What Drives 3,041,392,654,528,514,532 People to Buy From You

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Scenario: "Well to really market our product to reach mass appeal, we just need to make the product better. That is, focus on our product's features and capabilities. The more money we put into it, the more features we'll have, the better our products. When we build it, they will come." With all due respect: Blah. Blah. Blah. Great products that reach mass appeal have barely anything to do with a product's features. Yet, you look out to the "super-awesome" business world, and you see the inevitable: more money placed into R&D, commercials highlighting more product features. And filmmakers spending millions on their movies to product the oh-so-cool-special-effects "that will attract millions alone."

It's a blah world out there with 0.0001% smart marketers.

We said earlier people don't buy product features; they buy on emotions. But, of course like all things, it's not that simple. You can sell "dreams" all you want; but, the masses won't buy from you unless they find others using your stuff. For instance, you can sell "status" all you want if you're a Mercedes salesperson; but if no one has bought a Mercedes in the last decade, you won't attract a sale.

What makes the masses buy?

To understand their purchasing decisions then, know this: The masses people use the the "who-else-is-buying" approach to influence their buying. That is, the more people that buy your product, the more people that want your product (i.e. Apple's iPod). And vice-versa (i.e. Dell's JukeBox).

It's in the study.

Columbia University's Matthew Salganik, Peter Sheridan Dodds, and Duncan J. Watts conducted this kick-ass study that showed the social network indisputably influenced purchasing decisions:


More than 14,000 participants were recruited through the teen networking site Bolt, and the impact of social influence on their choice of songs to download was tested.


After seeing a selection of 48 digital songs by unknown bands displayed on a Web page, participants were asked to choose songs to listen to and then allowed to download the ones they liked.


As they arrived at the site, they were randomly allocated to one of two experimental conditions: "independent," in which they saw only the names of the bands and songs; or "social influence," in which they were further divided into eight distinct "worlds," and could see, in addition to the bands and songs, how many times each song had been downloaded by previous participants in their respective worlds. There were three main findings:
  1. Finding One

    First, social influence increased the inequality of outcomes in all eight worlds, meaning that popular songs were more popular and unpopular songs were less popular than when participants made decisions independently.
  2. Finding Two

    Second, however, which particular songs would turn out to be successful in any given world was more difficult to predict.
  3. Finding Three

    And third, both inequality and unpredictability increased as the strength of social influence was experimentally increased. Overall, the "best" songs rarely did very poorly, and the "worst" songs rarely did very well, but any other outcome was possible.

"What do I do then?"

Our three biggest recommendations for you:

  1. Stop wasting a chunk of your investment dollars on "product features."

    Putting more money into R&D won't buy you the masses. A crazy number of companies are putting their dollars creating crazy features that won't cause a dent in the market. Don't be them. Know that the social network influences the masses. Then, budget your investment dollars keeping that concept in mind.
  2. Tap the influential social network superstars.

    Big-time bloggers, Hollywood celebrities, All-world athletes. They're ridiculously influential people who get a ridiculously number of people to buy what they recommend. Nike became huge because of Michael Jordan. The Sidekick went big because of teen celebrities. And nerds around the world knew about Web 2.0 players because of TechCrunch.
  3. Build small. Grow from there.

    And folks, here's the secret sauce: products don't become instant hits overnight. Instead, it takes time, dedication, and persistence. Most importantly, it takes patience to know overnight hits won't happen. To reach the masses, first go through the few influential superstars who have a ridiculous following (See Point ^2 above). Only then can you gradually build your customer base that leads to mass appeal.

The badass thesis:

Attract the few highly ridiculous influential to reach the 3,041,392,654,528,514,532.

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Posted on August 28

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