Heath Evans is a marketing and communications strategist, innovator, entrepreneur and Coach.

Stuff I write

How Bill Gates reads books, and what every marketer can learn from this.


As I watched Bill Gates share the four things he does to get the most out of reading, there was one tip which made me extremely uncomfortable.

Gates, a passionate reader (consuming around a book a week (50 per year) shared the following advice.

1. Take notes in the margins

2. Don’t start what you can’t finish

3. Paper Books > ebooks

4. Block out an hour (to reflect)

I couldn’t believe it. Bill writes in his books? Why would he do such a thing? Doesn’t he love them? Why Bill?

I was always taught that there is no greater crime than writing in a book.

As extreme as this sounds, my mother is an English teacher and books are to be treated with the greatest respect, to take pen to a page is the ultimate insult. To this day I’m highly protective of my collection.

However, whilst at first I felt really uncomfortable disagreeing with one of the most brilliant minds on the planet, I quickly realised I was missing the point and that there was an intriguing insight in this example that many marketers would appreciate.

This wasn’t about being right or wrong, it’s just about the ability to use empathy to explore different worldviews and understand why we may share the same motives and beliefs, yet our behaviour is completely different.

Bill Gates clearly loves his books just as much as I do.

His note taking is a form of emotional labour that ensures he is invested in the content and able to extract the individual value of each book — it’s an act of passion.

Similarly, my girlfriend Nichole recently described her joy when opening a cook book to discover it has reached a point where finger prints show her favourite recipes, the more flour, the greater the love.

In all three examples, there is a deep love and respect despite the fact that each person behaves completely differently. Each person treats the books in a way that seems somewhat odd and even offensive to the next person, yet each behaviour is also completely logical once you understand that person’s worldview.

How might this same insight help you consider the way you’re segmenting your market?

How might you produce a different experience if you were able to recognise these nuances in the way your products are consumed?

If segmentation was based purely on purchasing, there’s a good chance that all three of us would be grouped together in some circumstances, but would one solution meet all our needs?

Possibly. But not perfectly.

What would you do differently if you knew your customer wanted wider margins, or a way to keep the pages free of fingerprint? How might you design a different experience that makes the reader feel like this book was designed just for them?

When Seth Godin’s 800 page, 7kg Titan arrived at my doorstep this week, my girlfriend thought I was joking when I said I would love to buy a pair of white gloves to ensure it maintains its ‘as-new’ feel.

How might my experience have been enhanced if a pair had been included, better still if they’d featured my name and a letter that showed he understand how I was planning to engage with the book?


When Seth created this book he did so in a way that ensured it wasn’t for everyone, he made it limited edition and crowdfunded. He designed it for his tribe, and featured every one of their names in the first five pages — sending a clear message — this book was made for you.

So as a bit of fun, think about the way you consume books.

How might you design the ultimate experience for you?

What features would you include? What would you remove? What would you say?

How would you create something that felt like it was made just for you?

Then consider…do I approach my own products with this level of focus?

If I knew my perfect customers so intimately how might I create a product that would feel like it was just for them.

For many businesses this is extremely difficult as the current target audiences are simply too broad.

So ask yourself — can you segment further and what would happen if you did?

You may discover your audience size would shrink. Your product may no longer be for everyone. But that’s the point.

To create the perfect product for somebody, you have to make compromises that mean it’s no longer for everybody. This focus on depth over breadth is the best growth strategy I know as as long as you’re satisfying the needs of your audience better than anyone else, you’ll never be short of loyal customers.

Heath Evans