Growing up, what was your favourite flavour of Kool-Aid?
Practically every kid grew up with a popular juice drink called Kool-Aid. Even if you had health-conscious parents who limited consumption of “junk food”, I bet you still consumed this drink at school or at parties whenever you could sneak a sip. After all, Kool-Aid is the “kool” drink. This easy-to-make, add-and-stir fruit-flavoured juice crystal mix was invented in the 1920’s and it has been one of the quintessential drinks of our childhood for almost a century.
The folks at Kraft Foods made a substitute for fruit juice and mass-marketed the heck out of the Kool-Aid brand, so much so that for many families, this artificial drink has replaced real fruit juice. Kool-Aid is relatively inexpensive, it lasts forever, and it takes seconds to make. And, it even tastes and looks like real juice!
But any person with half a brain knows that Kool-Aid is not the real thing.
In business, you may have heard of the expression “selling them the Kool-Aid” (if you are the marketer) or “drinking the Kool-Aid” (if you are the customer).
What exactly does this mean?
The clever “sell them the Kool-Aid” analogy refers to the act of transmuting a brand ideology so compelling that your customers cannot help but blindly and mindlessly buy what you have to sell. “Drinking the Kool-Aid” refers to the customer suddenly and unequivocally developing unquestionable loyalty towards your brand.
This is every marketer’s dream, right?
Right. Except it’s bad for business.
Let’s take a look at what it actually means to “sell the Kool-Aid”, and the top 3 scary reasons why Kool-Aid is bad for your business, and how you should be selling instead.
A Story of Why I Fired a 7-Figure Kool-Aid Mentor
In my early days as an entrepreneur, I drank the Kool-Aid many times over. In fact, I’m sure that to this day, my body is still detoxing from the sugar overload.
From 2013-2014, I had a 7-figure mentor who taught me how to “sell the Kool-Aid”. I met her at a seminar where she spoke on stage about an amazing, revolutionary, game-changing product she was selling. From the moment she stepped on the stage, I was spellbound. This woman exuded utter confidence, smooth-as-silk sales tactics, and an iron-clad conviction that enchanted everyone in the room. Framed by bright, colourful stage lights, pop music with the perfect lyrics and dramatic sound effects during her presentation, she had everyone on the edge of their seats waiting to buy what she had to offer.
Of course, I was one of the star-struck, spellbound audience members. She happened to be selling a training program on how to sell in such a way that everyone will “drink your Kool-Aid”.
My body felt like the North end of a magnet attracted to the South end of another magnet, which was her sales table. Without thinking, I reached robotically for my credit card, waited patiently in line in a sea of other Kool-Aid drinkers and basked in the sugar high of setting out the road to her Kool-Aid promise-land.
Six months later, I crashed from the sugar high. I followed my mentor’s teachings by the book, but no one bought my Kool-Aid. Even worse, many times I felt “off” spouting off the script she had taught me and the marketing tactics I had diligently internalized and mastered. The more I applied her teachings, the more sickened I became selling the sweet fake stuff that promised a temporary sugar high and nothing more.
One day I woke up to a diabetic business and vowed never to sell or drink the Kool-Aid ever again. And then, even though it was my most expensive lesson in business to date, I fired my first and last Kool-Aid mentor for good.
3 Scary Reasons Not to Sell the Kool-Aid
- It creates a ghost business. Just as our body houses our soul, our business has a soul. The “soul” is commonly referred to the part of us that is timeless and immortal. It is the essential energy – the spiritual signature, if you will – of who we are at the core. Our task, then, is to embody and express that essential spiritual signature in this lifetime the best way we can. When a business is selling Kool-Aid, what is it really selling? We have already established that Kool-Aid is not the real thing – merely a fake copy of the real thing. What happens when your business does not sell the real thing? Then you have a soulless business – a ghost business. If this sounds spooky to you, imagine how your customers would feel when they encounter a ghost business.
- It attracts revolving-door customers. What do ghosts like to do? Well, because they are hovering somewhere in between the human realm and the spirit realm, they are in a state of constant unrest. Hungry ghosts like to feed on a host body to temporarily live in so they can walk, talk, and move as humans do – until the host is tired and used up, then soon a new host takes the place of the old one. Using the Kool-Aid tactics may get you quick cash in the bank, and hungry new customers may buy from you in the short term, but soon your customers will grow tired of the tactics. As a business owner, you will spend most of your time acquiring customers (which takes more time, effort and investment) rather than building a long-term relationship with them – one that can bear fruit many times over through referrals and other mutually beneficial connections.
- It is costly. Have you ever had a telecommunications company (for example, your cell phone or cable television provider) call you up with an irresistible offer to switch to their company? Have you noticed the “promotion wars” by financial institutions outcompeting each other with bigger and better rewards for new account openings? Large corporations are willing to spend sizable budgets on advertising because they know that losing customers is costly, period. Keeping existing customers is a smarter business choice than constantly ramping up time, energy and financial investment to acquire new ones.
Don’t Sell the Kool-Aid; Sell the Water Instead!
Kool-Aid has been a popular drink for a reason. It is inexpensive, it is easy-to-make, and it goes down easy (i.e. it tastes good).
The dark side of Kool-Aid is that it is made of two basic ingredients: sugar crystals and artificial colouring. Because it’s not real fruit juice, the sugar water creates a temporary sugar high. Eventually, the customer experiences a sugar crash.
Many marketing gurus teach selling the Kool-Aid tactics because it works… for awhile.
However, when you sell the Kool-Aid, you are robbing yourself and your customers of the real deal – the product or service that’s really going to make a difference in their lives, thereby creating a loyal, long-term bond that pays itself many times over by referrals or recommendations that translates into more business for you.
So, don’t sell the Kool-Aid that offers a temporary sugar high, sell the water instead. Water is real and pure. Your customers will stay hydrated and satiated, and they will never suffer from a sugar crash and leave your business.
Long-term, loyal customers are the lifeblood of a successful business. Be the kind of business that sells your customers a life-giving cup of water that nourishes them for life.
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