A heated thread on another community rails against a number of meter manufacturers and online communities which offer free glucometers and supplies to the winners of contests, rather than distributing those supplies to diabetics in need.
While compassion for those in need is certainly laudable, the purpose of these contests has less to do with “wasting” resources that are better used elsewhere than they have to do with “seeding the community” with new or premium items in order to build up desire for those items and generate more business for the sponsors.
This sort of viral marketing has been used successfully by the computer industry for decades, as software manufacturers would, after a presentation to a computer user group, offer a limited number of expensive full-featured software packages as door prizes, and deep discounts to club members who purchased the software at the meeting. This created a cadre of informed consumers who would grow familiar enough with the product to be able to recommend it to friends and family, and – more importantly – to their places of employment. The learning curve for this second tier of new users would be short, since the initial user-group evangelists would be familiar enough with the product to train them.
This initial financial/seeding incentive had the additional effect – at least in the later years of the user groups’ ascendancy, after the commercial software industry had stabilized and smaller firms were either acquired by larger firms, or forced out of business – of locking in those customers, since changing to a competitor’s product entailed large expenditures of cash (for the new software) and time (to convert all one’s files to the new software’s format). Annual upgrades were still a significant financial investment, and many user group members had gotten used to the performance and flexibility of these premium, top-of-class applications.
Placing a high-priced product with a high acquisition cost or a high upkeep cost in low-income communities, while laudable, would have an extremely low likelihood of generating future income for the product. Friends and neighbors would not be able to afford the investment, and none there would be able to afford the upkeep. On the other hand, placing that product in an environment where it would be considered an investment increases the likelihood of maintaining brand loyalty, and increasing the likelihood of a satisfied tester/user/winner recommending the product to others. In addition, our culture of acquisitiveness creates an anticipation and a desire for a “free” product that grows the initial target market beyond the number of free and discount products offered.
These expectations of increased demand and future sales provide the expected return on investment that allows manufacturers to make limited quantities of their premium products available for free distribution. Take away the market potential, and the return on investment for these companies dries up – followed shortly by the possibility of any “freebies”.*
In short, shaking a finger of shame at meter manufacturers for offering small numbers of product with enough supplies to “get one hooked” is counterproductive for both the manufacturers and the communities our foundations are trying to serve.
*The effects of this could be considered at last weekend’s ADA Expo, where not only were the manufacturers not giving out free meters on-site, but the free meters required a change in the customer’s prescription. So concerned are these manufacturers about not being able to get continuing sales of strips and lancets that the investment of the free device alone no longer seems to be cost-effective.
This brings us to the second, related issue.
As of this writing, I am actively involved in six online diabetes-related communities (one of which is a special-interest subgroup of another community) and I am aware of at least four or five others. While there is some overlap, each has a distinct set of features, a distinct set of services, and a distinct audience. Some have licensed and certified professionals monitoring message boards and answering questions; others are aimed at promoting an organization’s products and services. Most have an area for peer-to-peer (or peer-to-group) communication, peer-based counseling, and peer-based advice.
Many of us belong to more than one of these communities. We may start in one community because it is recommended by a friend, a TV show, or a clinician – or because it is where we will get support for our glucometer, our insulin delivery system, or our medical supply delivery. As we learn about others, we decide whether or not to join, and to what degree to participate.
As the community of people with diabetes grows, all of our communities will grow and develop increasingly distinct personalities. While this is a normal aspect of growth, I am concerned that these different outlooks and interests could, rather than unite us in the common cause of improved quality of life and life expectancy for people with diabetes, cause public conflicts that could rob all of our communities of the resources needed to assist diabetics, both within our online communities and outside of them.
While I would not wish suggest that any of our communities change their personalities merely to present a united front to the high-priced resources and partners (pharmaceutical companies, research organizations, public advocacy groups, etc.), I would expect that as people working towards a common cause, we take into account how our words and actions in, or representing, our own community or communities of choice could have repercussions – both positive and negative – for other communities.