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Driving Sales, The Gates Effect And Flawed Marketing Vocabulary

Over the weekend a previously out of print business book, which was unknown to many and forgotten by most shot up the Amazon bestseller list. Why when we had previously ignored John Brooks’ Business Adventures were we suddenly snapping up enough copies to make it the #1 bestselling business book on Amazon and #3 amongst books in any category? What had driven these sales all at once?

It turns out that Business Adventures is Bill Gates’ favourite business book. He told the story of how Warren Buffet lent him a copy over two decades ago on his blog this weekend. It seems that this triggered a chain reaction of re-posting, enough to increase sales of the book. When the richest man in the world recommends his favourite business book, people pay attention.

The ‘Gates Effect’ reinforces the illusion of the quick win—the shortcut to mattering to customers. If only we could reproduce that kind of miracle in our businesses to drive sales and get results. This short term, tactical thinking is where we start to fall down as marketers. Not only is our thinking flawed but the old marketing vocabulary we have inherited to support it is too. In a world filled with infinite channels and so many choices the term ‘driving sales’ becomes less relevant with each passing day.

The dictionary defines ‘drive’ as causing to move by force or compulsion. While we may think a single event, promotion or offer has the power to drive a result, the truth is that results (especially sustainable ones), are not ‘driven’— they are fostered and nurtured. And we are free to choose both the actions and the language we use to support us in achieving those results.

Back to Bill…it’s easy to forget why the word of someone we admire and trust has such an impact. The sales triggered by Bill’s post are more than a tactic instigated over a weekend to make something happen—they are a direct result of a reputation built over decades. His recommendation is powerful not because of what was said, but because of who said it and why we believe him.

We each have the power to create our own version of the Gates Effect, to make something people want to talk about, to build trust and to in it for the long haul.

If we want people to listen to our marketing messages we have to stop looking for tactical shortcuts that we believe have the power to change what people think and do. Our best hope is to be good enough to change how they feel.

Image by Michael Holden.