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How Marcella and I Improved My Book Idea

“A champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning.” – Pat Riley

Yesterday, I had a meeting with Marcella to discuss one of several book ideas I’m working on. She had agreed to help me do the research for it.

The meeting started off badly, because it was my fourth meeting of the day and I was down on energy and unmotivated. Marcella was fired up and ready to go – but the peppier she got, the lower I sank in my seat.

I realized that if I allowed myself to give in to my ennui, only she would know. And because Marcella is a resilient person and seems to like working with me, she probably would be willing to cut me some slack.

It was tempting.

But if I let my gray mood overtake us, the meeting would have been a waste of time for both of us. I had to do something. So I decided I would simply confess to her how I felt.

I told her that although I’d felt sure I knew exactly what I wanted to write about when we first met, now I was confused.

Marcella said, “Would you like to leave the book discussion for another day?”

“You bet,” I thought. But I forced myself to say “No.”

Then I explained why I was confused.

My original idea was to write a book that would contain everything important that I had ever learned about marketing. Meanwhile, my book publisher, John Wiley, always wants me to write a book that could be a mainstream best-seller.

Marcella and I agreed that my original plan to create a sort of Michael Masterson encyclopedia of bits and pieces of marketing ideas was neither conducive to becoming a best-seller nor in the best interests of the reader.

“Do you think we can ‘reinvent’ the idea for the book in the 30 minutes we have left?” I asked.

She was more than agreeable to give it a try.

We talked about reverse-engineering success and about best-sellers in particular. We had each done a little thinking about this on our own, and agreed that one of the secrets to writing a really good book that sells well (think of The Tipping Point or Freakonomics) is to focus on one unifying theme that ties together several smaller but compelling ideas into a single big-feeling argument.

I told her I’d toyed with the idea of narrowing my subject so I could write a deeper, more thoughtful book – but narrow it to what? How could we do that? We looked over the outline I’d written:

  • The Cultural Power of Reciprocity: How to Use It in Advertising
  • Selling Products With Big, Compelling Ideas
  • Trapping Prospects With Engaging, Emotionally Useful Stories
  • Seeing Beyond Benefits to Deeper Benefits
  • Taking Advantage of the Customer’s Desire to Be Consistent
  • Using the Awesome Psychological Impact of Scarcity

What could be a unifying theme?

Without going into the back and forth, I am happy to report that we managed to arrive at one “Big Idea” that unified all the marketing concepts in my outline and had the kind of power you need to drive any good project forward.

Here’s the idea…

There are two types of buying – commodity buying and binge buying. In Africa, where people are very poor, commodity buying represents 95 percent of what they do. In America, where even poor people are rich by African standards, binge buying represents 95 percent of the market.

My book would be about how binge buying works, culturally and psychologically, and how anyone in business – from the assistant graphic artist to the marketing director to the CEO – can dramatically accelerate sales and improve business by exploiting these principles.

The imagination of the binge buyer is fed by fantasy and desire. Since it is thus fed, it can never be satisfied. This creates an opportunity and a responsibility for the intelligent businessperson. If you feed the fantasy responsibly (i.e., with the right fuel in the right quantities), you can have a much better customer and a customer for life. If you opt for junk fuel, you will lose your customer and you won’t know why.

This is, admittedly, a very abstract idea. But it was enough to get me excited and bring back the energy that had seeped out of me.

Marcella went away from the meeting with some good direction for her research, and I left it with a motivating book idea that still felt good this morning. (Always a good thing. Marketing ideas are like romantic opportunities: The light of the next day often transforms sirens into troglodytes.)

The experience proved, once again, that you can indeed make lemonade out of lemons if you are willing to keep on squeezing.

[Ed. Note: In April, Michael Masterson will lead 25 to 50 ambitious businesspeople through an elite 5-day program that can help dramatically increase the profitability of their businesses.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]