How did an out-of-fashion shoes sell more than 430,000 pairs from 30,000 pairs in just 2 years? Why did crime rates in New York suddenly plummet in the 90’s? Why do some ideas go viral, while others don’t? How come some movies become box office hits, and others don’t? Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point tries to answer all of that.
What is the Tipping Point?
Let me start with a great comeback story. The shoe brand Hush Puppies started seeing a decrease in their shoes sales prior 1994. Their annual sales went down to 30,000 pairs. The company thought of phasing out the shoes that made them popular. However, something strange happened between 1994 and 1995. Out of the blues, the company heard that their shoes suddenly become hip in clubs and bars in downtown Manhattan. Apparently, some kids started buying Hush Puppies shoes and began wearing them again. They went from 30,000 pairs of shoes sold annually to 430,000 shoes sold in 1995. It doubled the following year, and increased more the next year. Previously, their shoes were sold only in small local stores and now they are in huge malls all over America and even the world. How did just kids influence others to sport an outdated fashion?
Crime rates in 90’s New York followed the similar trend. By dusk, the streets are clear due to high crime rates. Not a single person was on the streets; kids were not riding around their bicycles; and the elderly were not out and about. However, in 1997, streets started to be filled again with people, bike-riding children, and the elderly. How and why? All of a sudden, murder cases were reduced by 64.5 percent and crimes were cut in half within 5 years. It is impossible to think that all criminals agreed to not commit crimes at the same time, right? There should be the presence social changes that made this possible.
How did Hush Puppies go viral? Why did crimes stop so abruptly? The answer is the tipping point. The Tipping Point is a small event or behavior that can cause huge, abrupt effects. It also applies to the spread of ideas, brand awareness, and life in general.
The Power of the Tipping Point
Law of the Few
Economist often talk about the Pareto Principle. A principle wherein 80 percent of the effect come from 20 percent of the causes. This principle is applicable to any situation. Perhaps, an example of this could be that 80 percent of sales are made by only 20 percent of salesmen. That sounds like a fact. However, in reality, lesser number of people can influence most of the population. In fact, 80 percent of sales are made by ONLY 8 percent of salespersons. Imagine that! How come other people are able to write a best seller novel when the other 99% of the population can also write? Why do others become successful, while others don’t? Why do other businesses bloom, while others fail? This is where the Law of the Few takes effect.
A few, select, special people are the ones responsible for such massive effects.
Gladwell categorizes these special people as the Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. They can spread “viruses,” create tipping points, and cause epidemics: epidemic of fashion, epidemic of anti-crime, or epidemic of ideas. Only a few people with a set of special skills can make ideas or brands viral. Only they can spark a word-of-mouth epidemic.
Connectors are those who are greatly acquainted, a person who seemingly knows everybody. They are great because of their ability to occupy so many different worlds, and subcultures, and niches. The more acquaintances you have, the more powerful you become. We rely on acquaintances in opening opportunities and worlds we do not belong to. Your idea can grow viral and spread like wildfire through your massive circle of acquaintances.
“…. the closer someone is to a Connector, the more powerful or the wealthier or the more opportunities he or she gets.” -Malcolm Gladwell
You ask yourself how did Hush Puppies bounce back. Well, perhaps, the first kids who bought their shoes were acquainted with a Connector. Then, that connector is also acquainted with another connector. This series of Connectors made it possible for a failing company to get back on its feet and blossom.
Mavens, on the other hand, are information specialists. How can a Connector find a new restaurant to eat in? How can a Connector choose whose brands to promote? Although this will not hinder the fact that Connectors may also be Mavens, and vice versa. Mavens hold the most information. Thus, making them important in any business or idea.
“…. [Mavens] know things that the rest of us don’t.” – Malcolm Gladwell
Moreover, information is everything nowadays. The knowledge one possesses can either cost or save you money. A noteworthy example of this is in sales. In sales, there are a lot of dirty tactics that make customers think they are saving money. A tag of a smartwatch listed on Amazon may say “Special offer: 50% percent off! Get yours now!” In fact, that smartwatch has the same price as the previous week or any day of the year.
A new investigation found out that 90 percent of Black Friday deals are the same or even cheaper at any other time of the year. Can you imagine why would people living in the US die for the savings they don’t even get? Well, it is just how salespersons manipulate its consumers. This does not need to happen to you, that if you have price vigilantes (a.k.a. Market Mavens) around you. Through their obsession with information and their eagerness to share it with you, they help you with their grand knowledge and also help you with decision making.
What Mavens do is to share their information that can potentially help you. In this case, their information can help you save money. After a Maven recommends you a hotel to stay at and it saved you money, you pass it on to another people. Then that satisfied person pass it to another person until this money-saving virus becomes an word-of-mouth epidemic.
The thing about Mavens is that they are not persuaders, but rather a teacher. Their job is only to inform you and give you choices. Salesmen are the persuaders of the three. When you are unconvinced with a product, they talk to you thinking that the end result is you buying the product. They make you buy the product.
“if you don’t try, you will never succeed.” -Tom Gau, a financial planner
But how do salesmen persuade consumers? It is less straightforward than you think it is. There are subtleties that make a salesperson great. It it the small things that make a huge difference. One can say their persuasiveness comes from the obvious: enthusiasm, smiles on their face, their arguments etc. It is the subtleties of their movement that persuades consumers: a researcher coined it as micromovements. Additionally, when a conversation between a salesperson and a consumer, their movements are synchronized – interactional synchrony.
Ideas or brands should stick on the mind of consumers. Messages should make an impact, they need to be contagious. Nike has “Just do it.” KFC has “It’s finger lickin’ good.” And McDonald’s has “I’m loving it.” These slogans have a stickiness factor to them that’s why everyone remembers them. Moreover, this can trigger consumers’ top-of-mind awareness. Top-of-mind awareness is the consumer behavior where there are brands in mind when thinking about a specific industry. For example, when I think of a shoe brand, the first I thought of is Nike.
The stickiness factor directly applies to direct marketing. In order for an advertisement to convey a message that sticks to the consumers, direct marketers use different kinds of tactics. Marketers experiment. They create different versions of the advert. They place them in different cities. Then, they collect consumer responses. In this way, they find the version that works the best. The result with the most impact and most stickiness factor are the adverts showed everywhere. Hence, it is important to make your ideas or brand unique. Stand out and make a difference.
Marketers are facing what they call the clutter problem. Although nowadays, most people consume many kinds of media that has advertisements. However, due to the abundance of these media and advertisements, only a few messages stick to the consumers – the clutter problem. The competition is so broad that a brand or idea should stand out against its competition.
Lastly, messengers matter because they are the carriers of the message. If, in case, messages don’t stick, redefine how you portray the massage. Remember, small changes bring huge differences. Perhaps, this can cause your idea or brand to tip and result to an epidemic.
Power of Context
Environment influences people. Hence, in order to influence people, one should manipulate their environment. A criminologist James Q. Wilson and George Kelling theorized that if someone left a window broken, it is more vulnerable to burglary. Perhaps, it is because people think that the home owner does not care or is not at home. This theory is aptly called the Broken Window Theory.
In 1964, there was a particular murder case that happened in Queens – a woman was stabbed to death. Interestingly, 38 “law-abiding” citizens witnessed the crime but none of them called the cops. Investigations found out the reason behind is that people assume that someone else will call the cops. If only one witnessed it, he or she could have called the cops. If one of them could have called the cops immediately, that woman should still be alive. One small change could have saved that woman’s life. Let that though sink in.
Similar studies concluded the same thing: people behave differently alone and in company. Comedy movies are funnier when there are people laughing with us. Sports events are more exciting when people are cheering alongside with us. Other people’s laugh or cheers are contagious; it affects how we feel. Imagine, if we are to watch comedy movies or sport events alone. We could have behaved differently. The fact that there are people around us affects what we think and what we decide. That is the power of context.
Author’s final thoughts
You see, viral ideas are caused by different factors. The combination of these factors made it possible to spread and to tip. However, it is more complex and less straightforward than we think it is. Firstly, ideas should be contagious. It should be of quality so people will talk about it. We learned that there are certain people who catalyze the word-of-mouth epidemic. Without the role of those people, it is impossible to spread ideas.
Secondly, ideas should stick. Slogans are great way to keep your brands on the top of consumers’ mind. Although, advertising nowadays is much more difficult. However, marketers are finding new ways to combat this. They formulate new tactics and employ small changes.
And lastly, ideas affects people distinctly in different environmental situations. Our environment and position affect us. With this in mind, create a positive atmosphere when you want also a positive customer experience. With all the factors in symphony, perhaps, your idea can tip and may go viral. Good luck!