Episode #89: A Brief Trip Down the QAnon Rabbit Hole

Today we make an unscheduled stop at QAnon. But don’t worry, we’re only visiting. Just long enough to explore the psychology that makes doomsday cults so popular and enduring. It’s a look into why humans want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and how we, as marketers, can tap into those same desires to improve customer experiences.

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Welcome to the CXM Experience. As always, I’m Grad Conn, CXO, chief experience officer at Sprinklr. And we’ve got kind of a serious show today. So I’m gonna start with something a little lighter just to get the ball rolling. And then I want to talk about cults and politics. And I don’t normally talk about politics on this show. In fact, I’m pretty sure I haven’t ever talked about politics. I don’t think you even know what my politics are. And you won’t even really know at the end of this show what they are either, but you might have to guess, and you would probably guess wrong.

Anyway. So let me start with something else. Jimi Hendrix, our patron saint here. So there’s a really great article today in Boing Boing. So I don’t know if you read Boing Boing, but boingboing.net is the most linked to blog on the web, which is pretty cool. There are 500 million blogs. And this is the most linked to blog on the web. I have been reading Boing Boing multiple times a day, every day, since 2009, maybe 1999. Maybe. Yeah, like more than 20 years. That’s crazy. And it was co-founded by someone who I know and love very dearly, Cory Doctorow, who was my co-founder on a company called Opencola, which was a dotcom back in the day that did open source search software using peer-to-peer networking. Very, very cool company. And many of the things that we were doing back then have all kind of come true, just you know, just not for us.

Anyway, there was a Boing Boing article. I just saw it yesterday, and it was how Jimi Hendrix… actually it was today, it was posted this morning, four o’clock in the morning… how Jimi Hendrix derailed the Lulu Show and was banned from the BBC. And there’s this great story about Jimi Hendrix, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. That’s right, that’s what his band was called, the Jimi Hendrix Experience. And if you didn’t know that, if you’re going, Oh, that’s why it’s called the CXM Experience. I’m going to say shame on you, but thank you for coming to the party.

Anyway, so it was January 4, 1969, the Jimi Hendrix Experience is appearing on a live Lulu show in Britain. Back then live was live. There were no delays, it’s just live. So they had to coordinate everything, they couldn’t record it and stuff. And they were supposed to play out the program with Hey, Joe. But then Jimi apparently had other ideas. So basically, he got kind of high in the dressing room. And he heard that Cream had just broken up. Of course, Cream, one of the great bands of all time. And so he decided to do a cover of Sunshine of Your Love, which is a Cream song, to close up the show. But he also played over the show, played over the shows credits, played over the shows titles, played over the shows closing music, and was then banned from the BBC forever.

But they actually have, if you go to BoingBoing.net and look this up, there is actually a Vimeo link, and they’ve got both his opening song, which was Voodoo Child, and then their outgoing performance of a brief few bars of Hey, Joe, and then sunshine. So if you’re into classic rock, and you enjoy Jimi Hendrix, I think this is a very enjoyable post that brings back a little bit of music history, which is always really, really fun to do.

But we are now going to talk about a different kind of experience and different kind of mayhem, which is to talk about QAnon today. I’m like super duper fascinated by this group. And mostly from the standpoint of the mindset and the experience of it. And I particularly want to talk about it today, because you may not know this, but many people do because it has been on the homepage of CNN for at least, at least a couple of weeks and potentially longer.

So, the way that we work at the CXM Experience is I work very closely with my producer and erstwhile colleague and friend Randy Choco. And Randy and I do the show together, typically in one take unless I’m in really rough shape. There was one show last week where I think I did four takes and at some point I just said, Randy, please edit this together and he did a great job. But typically, I’ll just do one pass straight through kind of like I’m doing today. And then Randy will then softly edit it, clean up anything that might be weird. Throw on the front-end song and titles, package it up, do the scripting and transcripts And then start to distribute it on the platforms the next morning. So it’s kind of recorded one day, out the next. And we do that five days a week, during the weekdays. So, my Monday show appears on Tuesday, my Friday show appears on Monday. That’s how it’s gonna go.

We are actually changing the recordings we do on Fridays. And so we’ll have a new type of Monday show starting in about two weeks, which you’re gonna love. It’s going to be a really neat way to start your week, and it’ll be my first regular guest slot. So I’m going to have somebody who will be a regular guest, pretty much every single Monday, you know, to infinity or or beyond.

So, tomorrow is March 3rd. I’m recording the show right now on March 2nd. Tomorrow’s March 3rd. So you’re listening to this show right now, if you’re listening to it live on March 3rd. So tomorrow, March 4th… Okay, you still with me? Okay. So tomorrow, March 4th, is the day that QAnon followers believe that Donald J. Trump will be re-inaugurated as President of the United States. I’ll do another show, which I’ll record on March 4th and I’ll post on March 5th, going over what did or didn’t happen on March 4th, which should be quite interesting.

So they genuinely believe that Donald Trump will be re inaugurated on March 4th. Just randomly. Somehow he’s gonna get re-inaugurated. And it’s interesting, this is very much the kind of thinking that you see in Doomsday cults, which have been around for a long time. Particularly prominent the last… they’re very prominent around the ends of millenniums. Right? So at the end of the millennium, you’ll see the cults really emerge.

Sorry, my dog was starting to sleep bark. I just had to give her a little cuddle. She’s okay now. So you’ll see them around the millennium. So it was crazy, when the year 1000 came around, because that was supposed to be the return of Christ. And the cults were out of control back then, in a way you can only imagine the Middle Ages would have been. But of course, 2000 was nothing to laugh about either. And so there’s been a lot of this over the years.

But the way Doomsday cult typically works — and Corey actually writes about this quite a bit in Boing Boing — is a doomsday cult will set a date for the end of the world or some particularly egregious event. And they will build a group of followers who plan and prepare for that day. Typically cash out their own personal wealth and put all that into the account of the cults. And sometimes, they actually go as far as actually killing themselves on that day, which has happened a few times. But most of the time, what happens is they say, this is the end of the world, it’s gonna be done. Twenty… what was the one with the Mayan calendar? Remember that? They actually did a movie on that. 2011 I think? Because the Mayan calendar ended then. And so it’s like, well, I guess that the Mayan calendar, which is this stone calendar made by people who didn’t have wheels and who tore hearts out of people for sacrifice, they didn’t have a calendar that went past 2011, that must be the end of time, right? Of course. And we’re still here.

These doomsday cults are very popular. And they work very well because they set a very specific goal. And people do love shooting for goals. And I’m going to relate this all, by the way, to customer experience in like 10 seconds. So stay buckled up and keep your seatbelt on. And QAnon has done a very interesting thing, which I don’t think I’ve seen this before, which is they’ve used the doomsday cult outcome-based targeting, so people can feel like there’s something to shoot for. And then the trick is to make it…, I think they made a little mistake here. Usually a really good doomsday cult sets the date in a way where it’s in the future, a ways away. But not so far away that you can’t imagine getting there. Right? So I think if I was QAnon, March 4, it’s too quick. It’s too fast, right? There’s not enough time. It would have been so much better if they’d done it like coincident with the midterm elections, or two years from now. Something like that. But I guess it’s hard with these randomly organized groups to do this kind of stuff.

So anyways, they set a very specific date. A lot of people are very excited about it. And apparently all sorts of people are going to DC. Airbnb is doing an amazing job actually of spotting people who are part of this movement and making sure that they’re not going to be trashing people’s houses and all that kind of stuff. And I’m sure there’s a lot of great FBI work going on, a lot of great CIA work going on, and a lot of great Homeland Security work going on. And thank you to all the people that are involved in those efforts.

Of course, I can I tell you right now what my show is gonna be on March 4, which is nothing’s gonna happen. And Biden will remain President, as you know, he’s rightfully inaugurated. And Trump will remain at Mar a Lago, and he’ll be sipping Mai Tais and, I guess he doesn’t drink. He’ll be playing golf, I guess. But a lot of people are gonna be really excited about this, and they’re gonna be really disappointed.

And so what’s interesting in these Doomsday cults is that when the date comes and then passes without anything happening, there’s always like a, well, we made a miscalculation. When we were reading it, we did this very complicated calculation, but we left off a zero, or we did this wrong, or we didn’t notice this, or… there’s always a good explanation for it. So look for a good explanation from Qanon why March 4th, didn’t turn out to be the March 4th, that they were predicting. And it is a pretty good ongoing fundraising tool to have these kind of constant dates.

So, why am I talking about this with customer experience management? So the moral of the story is, all this stuff is about human behavior, right? And QAnon and all these other movements, they’re all just parts of humanity. And there’s always going to be people attracted to these things. As crazy or not crazy as they are, there’s always going to be people attracted to these things.

And what are they tapping into? They’re tapping into a psychological need for closure. And a psychological need to be part of something big, and a psychological satisfaction of an achievable goal that’s in the short term. As you think about your customer experience flow, I see too many CX flows, not really clearly laying out how long it’s going to take. Like, what’s the date, right? I don’t even know where I am in the process, I’m sort of lost. I also see a lot that don’t do a very good job of making me feel like I’m part of something bigger. Even if I’m just buying a glass bowl, maybe that glass came from somewhere special. Maybe that company does a really cool thing with recycling. Make me feel like I’m part of something bigger, make me feel important.

People want to feel important. People want to feel that they didn’t waste their time here. That they were significant that they made a difference that their presence on the planet was noticed, that they were part of something big, right? You can do that with any product. You can do that with toilet cleaner, okay? So don’t say, why I’m only selling toilet cleaner. Your toilet cleaner can be a big deal for people. Your toilet cleaner can be saving lives, it can be changing forests, there’s all sorts of stuff that it can be doing. Leverage that. Tie into that.

And I do think that having fun with CX and having fun with experience and thinking about how people want to be important. They want to be part of something. They like achievable goals that are ahead of them. Borrow the lessons from doomsday cults. Borrow the lessons from QAnon in terms of how to architect human behavior, and you’ll find that your own human behavior will be better as well.

I’ll end with a really quick story which was passed… I can’t actually find it for some reason. Someone gave it to me in one of the billion channels that I look at every day. It’s a really great story. It was an interview with somebody who was relating the story of how she recently bought a car. She called it her pandemic Porsche. So some people were buying pandemic picnic sets, and whatever. She bought a pandemic Porsche. And she had two Porsche dealers in her city, I think she was in Chicago. And so she called the first one and they’re like, you got to come in, and you’ve got to test drive. And she’s like, I don’t really want to come in and test drive it. There’s this pandemic going on. I really want to just get this car and I want it sent to me and they’re like, sorry, we only sell it by you coming in and you physically being here and test driving. She’s like, Okay, I think I’m gonna pass on that.

And she called the other Porsche dealer and said, Hey, thinking about this car, and they’re like, no problem. On it. What are you looking for? And then the person actually set up a Zoom meeting with her, and they together assembled her dream Porsche, which was a white, I think it’s a 911. A white 911 with a tan interior, which is an unusual combination. Kind of cool, actually. Usually it’s black interiors and white cars. And then she forgot about it, because it was kind of a pandemic Porsche. She didn’t really need it. And then this person hit her on LinkedIn, the salesperson, and said, Hey, this is kind of cool, how are you doing, any more work, any more information, here’s the latest pricing. And she’s like, oh, cool, and then she forgot about it again. And then this salesperson hit her again on WhatsApp. And what the person showed her was this white 911 with a tan interior rolling off a truck. With a big bow around it. Saying your car has arrived, your perfect car has arrived. It’s here, it’s waiting for you.

And as she was relating the story, she’s like, it was so interesting, because the first place is never gonna get her business. The second place wasn’t sure it was going to get her business, but the persistence and the multi-channel, omni-channel reach out, had very, very powerful impact. And she then went to the dealership and she took the car and she’s very happy with it.

As you think about customer experience, you have to think about customers today, living on multiple channels, wanting to dream, wanting to have fun, wanting to be part of something cool. And wanting to see Donald Trump re inaugurated on March the fourth. Alright, so you never know. I’ve been wrong before. Not usually about things like this, but there’s always the possibility that I will be shamefacedly saying, Well, how about that, Donald’s back. We’ll see what happens.

But for today, we still live in the real universe. And I’m Grad Conn, for the CXM Experience, and I’ll see you next time.