Sunday, June 1, 2008

Big Business, Meet Shidduchim

The state of shidduch making today points to a reliance on the "big business" model and approach. In this approach a company follows a collaborative model from inception of a product idea to final placement in the market.

There are multiple levels of responsibility in this model of business. Various people have responsibility for moving the product along. First, of course, comes the Product Development team. They are responsible for creating the vision for the product right at the beginning. They know that there may be other, similar products on the market but they believe that their version is unique and adds something that no other example of the product does. In other instances the Product Development Team knows that a particular item is selling like hotcakes and they want to cash in on the trend.We can call this team the parents of the product.

Next up is the Research and Development team. Their job is to look at all other similar products and to make sure that their product fits into the field it will be associated with. Their job is to fine tune the original concept and to put it into a final form that they believe will sell on the open market. They worry about things like color and trim and usefulness. Let's call them the School and Educator people.

Okay, so we have a product. It's not yet ready to be sold yet. First we need the input of the Marketing and the Consumer Psychology experts. These people are responsible for "taking the temperature" of the buying public. They are going to do some consumer testing to see if the new product will raise any enthusiasm in the buying public. They are going to do surveys and sampling tests and they are going to analyze all the data they can get their hands on. They are going to look at what consumers are buying and why and see how the new product fits into the buying patterns. They are going to ask questions, lots of questions. They will report back with their findings and recommend any tweaking of the product that is necessary for it to fit into its proper niche. Let's call them the Shadchan team. This team sometimes includes psychologists who specialize in product relationships.

Are we done yet? Nope. That product has to be packaged to catch the right consumer's eyes. Packaging specialists look to enhance the product's basic looks through the use of throwaway wrappings. The packaging is not a part of the permanent structure of the product but can be key in selling the product. The "plainer" the product or the more different it is from others in its field, the more the packaging experts work to make it look more attractive to a specific consumer. Packaging specialists can include but are not limited to beauticians, clothing store owners, hair stylists, sometimes shadchanim who are doing double duty, and friends of the product who want it to conform to the right standards. Parents sometimes also do double duty in this category. Educators consider themselves ideally situated to take on this job also.

Next up we have the group responsible for advertising the product. It's no use having a new product if nobody knows about it. It is absolutely essential to create a public awareness that a new product is out there and to create a desire for that new product. Let's call this team the Everybody-you-have-ever-met-and-lots-of-strangers-too Team.

The Internet has become an integral part of many businesses. It is this way in shidduchim as well. You get wider exposure through the Internet than you do with many traditional means of communication. Let's call this the Online Shidduch Site team.

Done yet? Nope. Consumers also play a role in how successful a new product will be on the market. One person hears about a new product and maybe tries it. His/her experience with that product will be shared with other people who might be considering buying the product. Word of mouth is a much used selling tool. Let's call this the People-who-have-dated-other-people Team.

There are specialized consumers who function as arbiters of taste and who serve as setters of fashion. Other consumers tend to follow their lead. These consumers decide which products are worthwhile, which packaging is "in," which product characteristics are what is being looked for. In this group we can put rabbanim, roshei hayeshiva and heads of schools. Sometimes these consumer leaders are influential members of a community.

Launching a new product, despite all the work done beforehand, is not the end of the involvement of all these teams. They keep a watchful on the newly launched product to see how it is doing in the open market. They look at how much market share the new product seems to be garnering. They may have to adjust product placement along the way; it may be possible that the product is placed in the wrong place to find the consumers it needs. They may fiddle with packaging and/or presentation. All teams mentioned so far are involved in this aspect.

While individual inventors and designers may have only one product that is their "baby," the company, as a whole, may be launching a slew of new products all at the same time. Some may find their ideal consumer right out of the starting gate; some may be slower to catch on. And some may not catch on at all. They may languish on shelves while other, newer products are whisked out of the stores.

Some manufacturers never give up hope that their product will eventually find its proper niche. They believe fully in that product. Other companies seem to write off the product if it doesn't take off by some arbitrary date and deadline. Some manufacturers seem to take the attitude of "if it sells it sells, if not okay too." They leave the product out there and hope for the best. Others recall the product and stop working to place it properly. Some take the stance that the product was introduced "before its time" and will do better at a later date.

Some products take a hand in the process all on their own. They may only be a "product" but they know something that many team members don't: some products get better as they age. Some products become better and more valuable the older they get. Some products need time to achieve the patina that will attract the discerning consumer. Some products don't care who buys them as long as it happens now. They are all flash and dazzle with a snappy packaging but perhaps not too much in the box. Other products are not looking for just any home to grace but for just that perfect home.

The Big Business Model assumes that if you follow a pattern you will come up with the right results. This Model assumes that manipulation is part of the process. This Model assumes that products and consumers are merely playing pieces that can be moved around at will. This Model relies a lot on illusion--what you think you see but that may not really be there.

Application of the Model to shidduchim is not working out nearly as well as was hoped by those applying it. There is one simple explanation for why not. People are not products, are not inanimate objects created through a manufacturing process that creates identical items. People are unique; what works for one may not work for another. Unless and until the communities stop trying to "peddle" people as if they were just another product on a shelf we are going to continue to hear about an artificial "shidduch crisis." "Buying" and "selling" people is already illegal and it should be considered unethical and immoral also.


Bas~Melech said...

Nice analogy.

Anonymous said...

Just what I've been thinking for a long time. Bad enough we're selling our children, and we're not really very good at it either. Time to look for another model. Maybe a hands off approach is finally called for. Maybe laissez faire government?

Anonymous said...

I am not convinced you are getting at the core of the problem. That would seem to be that shidduchim have taken on added functions beyond helping singles meet compatable partners. One is to bolster the status of the family or yeshivah of the singles. This gives at least 3 parties (the parents and the boy's yeshivah), to whom the couple seems to cede too much power, motives other than the couple's well-being. The other is for social control; families are being pushed toward ever higher levels of chumrah by fear of not inding shidduchim for their kids (or their brother's kids or even their second cousins--
no kidding about this one; it happened to me)

ProfK said...

Mike S,
You are of course right that there are other causes of the shidduch problems extant today. I began with the Big Business Model because it was and still is one major approach. Once you concede that making shidduchim is not about the marriage of one boy and one girl who should be looking for lifetime partners that fit who they are, not who someone else would like them to be, then you open the door to other approaches such as the ones you mentioned. "Yichus" has always been around but it, too, has become institutionalized as yeshivas and seminaries get into the "game." Social control is next up on my agenda.

Anonymous said...

Mike, bolstering status is part of the big business plan. You aren't really all that different from lots of others so you have to make it seem that you are. You get name cachet. And you concern yourself with anything that could damage that name and your possible future sales. For a yeshiva that translates to making sure that all graduates are the same and that all of them carry your brand name out with them. Even though it is parents who raise kids, the yeshiva has made itself part of the process--it's like they make you a franchise or a licensee of their brand. You aren't really an independent merchant anymore. And you pay them for the privelege of not being boss in your own establishment. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Has to be a way to stop the process although I admit I don't know how except for each set of parents rebeling.

Anonymous said...

Yes, shidduchim have become a business, but it sometimes seems more like monkey business. The rules make no sense and no one could possibly believe that this is the best way could they? Please tell me that they don't really believe this is a good thing they are doing.

Anonymous said...

Zak said...
The easy part is describing the model, although you did a good job of it. The hard part is persuading people that the model doesn't work. The problem is that it works just fine for the schools who are not going to want to change it. It doesn't work for the students and parents who are in the least position to dictate terms. Frankly, it's going to take a parent or two with real money who get fed up with the system and who declare that the style is over and put in something more favorable to the actual people who are getting married.

Michelle said...

As a marketing minor on the shidduch "market," I thoroughly enjoyed this post :)))