Following are the words of one of the greatest marketing minds of all time:
“Know how to sell your wares. It is not enough that they have intrinsic merit, for everyone does not bite the substance nor look within. Most go where there is a crowd, and go because they see that others go. Also, to offer a thing only to connoisseurs is a means to universal interest, because people either believe themselves to be such, or, if not, they find the lack incites desire.”
Believe it or not, this marketing wisdom came from a 17th century Jesuit priest by the name of Baltasar Gracian. If the Internet had been around in his day, he would have eaten the competition alive.
Those of you who are familiar with my work know that I continually urge readers not only to read as much as possible, but to read the works of the great philosophers. Their words are as meaningful today as when they first penned them, because the fundamentals of life never change.
By fundamentals of life, I am referring to such things as universal laws, philosophical insights, and human nature. For example, the same subjects and emotions that motivated people in the times of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates — such as immortality, fear, greed, and romance — still motivate people today.
When my first book was rejected by twenty-three publishers, I made the decision to publish it myself. It was a bold undertaking, and it took nearly three years from the time I ran my first ad until the book made it to #1 on The New York Times bestseller list.
But it didn’t happen by accident; every step of the way was carefully calculated. And my calculations were based on the advice of none other than Baltasar Gracian.
In fact, most of my strategy was based on his seventy-one words quoted at the outset of this article. That being the case, I thought it would be useful to readers to take a closer look at those insightful words.
“Know how to sell your wares. It is not enough that they have intrinsic merit, for everyone does not bite the substance nor look within.”
This was the first time I can recall consciously thinking about the reality that it’s not enough just to have a good product. When people buy through direct mail, infomercials, or the Internet, no one “bites the substance or looks within.”
In other words, it’s not the product that sells the prospect; it’s what you tell him about the product that motivates him to buy. This was an important first step in shedding my naive belief that if my book was as good as I thought it was, everyone would rush out to buy it.
In the event you still harbor such a naive mind-set, I strongly advise you to switch mental gears. A product selling solely on the basis of its quality is an idealistic thought, but it’s simply not reality.
I feel sorry for first-time authors when I hear them talking enthusiastically about the literary infant they have just brought into the world. You can tell by the excitement in their voices that they truly believe word will spread like wildfire about how good their book is.
But when you run into them a year later, they’re usually frustrated and even bitter. It’s a bitterness that results from their having been through the standard, mainstream publishing routine. The routine I’m referring to is when a publisher prints 5,000 copies of a book and “shotguns” it out to a modest number of bookstores — with no advertising support and very little PR to make people aware that the book even exists.
The books of these once enthusiastic authors almost always die a swift but quiet death, and all the publisher can say is, “Maybe it’s just not the right book at the right time.” I’ve had a ton of firsthand experience with mainstream publishers, and I can tell you that my eighteen-year-old son knows more about marketing than the heads of any of their marketing or publicity departments.
How is that possible, you ask? It’s a result of publishing higher-ups being comatose from having their brains saturated with conventional wisdom. When it comes to marketing, mainstream publishers are clueless.
“Most go where there is a crowd, and go because they see that others go.”
Baltasar Gracian’s words gave me the idea for the ad campaign I implemented to market my first book. I put a lot of thought into molding a perception that the book had created a worldwide frenzy.
My objective was to make the reader of the ad feel that he was missing out on something big, something that everyone else seemed to know all about. The strategy worked better than I could have ever imagined.
The common term for this phenomenon is “madness of the crowd.” It’s the same phenomenon that has fueled stock-market bubbles throughout history.
Little wonder that the most successful ad I ever ran for my book displayed this headline: “What’s All the Commotion About?” The second sentence following the headline read: “What are the realities set forth on the pages of this myth-shattering, tradition-shaking volume that continue to fascinate profit-oriented people around the globe?”
The remarkable thing I discovered was that by creating the impression that the book was causing a frenzy, a frenzy ultimately developed. In other words, the artificially created perception became the reality. It took a lot of persistence and a great deal of time, but I found, to my delight, that most people do, in fact, go where there is a crowd.
“Also, to offer a thing only to connoisseurs is a means to universal interest, because people either believe themselves to be such, or, if not, they find the lack incites desire.”
Subtle or not so subtle, it’s always a good idea to let prospects know that your product is only for individuals who are special. The vast majority of people who read your ad see themselves as a cut above the rest of the population.
But, as Baltasar Gracian pointed out, those who feel inferior might still buy because they desire to raise themselves to a new level. Everyone wants to be considered special.
I could write a book — a very long book — about what I’ve learned about copywriting, deal-making, and negotiating from the great philosophers throughout history, not to mention what they’ve taught me about life in general. However, until I do, I would suggest that if you’ve missed out on the treasure chest of wisdom offered by these remarkable sages, you start investigating their works today.
And Baltasar Gracian’s works are a good place to start.