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Book Report - The Tipping Point

This book, by Malcolm Gladwell was recommended by a guy I recently met... we were discussing the concept of "Six Degrees of Separation" and how it may (or may not) apply to creating organic or artificial marketing "viruses".

In case you've never perused one of my other "book reports" let me just say that I do them only for books that I really enjoy and learn something from - the book report is a way to distill the most important concepts of a book so that I can refer back to it at some later time and maybe avoid reading it again if at all possible.

The Tipping Point is an examination of epidemics, and the factors that can "tip" or accelerate them past any rational, surface level explanation.

Gladwell starts out by discussing the three agents that can "tip" an epidemic

  1. Law of the Few
  2. Stickiness Factor
  3. Power of Context

What's most interesting about the book is the simplicity and clarity it brings when I think of creating a successful marketing campaign. When you break down these "agents" and think about each one in a different context - obvious ideas start to emerge.

Law of the Few

This "law" boils down to the idea that to kick start an epidemic- you need to find the right connector, maven and/or salesmen - those select few who can "transmit" the virus to a much larger group of people. Gladwell discusses at length the origins of the Six Degrees experiment - the bottom line being that all roads lead to a few, very well connected people. Of the law, the most fascinating is the discussion about the physiology of being a connector-and that it isn't something learned. This explains why mere mortals can't just buy a Tony Robbins book and "Unleash" themselves on the world - there is something inherent in a connectors make up that allows them to be a connector.

The Stickiness Factor

The book talks at length about Sesame Street - and how Blue's Clues kicks it's ass in terms of stickiness. Although this "law" is counterintuitive - it's been proven again and again in studies and real world marketing efforts. Epidemics can be tipped by playing around in the "margins" and in the presentation of messages. "There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make irrisistable. All you have to do is find it."

Power of Context

I'm blown away reading how NYC tipped it's crime epidemic after the Bernie Goetz incident. By choosing to clean up subway cars, locking down turnstiles so that all riders are paid, NYC changed the context of the subway system and in doing so changed the entire city's attitude about crime (crime rates plunged).

Another great case study on a particular women's interest book shows that the power of context can lie in book communities as well as physical communities- the readers of the "Ya-Ya sisterhood" created their own context about relationships and drove the book to become a best seller.

Some additional mind boggling things that remind me to reframe the way I think about my world:

  • If you were to fold a piece of paper in half 50 times.. how large would the stack be? Guess again big man... to the Sun!!!
  • Study after study has shown that the maximum number of people in a functional group is 150.. the armed forces incidentally (and maybe unconsciously) limits functioning units to about 150... Gortex has perfected "150" as a concept and doesn't allow business units to grow larger that about 150. Studies have shown that performance in many aspects drops dramatically after the number exceeds 150... theories abound, but Gladwell points out that the number of relationships a given person can mange becomes unmanageable after the groups grows larger than about 150.
  • Sesame Street would have bombed, and almost did except for the fact that the producers went against the professional advisors and had Big Bird on screen at the same time as the children!

Gladwell makes the suggestion that what must underlie successful epidemics is a belief that change is possible and that people can radically change with the right combination of messages, positioning and context.

Fantastic book with lessons to be remembered when creating any marketing initiatives!!!