known a world without computers, cell phones, iPods, notebooks and e-readers, electric cars, or solar panels. Very smart men and women have, for millennia, crafted ideas to improve the standard of living for their fellow human beings. They have striven to lengthen lives, enjoy lives, and to provide leisure and work time that help us in the human pursuit of bigger-better-faster. And in order to promote these ideas, other men and women have worked to tell other folks about these inventions and innovations. Sales and marketing is not a bad thing, by the way. Marketers and sale staff are essential partners in the quest for improving our lives and investing in new ideas for the future.
Marketing and sales bombard us 24/7/365—on the Internet, on television, on the sides of buses, in our doctors’ offices, in magazines, and on billboards. We are told we need things we never knew we needed! Pharmaceutical companies tell us to “ask your doctor about” medication appropriate for our medical condition, cosmetic companies tell us we can look younger, retailers remind us to buy products—on sale now!—food sellers tell us we can cook at home (who knew that?), toy companies tell us we can entertain and teach our children at the same time, movie and video companies tell us what to watch… Even colleges advertise online programs to increase enrollment at a time in which tuition prices on campuses have risen.
And then there are the products themselves. Pharmaceutical companies likely have one of the biggest “conflict of interest” problems to overcome. We are concerned about the opioid crisis—but these drugs originated in an attempt to find more effective pain relief associated with surgeries and treatment for serious diseases that cause intense suffering. The medical field has long suggested that the less you suffer pain during treatment, the higher likelihood of successful recovery. Computer companies have provided innovations that streamline communication, enhance organization, and entertain. Yet research shows that long hours in front of digital screens destroys attention. Each field, each industry, has conundrums to face, and the marketers and sales staff have to address these problems while selling a product.
While we say “let the buyer beware” and the obligation for informed action (or not) to purchase a product is placed upon the consumer, in this country we have consumer protections for some things. For example, most states have what is called a “lemon law” for individuals who purchase a car that turns out to be defective once you leave the parking lot. Yet even with protections, there can be no guarantees in life. While we “know” this on an intellectual basis, we don’t “feel” it on an emotional level.
I say all of this as someone who works in an industry that offers no guarantees—and that cannot offer the guarantees we so desperately desire. Mental health, education, and addictions require the input of the consumer as well as the specialization and training of the care providers. We all “know” that each of us is unique, that each of us has individual strengths and weaknesses, that each of us can or cannot do certain things, that each of us wakes each day with a different mindset than the day before—or not—that may or may not impact our ability to be present and to do the work we need to do. Even if a program “works” for an individual, the long term impact cannot be easily quantified. And what works for one person may not work for another!
There are a few things to think about when “shopping” for services. First, evidence-based practices matter. DBT, for example, is highly effective for treating certain disorders. The research is ongoing to measure long-term effects and to see how it may be adapted for other disorders. Second, time matters. If it takes years to become tangled up in unproductive behaviors, the process to improve one’s mental state is not going to take a few weeks or even a few months. Remember how long it was before you graduated high school? Third, all mental health, addiction, and education services are user dependent. You get what you put in as well as you get what is offered. Even if/when services are not “complete” in the scope of what the individual may believe they need, some clients will not, or cannot, put in what is needed. It is normal to push back against things unfamiliar to you—even if the things that are familiar to you are keeping you from leading a healthy life. For example, those with trauma often seek things that are harmful to them due to the impact on brain development. Fourth, mistakes happen. We are human, and these are human conditions. For example, one might be misdiagnosed due to the rarity of the condition, even among highly competent diagnosticians. Anti-NDMA receptor encephalitis is an example of a rare and misdiagnosed condition that requires immediate corrective action to repair an afflicted brain.
Thus, I leave you with these thoughts about sales and marketing to an industry geared to human clientele struggling with any number of afflictions. An ethical marketer will not guarantee you anything, although they may share some positive outcomes their program has witnessed. An ethical sales person wants to inform and educate you about what is possible. An ethical sales and marketing team want to let you know what they offer and answers your questions honestly. On-line reviews must be taken for what they are, good or bad—they are opinions. Not all programs work for everyone, and not everyone has the “picture perfect” experience no matter how hard the program may have worked for that client. Some individuals remain attached to unhealthy thoughts and may believe they are “saving” others from the “fate” they suffered, or they did not receive the services they wanted, or they did not invest in their care. Or they did, but it didn’t work. It is up to the consumer to decide before purchasing. But it is up to us: the sales and marketing teams, the administration, the teachers, the therapists, the consultants, the psychologists, the psychiatrists, the residential staff members, and the field staff members to do our jobs. And once you entrust us with your care, it is our continuing job to work as hard as we can. This is not a sale—this is a purchase for life.