THE MARKETING OF CRYONICS
1. Copyright Notice And Information
2. Abstract Of The Article
3. Short Bio Of David Pascal
4. The Article Itself
Death And Anti-Death, Volume 9:
One Hundred Years After Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911)
Charles Tandy, Editor
FIRST PUBLISHED IN HARDBACK AND
Distributed by Ingram
from most bookstores and all Espresso Book Machines
Copyright © 2011 by Charles Tandy
Hardback/Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-934297-13-5
Paperback/Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-934297-14-3
Abstract Of Pages 175-198
Fostering Death In A Culture Of Life:
The Ambiguous Legacy Of The Marketing Of Cryonics
What makes a thing socially acceptable? Sometimes tradition. Sometimes timing. Sometimes sheer accident. But quite often, nowadays, things become popular because there’s an industry and a body of techniques actively dedicated to making things socially acceptable and popular. It’s called marketing. The paper argues that it’s purely and simply the neglect by the cryonics movement of what could be learned from the marketing industry that has kept cryonics, rather than the public, in a frozen state. To be precise, it is the mis-marketing, the active support of repellent, off-putting presentations of cryonics, that has led to this long destructive impasse.
KEYWORDS: biostasis; business ethics; cryogenics; cryonic; cryonic hibernation; cryonic suspension; cryonics; cryopreservation; marketing; public relations; suspended animation
David Pascal is a marketing consultant living in Upstate New York. Formerly Member Relations and Public Relations Coordinator at the Cryonics Institute, David is currently Secretary of the Cryonics Society, an independent non-profit organization dedicated to the better promotion of cryonics. More information about the Cryonics Society is available online at <www.CryonicsSociety.org>. More information about David and about marketing is available at his web site at <www.davidpascal.com>.
Fostering Death In A Culture Of Life:
The Ambiguous Legacy Of The Marketing Of Cryonics
In December 1987, nanotechnology was still widely derided as borderline science fiction. Vitrification had yet to take on its current importance for cryonics. Cryonics had been publicly declared by noted scientific figures to be an impossibility and an absurdity. A recently suspended patient at Alcor, Dora Kent, had done so in a glare of negative publicity and the law responded predictably, quickly and harshly, with actions threatening not only the new patient but Alcor itself, as legal efforts were undertaken to interfere with all patients and with Alcor operations itself. Court battles followed. Alcor survived.
July 2002, nanotechnology had taken the scientific world by storm, and its
founder had gone on public record as an Alcor member
and cryonics advocate. Vitrification
techniques were being hailed in peer-reviewed cryobiological
journals, and rabbit kidneys would soon successfully be vitrified,
cryopreserved, restored and transplanted.
Cryosurgery and the cryopreservation of embryos was becoming a highly
successful socially acceptable commonplace medical practice. Scientists and doctors by the dozens had come
out publicly in support of cryonics. As
if to cap this meteoric rise, one of
And instead? An even more furious explosion of media fury exploded. The law responded predictably, quickly and harshly. Actions were taken threatening not only Williams but, again, Alcor itself, as legal efforts were undertaken to remove Williams’ cryopreserved remains from Alcor control and interfere with Alcor operations. At the Cryonics Institute – which had nothing whatever to do with the Williams suspension – similar efforts did interfere with operations, temporarily halting suspension services altogether, and ultimately forcing the organization to legally redefine itself as a cemetery. Court battles followed. Alcor and the Cryonics Institute survived.
The technology of cryonics had risen from fantasy to plausibility in little more than a decade. But public and government reaction had, if anything, regressed.
Many a cryonics advocate responded with a litany many in the movement have long heard. “What can we expect? We live in a culture of death. The ‘deathists’,” that is, virtually anyone who is not a cryonicist, “have been indoctrinated by priests and imams and gurus and highly paid government bioethicists. They have been conditioned to think that death is inevitable – that death is good! They are told that death is a positive social benefit that keeps excess population down, removes the strain on global food production, and eases the pressure on unstable failed states unable to manage their poor and overpopulated masses. Acceptance of death is mature, sober, an acknowledgment of existential finitude, a mark of adulthood, the final liberation from life’s unending woes. We should embrace death, embrace it joyfully! At the very least we should repudiate if not criminalize mad-scientist con-artist-driven attempts to extend it.”
This cold realpolitik, in allegiance with mystical gobbledygook, and a species-long tradition of having to come to terms with death, are all said to combine to produce a mental environment where even to countenance technological life extension is simply not psychologically possible. Some even posit a ‘death gene’: just as our bodies are genetically programmed to deteriorate and die physically, who can say that there is no corresponding psychological mechanism driving humans one and all into the grave?
short answer to both these suggestions is simple observation. Obviously the overwhelming majority of people
do not choose death. Suicide is so rare statistically as to be a
percentage of a percent. If man as a
species is programmed with the drive to die, individual men and women clearly
make the most remarkable efforts not to do so.
Many make heroic, strenuous efforts to live in the face of immensely
challenging and destructive conditions.
Even in cultures like the Scandinavian, where suicide is as close to
social acceptability, with even tacit governmental assistance, as anywhere in
the world, the number who commit suicide are a vanishingly small percentage of
the whole. (Contrary to pop sociology,
Science, medicine, surgery, pharmaceuticals – massive industries exist on all sides relentlessly working to find ways to extend life. The sale of anti-aging products involving nutrition, physical fitness, skin care, vitamins, supplements and herbs is a global industry generating roughly $50 billion annually in the US market alone, despite the fact that – like cryonics – many reputable medical experts state that the use of virtually all such products work trivially and often not at all.
But unlike cryonics, they sell. And that is the puzzle. Clearly there is massive interest in extending life using every conceivable method imaginable, from discredited ones like healing crystals and homeopathy to data-driven approaches like calorie restriction and hormone therapy. Why then is cryonics – the one approach that could conceivably extend life the farthest, the approach that has been the subject of decades of massive media coverage, the approach that grows scientifically more viable with each passing day – also the approach that comparatively speaking, has received virtually no governmental or institutional support, no research funding, no supporters, and no customers? What does the apparently universal rejection of cryonics tell us?
What it should tell us is that there is a vast difference between what is technologically possible and what is socially acceptable. And it should remind us that what is not socially acceptable remains on the fringes. If it’s allowed to exist at all.
What makes a thing socially acceptable? Sometimes tradition. Sometimes timing. Sometimes sheer accident. But quite often, nowadays, things become popular because there’s an industry and a body of techniques actively dedicated to making things socially acceptable and popular. It’s called marketing.
I believe that it’s purely and simply the neglect by the cryonics movement of what could be learned from that industry that has kept cryonics, rather than the public, in a frozen state. To be precise, it is the mis-marketing, the active support of repellent, off-putting presentations of cryonics, that has led to this long destructive impasse.
But what is marketing? How does it function? How has it been mis-applied? And how might we apply it successfully?
As with cryonics itself, the first step in understanding it is to put away common misunderstandings.
First of all: marketing is not advertising. It is not about getting press attention or media coverage or even about better public relations. Yes, those things are sometimes – not always – elements in a marketing campaign. But the core of marketing lies in specialized processes of information-gathering, and in using that information to shape what one offers to the market, and how one presents that offer.
It isn’t about presenting something you want and promoting the reasons that you want it. It’s about asking the public what they want, and providing and presenting it in ways to which they respond.
How is professional marketing structured and applied? Essentially it involves six steps.
The first step is defining your goals. It isn’t always a matter of pursuing growth in every sense and every way. Rolls-Royce, aimed at a tiny niche market, is a thriving success. Does an organization want more customers or more income? Does it want prestige or notoriety? Either can be achieved, but the first step involves detail: what and where specifically do you want your organization to be?
Answering such questions shapes what subsequent research targets. Once research goals are set, marketers next gather as much relevant information as they can about the consumers they're targeting. Common tools are surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, and covert or direct observation.
Sample markets need not be huge – Gallup Polls of nationwide accuracy require no more than 1500 people, though even that population must be carefully balanced and selected. Fifteen hundred individuals at random attending a Billy Graham rally, or kindergarten, will not be representative. Once a representative sample is determined and explored, however, something priceless results: hard data about that target market’s likes, dislikes, concerns, preferences – all the relevant factors that go into their behavior as a consumer.
The next step? Marketers apply that information to shaping or packaging the product in a way that satisfies consumer criteria for making a purchase. This step is critical. Again, and contrary to rumor, marketers do not ram unwanted products onto the public through relentless repetition. It is far safer, easier, and more effective simply to find out the consumers’ preferences, and then create or present products that satisfy those preferences.
When an appealing product or approach is thus crafted, and when tests show samples of the public responding positively, then mass promotional approaches are crafted. This is where advertising often comes in. Although alternative means of promotion are common too, such as word-of-mouth marketing, telemarketing, direct sales, 'stealth' or viral or social media marketing, and so on.
Once this carefully-designed product is presented to the public, the fifth step begins: monitoring the reaction of the market to the tentative presentation and getting feedback.
And the last step? The last step is to incorporate that feedback, loop it back into the beginning of the process, and go through the whole process again, so that the product is continually being upgraded and re-configured to mesh as tightly as possible with consumer preferences.
Of course, this is a greatly oversimplified picture of a complex set of concrete practices. But the principle is simple: marketing is the systematic discovery of what the market wants and how the market likes to be approached. It then shapes and re-shapes the product and/or its presentation until those wants are satisfied.
That's why the process is so powerful. It doesn't push things people don’t want. It finds out what they do want and then gives it to them. Resisting good marketing means resisting the things we don’t want to resist. Very few people can do that. Very few want to.
And what particularly makes it powerful is the fact that it is not rooted in speculation, but in hard data. It’s easy enough to sit around a table and express one’s gut feeling as to what the market may want. But an expressive gut is not a marketing tool. Market researchers do not speculate. They gather data until they can make statistically valid predictions about consumer behavior.
The Rational Case And Irrational Objections
Is simple polling, and then re-packaging the responses, what it’s all about? Far from it. Casual information-gathering often misleads as much as it informs. Good qualitative research probes deeper market preferences. Consumers often don’t really know what motivates them to buy, and the reasons they give when they’re asked have little – although not nothing – to do with it.
Political marketers know this well. In interviews and focus groups, respondents often select the more politically correct candidate because that’s the choice that’s socially approved. Yet once in the ballet box, votes go to the hard-liner who calls for criminals to hang.
This isn’t simple hypocrisy. People’s reports about themselves are honest ones. Respondents really do believe that health food is healthy and junk food is junk. Unfortunately they go out and buy the junk food anyway. And marketing is concerned with what they do, not what they say.
How does this affect cryonics? Greatly. Simply put, the rational case has failed. Cryonicists have made a very rational case for decades, and the case could not be stronger. If cryonics works, you live – perhaps for a very, very long time. If it doesn’t, you remain no deader than you would have been otherwise. Using life insurance funding makes it an affordable option. It would seem to be a viable choice with potentially tremendous gain and nothing to lose.
Yet, the choice for cryonics has been made by only a microscopic percentage of the world’s population, despite decades of global publicity. Press someone to sign up, and objections arise. No sooner do objections come up than they are easily shot down – to no effect. 'No reputable scientist supports cryonics.' Drexler, Minsky, Merkle, Fahy, Wowk, de Grey, Harris, Kurzweil. 'It’s too expensive.' Life insurance can make cryopreservation as affordable as Home Cable – more affordable. 'You can’t raise the dead.' What about the thousands who die on operating tables annually and are revived? The embryos that have been frozen, implanted, and brought to term?
Each objection has an answer. And when all the objections are answered – the listener still creeps away. Clearly there are aversions to cryonics that have nothing to do with the reasons given.
Good reasons, and the practice of educating the public, certainly remain important. Advertising icon David Ogilvy expressed this perfectly when he said that buyers have a very deep need for rational reasons – to justify the irrational urges that really drive their choices.
techniques unearth those deeper, less obvious reasons? Of
course. Entire branches are devoted precisely to uncovering
visceral and unconscious reactions. Marketing analysts such as Harvard’s
Dr. Gerald Zaltmann 2 and
What might such factors be in cryonics? They may well be related to subjective fears involving helplessness and dependency while in a vulnerable state. Or fears of social condemnation. Or the result of childhood phobias relating to fears of defying God or the ‘natural order of things.’ Or quite probably something which we don't, at the moment, even suspect. Which reasons are central? How can they best be addressed? You simply don’t know until you do the research.
But do we do the available research? No. Money for technical research is always available. Money for social marketing research into making cryonics acceptable, so that mass support and donations might then fund technical research more powerfully than ever before, is never available.
Semi-rational factors explored by both qualitative and quantitative research are part of the discipline of social psychology. Academic researchers from Stanley Milgram 4 to Robert Cialdini 5 have shown decisively that many of our most important choices are made because of social influence. We see others making a choice or taking an action, and we are more inclined ourselves to make that choice or take that action. Humans are an imitative species, deeply predisposed to group pressure and peer influence. I suspect this has affected the acceptance of cryonics profoundly.
Consider only existing cryonics members. Their numbers are microscopic, yet globally dispersed. Many members have no one in their immediate social circle – in their entire city or region! – who shares their choice. Many members prefer to be anonymous, fearing ridicule or job discrimination. Few advertise the affiliation. Fewer still are public role models or even commonly known names. Most Americans are not moved by Eric Drexler’s or Marvin Minsky’s choice for cryonics because most Americans do not know who these worthy gentlemen are. If they saw a Tom Hanks, a Danny De Vito, a Tiger Woods opting for cryopreservation and liking it, would they be more inclined to sign too? The studies predict yes. But where Scientologists actively recruit figures like Tom Cruise or John Travolta, cryonics organizations don’t. In the case of Ted Williams they initially, and disastrously, even refused to admit that membership exists.
The vast majority of potential cryonics members don’t know, see, or associate with anyone who has chosen the cryonics option. To choose cryonics is often to stand alone – and to face the social criticism and implied social alienation that accrues to anyone who does something outside the ordinary, something felt to be socially condemned. Social psychology predicts that very few people indeed will take such a singular option. The history of cryonics confirms it.
One recent trend has been the growth of family memberships in cryonics. I’m pleased to say that that trend resulted from a conscious marketing decision made while I was at the Cryonics Institute. It was proposed, and accepted by vote, that members be allowed to give free memberships at no cost to small children, and at reduced cost to relatives. It worked. Memberships grew, and not only among those favored with a lower entry fee – although that marketing technique worked as well. Why did it work? Because it is simply a given that we do more easily what we see others do. So when children and spouses and siblings see significant, similar, respected family members or even friends making the choice for cryonics, they begin to the same choice too. And the more connected, and inter-connected, families are, the more the effect spreads.
But equally as important is the question of why did it take over twenty years to be made available? Every cinema in the country says, “Bring The Kids,” and nearly every one adds, “Half off!” too. Why does it take a generation for a similar insight to penetrate to organizations presumably dedicated to marketing?
Another social psychology principle is cognitive dissonance. Get people supporting an idea intellectually, behaviorally, even without commitment, and commitment follows. People who are asked to make a positive case for something end up convincing themselves.
One marketing idea I suggested – never taken up, like so many others – was to blanket as many universities as possible with the annual offer of a thousand dollars in scholarship funds for a winning essay about why one should sign up for cryonics. The organization would look good for supporting education; students would benefit; and many of them would be thinking and arguing strongly in favor of cryonics membership. Theory suggests memberships would burgeon. Practice confirms it – Charles Platt once remarked to me that a magazine contest offering a free cryonic suspension to the best essay on why the writer wanted to be suspended resulted in fifty later memberships from those writing losing entries. They failed to win, but their own writing had convinced them.
Can cryonics be successfully marketed? I have no doubt that it can. My certainty isn’t theoretical – a marketing orientation was taken by the Cryonics Institute from between 1998 to 2001. Membership jumped threefold. Cryonics can be marketed. But as a rule it isn’t. Once can point out that cryonics organizations have obviously marketed themselves badly – indeed disastrously, violating some very basic principles. A simple look at the record will confirm that. I contend that those poor approaches and their predictable results are at the heart of the failure of cryonics to win more hearts and minds. But why are those approaches so poor? It’s not that the marketing departments at the major cryonics organizations are under-funded or staffed with non-professionals. There are no marketing departments. There is no funding. There isn’t any staff.
That isn’t to say nothing is done. Certainly marketing decisions and efforts are made – that is an unavoidable aspect of the operations of any firm which deals with the public. But they’re not as a rule perceived to be marketing decisions or efforts. Events may be held, YouTube videos posted, journalist interviews given. But targeted goals for those efforts are not framed, alternatives are not tested, effects are not gauged, and accrued data does not reshape future efforts. We keep repeating the phrase, “Many are cold, but few are frozen,” because we think it’s witty. Does anyone else? Does anyone else sign up because we repeat that few are frozen? No. But we continue doing and saying what does not work.
“But that’s just one trivial example,” you may say. Granted. But graver errors are legion. Let me review a few, and indicate some alternative strategies.
The GaGa Principle
Perhaps the worst media error the cryonics movement has made is to adopt what I think of as the GaGa principle, named after its most egregious current practitioner, Lady GaGa. This principle states that press notice is always desirable no matter what the press actually says. Get your name in the paper at all costs and wallow in the subsequent notoriety. Any and all media attention is good. Of course things don’t always work that way. Hitler gets media attention, but Nazi party membership is not swelling. The reason why is no mystery: Hitler is not presented in a terribly appealing way.
So with cryonics. News coverage may present a lucid ten-second sound byte of Max More on the subject. But if it then brackets it with several minutes of disdainful cryobiologists saying cryonics will never work? Of scholarly ethicists shaking their heads at such self-centered defiance of God and Nature? Of video clips of a wild-haired Dr. Frankenstein in his lab raising the dead as thunder crashes? Well, what kind of a reaction can you expect?
We assume that if millions fail to get the message and one lone soul does, he or she may sign up and the cryonics movement is ahead one point. And if those millions simply miss the message, that might be true. But what if those millions are actively repelled by what they see? What if thousands, tens of thousands, millions, might react positively to a different presentation, but now slide instead into an anti-cryonics mindset almost by default, and rant in fury when they see someone they revere, like a Ted Williams, desecrated? If we say cryonics is saving his life, and hundreds of columnists say otherwise, blasting cryonics organizations for slipshod processes and a scam-like image, why should we be surprised at the storm that follows? But do we actively cultivate columnists, journalists, media figures, makers of opinion? Of course not. That takes time, effort, expertise, a dedicated professional staff – money. Far better to spend it on “Cryo-Feasts” and “Cryo-Gatherings,” where we only talk to one another, than on attempts to better address the world.
One of the greatest problems in marketing cryonics is that we do not begin on a level playing field. Cryonics is in the position once held by women, blacks and gays, dealing with a public that for decades has been drenched in negative and demeaning treatments and images. It isn’t a matter of launching a new product, but of re-launching a tainted and discredited one. Can that be done? It has been in other cases. But not by sending the same ineffective counter-productive message over and over.
The solution is simple. Control the message. The first and best way to do that is to send your own. The Cryonics Society, for instance, took a significant step in this direction when it sent a direct-mail message to roughly thirty-five thousand individuals. (The huge public outcry in that case? No abusive responses at all were received from the public.)
If you can’t control the message directly, or approach the messenger with professional staff? Then at least approach the messenger, the press, in a controlled manner. Know beforehand the message you want to get across, and the impression you want to make. Above all, watch and see what the public responds to positively and what it responds to negatively. Use the information to craft a stronger message next time.
Unless we can be very sure that the message going out is a good one, we should think long about sending it, and probably decline. No news can be good news, and people who hear a small series of good things about us will respond better than people who hear a lot of bad.
Marketing in cryonics has often been a game of trying to get press attention from a press that’s more concerned with sensationalizing and demonizing cryonics than with presenting it fairly. That may well be the strongest factor that has put cryonics where it is today.
But the next strongest is a problem affecting all marketing efforts: the sheer simple lack of familiarity and dialogue with consumers and clients. It’s not simply that there are no professional marketing analyses – no segmentation studies, no focus groups, no psychographic profiles, no controls. It’s not even that the cryonics organizations don’t pool data. It’s that customers are distant entities who show up once in a very long while at an annual gathering or an event, and are otherwise allowed to drift away on their own.
What does the customer want? How does the customer perceive the product? What obstacles does the customer face? What objections does the customer have? Customer-centered organizations tailor the product to customer needs. To do that you need to know those needs and address them in the customer’s terms.
The following example is not data-driven, but I think illuminating nonetheless. I once raised the subject of cryonics to a person many would regard as an extreme Christian fundamentalist. The response, as you may imagine, was not positive. His objections were clear and simple: (a) the people involved in cryonics were obviously godless unbelievers, best avoided; (b) the dead are taken to the bosom of God directly and their bodies down here stay dead, period; and, (c) besides, why would someone even want to remain here rather than go to Heaven? Cryonics was a flight from God, not a means to His service.
My response was equally clear. I pointed out that cryonicists were not in fact all unbelievers, that many were Christians like himself – indeed, that a former head of Alcor was an active Seventh-Day Adventist. I pointed out that people who die on operating tables are regularly revived, that hearts are stopped during cryosurgery for fifteen to twenty minutes and more, and that embryos – whom my anti-abortion listener considered to be full-fledged human beings – had been frozen and maintained for years before being brought to term. The decayed and dispersed dead might stay dead, but the relatively intact dead seem increasingly resilient.
But then I stopped playing the rational game, and engaged him as a person – spoke to his concerns. I asked him about his hopes as a Christian. What did he feel the Lord wanted him to do? What as a believer did he want to achieve? His answer was, to build his Church, to bring all the souls he could to Jesus. The man was in his late fifties, so I pointed out that he could only give a limited amount of time to those goals. But a comparatively brief nap in a dewar might allow him to devote decades – centuries! – to bringing thousands to the faith. He might well be able to spread the faith to other worlds! Perhaps God in His wisdom had allowed cryonics to be developed precisely in order for Godly believers like him to be able to serve The Lord as never before. Rather than looking at cryonics as an affront to the faith, had he ever taken the time to ask himself how cryonics might serve his faith? Might he not be failing in his duty as a Christian by failing even to ask?
A surprised facial expression replaced the earlier negative one, and the talk moved closer toward interested dialogue rather than hostile dismissal. Why not? His views were not being treated with hostility and dismissal, as he had assumed they would be. He’d seen cryonics presented in a way he hadn’t seen before. A way that fit his values and advanced his goals, rather than offended and hindered them, as a great deal of cryonics commentary is very ready to do.
This is what a customer-centered approach is all about. It’s not about making a case with reasons that sound compelling not necessarily to you, but to the customer. How can cryonics be presented in a way that fulfills their needs, their goals? You won’t sell a man a used car if you ask him to abandon his religion as a down payment, and you can’t sell cryonics that way either.
This is not a religious issue. It is a marketing one. The above approach would fall flat on a secular target market. The point is to probe each market segment, and tailor the approach. I once spoke about cryonics to a woman working with Alzheimer’s victims. Her interest in theology, pro or con, was nil. Her concern was a cruel disease and its equally cruel residual effects. The affected persons would lose their life savings, their dignity and their independence. In some cases the costs of care would leave their loved ones destitute. Those affected would increasingly monopolize the attention of care givers, medical personnel, family members – entire networks of people all around them were too.
I said that perhaps one day something like cryonics might be an alternative. By comparison the option would strain fewer resources, put no one through the agony of mental decline, burden no loved ones with care-taking that in some cases they simply could not afford or provide, and even give the person a hope of recovery, however small. She agreed that that might very well be a good thing.
Another convert? No. Simply another person who could suddenly see how cryonics could advance their agenda, instead of the agenda of cryonics activists.
This approach takes on genuine sophistication in developed marketing plans. Studies, interviews, focus groups, demographic and psychographic analyses of separate segmented target markets are run in depth, all with a common focus: finding the key ways in which a given product can fit in with the goals, hopes, views and lifestyle of various market segments. And when the matches are found? Sales follow.
We don’t yet have a customer-centered cryonics. We have a product that looks good to us, and we bellow out the reasons that make us like it. We don’t pay attention to whether that message gets through, or whether it works, or whether the reasons we give might be pushing people away rather than attracting them. We haven’t objectively studied the effects of our approaches, or framed or experimented with other more effective approaches. But they’re there. Ready to be applied.
Making It Easier
Let’s say cryonics organizations found a way to generate greater positive public interest. What comes next? The classic marketing problems – converting the customer from prospect to buyer, maintaining the customer, and developing the customer to use more products and/or bring in more sales.
What does a person need to do to take that first step from interest in cryonics to membership? At the moment, a lot.
a person in your town is interested in cryonics. What does he do about it? Well, he has to make an active effort to
pursue that interest, and he often has to do it alone. No cryonics salesman will come and call. Unless you’re living in
If he or she gets through all these barriers and decides, say, to actually join a cryonics organization? Then the person has to undergo a long and dispiriting obstacle course of dealing with paperwork, speaking to lawyers, making funding arrangements with insurance companies, talking to funeral directors, breaking the news to friends and family members and people some of whom will surely try to argue the person out of it, etc. etc.
In short: it’s very hard to sign up. Which is why even sympathetic and interested people don’t do it. And why many who do, drop out along the way.
The User Experience
The study of consumer behavior owes a great deal to Harvard psychologist Dr. B. F. Skinner. Skinner’s studies definitively showed the priority of proximal rather than distal reinforcement – less pedantically, that we are much more affected by things that make us feel good now rather than later.
Why do people smoke, drink, and have casual unprotected sex? Because cigarettes, alcohol, and sex feel good now; whereas lung cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, and AIDS feel bad many years later. Immediacy profoundly affects our behavior.
Businesses know this. Which is why your credit card, on which you are paying 29% interest now, came to you with 0% interest for the first six months.
In cryonics there is a tendency to think of a member as someone far away who needs no attention till death knocks at the door. At that point further service is called for, not before. This is not the approach growing businesses take. Successful businesses work to ensure that the experience of being a customer is positive, that a devotion to the company or brand is instilled, and that customers spread positive word about the service that attracts others.
What is the experience of being a cryonics member like? How do current members feel about it? What do they like or dislike about it? What could be done to improve that experience? To foster recommendations and referrals and testimonials – what has been called ‘customer evangelism’?
I realize that this too – like several marketing concepts – requires a shift of perspective. ‘Customer satisfaction’ is not a cryonics concept: we tend to think that the customer will be satisfied when he emerges from cryostasis, and not before.
But this is a limiting perspective – and, from the perspective of recruiting and maintaining customers, a fatal one. What cryonics delivers will not arrive for several decades at the earliest. But we have actual and potential customers here and now. We need to craft customer value and satisfactions that work here and now.
Life insurance is a good model. No one (other than cryonicists) buy life insurance because they expect to personally profit from it. The check arrives only when the customer is too dead to collect. So why is it almost universally purchased? The answer is that insurance salesmen sell immediate emotional satisfactions. Insurance lets you feel that your children are cared for, your parents will have some means of support, that charities which mattered to you will prosper. You feel better now. You do so because the salesman reminds you now. And keeps reminding you.
What is there about being a member of a specific cryonics provider that makes one feel good now?
Does membership push the fear of death back? Does it take you out of dull workaday life and give you a sense of one day being the hero of a great science fiction adventure? Do you like being a member of a small circle that includes a Drexler, a Minsky, a de Grey? Does it make you feel like an insightful radical in a world of conservative fools?
The smart cryonics organization will find the answers that most move the main segments of its target markets. And it will send them that message repeatedly.
Seeing Cryonics As A Business
To some, much of what I’ve written will be intrinsically distasteful. That reaction itself is one of the greatest obstacles faced by any attempt to marketing cryonics successfully – a distaste for business and marketing as such.
Here I must speak personally. I once recall chatting with the head of a cryonics organization who told me of his visceral disgust for marketing people. Not rational concern over the cost-versus-benefit effects of marketing – but physical disgust. Not surprisingly, one of that firm’s first steps was reducing its marketing efforts. Not surprisingly, that firm’s membership rate has been essentially stagnant for a decade.
Another time I had the quite stunning experience of presenting a company offer to store a large amount of DNA with a cryonics organization. The fee to store it was huge. The money could have funded any number of valuable initiatives (as well as helped ease an existing financial crunch). The only catch was that the deal was contingent on the organization showing reasonable industry standard guidelines for competent service, which should have been in place regardless of the offer. As the firm was facing a number of financial challenges at the time, I presented the announcement expecting a triumphant reception. The head of the firm, incensed, simply shouted it down. In true Stalinist fashion, a show of hands instantly and unanimously voted it into oblivion. The reason for the leader’s rejection? It was “not cryonics.” It was “another business!”
So it was. A successful business. A well-funded one. With research facilities, state-of-the-art equipment, competent personnel in a related field, promising extensive industry connections, and a way to provide needed income. It was indeed not cryonics.
For a long time I just did not understand the reasons behind what I saw as a disastrous business decision. But then I realized that the people making it were not businessmen and did not see themselves making business decisions or running a business at all. These were budding immortals, evolving toward the biological transcendence, pioneers of a new immortal humanity replacing the void left by non-existent Gods. The nuts-and-bolts of making a sale and pulling in fresh customers was – well, distasteful; an unfortunate temporary necessity at best.
The cryonics movement did not begin as a business, and to this day does not see itself as such. It began as a small group of individuals banding together to save their own lives. To carry that process through, it gradually became necessary to take on business trappings and business practices. But to build a successful business, to promote, to sell, was never the point. To save one’s self was the point. To devote time and effort to corporate growth, or even to saving as many others as possible, was a secondary concern – if a concern at all. Far better indeed to stay small, lest the boorish vox populi roar our cryopreserved bodies back to dust. Press attention proved irresistible, as self-advertising and vanity invariably do, so press attention was never rejected, despite the occasionally grotesquely destructive effects. But decades of existing on the social fringe followed, despite an intermittent media spotlight, and the same sad self-destructive fringe mentality the attitudes persist, crippling service, crippling growth, and preventing cryonics from developing.
Is there a plus side to that mentality? Alas there is, for a critical few who are deeply involved. Evolutionary psychologists like David Sloan Wilson 6 and philosophers like Daniel Dennett 7 have long studied the dynamics of religion and have come to see a major feature of its success in what is called in-group out-group valuation. Simply put, small groups evaluate their members more highly than members outside that group. Internal praise and external demonization helps the group cohere more strongly, and raises self-valuation ever higher. Indeed the more outrageous or offensive the group’s views or statements, the more they act to drive outsiders away, the tighter and stronger the tiny group becomes and the better members feel about themselves.
Does the history of cryonics not beautifully illustrate this phenomenon? Have not some cryonicists presented their little networks as a band of emerging immortals, men into science fiction supermen, smarter than the scientists, more far-seeing than the cryobiologists and the doctors, struggling heroically for true eternal life in a hostile world of deluded religiosity, mindless distraction, and socially conditioned Liebestod? How much more satisfying it is to be an evolving god, than a salesman, a pollster, a cheap huckster! How pleasant it is, to fantasize majestically than do one single effective concrete thing to advance a worthwhile goal.
Well – too bad. This is a world of global capitalism now, cryonics is a business operation, and if it and we survive at all it will be because cryonics finally learns how to operate as a business properly, instead of puttering along dependent on donations from wealthy members, and flirting with periodic threats of government shutdown in the wake of unnecessary repeated media debacles. Fantasias of godhood are all well and good, but bills and taxes and operating expenses need to be paid, or that money needs to come in from somewhere. A business, for-profit or non-profit, follows time-tested practices. It works and sometimes partners with other businesses. It creates products and provides services and attracts capital. It undergoes inspections and reviews processes. And it engages in regular and professional marketing.
The most surprising obstacle I’ve encountered in marketing cryonics is not customer reluctance – understandable enough, given the way cryonics has sometimes presented to the public – but the reluctance on the part of cryonicists to engage any customers as customers, to view themselves as a business at all. True believers beat the public up for being ‘deathists’ and preen themselves as futurist revolutionaries rather than service providers. The only problem is that when you don’t provide an attractive service, people don’t buy, the business falters, and everyone dies. Who are the “deathists” then?
Even today cryonics regrettably holds to an insular, anti-business, anti-marketing mindset. No, it doesn’t permeate every single individual in the movement. But while every company in the Fortune 1000 has large and influential and richly funded professional marketing departments, cryonics organizations – after over forty years – still have none. Not surprisingly, we’re not on the Fortune 1000. And we won’t be, until we realize that the way to grow as a business is to think and act and function like a business.
Anticipating The Future
So why hasn’t the public responded to cryonics? Because we’re unwilling to stop repeating messages that don’t work and don’t move them, or to spend the time and money needed to learn what will. The struggle for individual survival may be cryonics’ lasting refrain, but its music has drowned out the greater insight that the only viable path to individual survival is social acceptance.
Charles Platt, with typical penetration, once said that while cryonics organizations were in theory businesses, in practices they were far closer in spirit to non-profit charitable organizations, deeply dependent on wealthy benefactors and donations and bequests, and drawing on a base of underpaid and overworked staff, and unpaid volunteer efforts.
such organizations, the best that can be said is that they survive. And cryonics has. Worldwide, a tiny number of cryonics
providers have survived (all in the
But the future is another story. Are we really going to repeat the approaches we took when cryonics organizations were tiny bands of a few dozen individuals? We cannot afford to. A bunker-style clubhouse mentality may work when the club is a small handful of personal acquaintances, but we are reaching the point where patients are entering into the hundreds and memberships into the thousands. The old approaches are no longer tenable.
Historians – perhaps, one hopes, revived cryonics patients – will no doubt look back one day and debate whether the net impact of the cryonics movement advanced cryonics or severely retarded it. I don’t know the answer to that question. Had the term never been coined nor the first man frozen, might not cryobiological or corporate or military research have progressed solidly and surely behind the scenes, and made reversible cryopreservation a reality years ago? It may well be. Cryonicists have struggled tenaciously and bravely to save themselves and their loved ones, and that is never to be faulted. But they have not systematically and thoughtfully reached out to make their case to others in terms that those others can understand and accept. And that failure has put the whole movement not merely in jeopardy but in question.
Has the cryonics movement been struggling for life in a “culture of death,” or has it inadvertently been fostering death in a culture of life? The perhaps tragic answer to both questions is yes. But the solution to the problems posed by both questions is the same: it is necessary to systematically open oneself up to the culture within which we “live and move and have our being,” whether it is a culture of life or death. Not to attack it, or to flee it, or to disdain it, but to listen and enter into a productive dialogue, not an on-going and self-serving monologue.
What does this mean in practical terms? It means marketing: systematically experimentally studying, probing and interacting with the culture in which we live. Existing cryonics groups have applied virtually none of the many professional marketing approaches and resources available to building bridges to target markets and consumer populations. They simply have not thought in terms like that at all. That is why its history has been what it is. That is why it’s time to change.
Sociologist Max Weber lamented the growth of bureaucracy and organization, but large business organizations in a global capitalist world is what we are becoming, whether we like it or not. We can retard that process, and in that respect we’ve done all that we can.
But even the cryonics movement cannot stop the future from arriving. The future of cryonics organizations is a business future, where data-driven customer-centered marketing is an integral component. We can delay this inevitable transition, but it’s my strong hope that we will have the courage and insight to accelerate it, and to accelerate a swift new vital revival of cryonics – and, perhaps, of ourselves.
2. Gerald Zaltmann, Ph.D. – How Customers Think
3. Clotaire Rappaille, Ph.D. – The Culture Code
5. Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. – Influence
6. David Sloan Wilson, Ph.D. – Darwin’s Cathedral
7. Daniel Dennett, Ph.D. – Breaking The Spell