A few weeks ago I picked up The Tipping Point before jumping on a flight out of SFO. With every page, my heart lifted just a little to see my entire approach to small business marketing reinforced by academic studies, social experiments and individual human stories as told by Malcolm Gladwell. These references come together for a compelling point: big change starts with the small things.
How can Tipping Points help your business? Whether your M.O. is to start a movement, launch a service or sell a product, Tipping Points are a roadmap for where to focus resources. Gladwell outlines three laws of tipping a social epidemic: The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and The Power of Context. In other words, focusing resources on the right people, the right message and the right environment will spread your idea fastest.
Here’s my take on how you can translate Tipping Points for practical use in your business.
I. Focus Resources on the Right People
Gladwell’s first rule of tipping epidemics is The Law of the Few, which says that not everyone - every customer, every referral partner, every facebook follower - has equal importance in the spread of your message. As Gladwell puts it,
“Starting epidemics requires concentrating resources on a few key areas. The Law of the Few says that Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen are responsible for starting word-of-mouth epidemics, which means that if you are interested in starting a word-of-mouth epidemic, your resources ought to be solely concentrated on these three groups.”
Focus resources on building alliance with the key influencers that have already built trust in your community.
- Are you investing in the social butterflies?
- Are you partnering with the knowledge guardians?
- Are you collaborating with the persuasive leaders?
These are your connectors, mavens and salesmen.
II. Focus Resources on the Right Message
As a writer I am endlessly fascinated with The Stickiness Factor. Gladwell explains it as such: “Stickiness means that a message makes an impact . . . Unless you remember what I tell you, why would you ever change your behavior or buy my product or go see my movie?”
The Stickiness Factor says that there are small, subtle tweaks for making a message stick. If the presentation of a message is abstract, complicated or muddled it will bounce right off your readers and followers. If your message is clear, consistent and relatable it will stick.
“There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible. All you have to do is find it.” - Malcolm Gladwell
Focus resources on the human connection that will make your message stick.
Anchor your message in personal storytelling, common experiences and shared desires. Test your blog post, website copy or facebook post before it goes out.
- Does it offer value?
- Does it spark curiosity?
- Does it give my audience real incentive to act?
These are your stickiness factors.
III. Focus Resources on the Right Environment
Gladwell’s last rule of epidemics is The Power of Context. It says that tiny nuances in environment have a big impact on human behavior.
In Tipping Point’s examples, presenting women with breast cancer education was not effective in San Diego churches but was hugely successful in hair salons. The new novel Ya-Ya Sisterhood gained little traction when promoted to individuals but became an instant bestseller when introduced to book clubs. My favorite take away from The Power of Context:
“In order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.”
Focus resources on the small movements that are within arm’s reach first. Your past clients, current collaborators and first-hand connections are a fantastic place to start. The way you reach out to them is equally important.
- Are you presenting your message when the audience is relaxed and receptive?
- Are you leveraging the power of small groups to spread your idea?
- Are you paying attention to the look and feel of your brand?
Your message is more than words on a page. It’s an experience. These are the small movements you can spark by focusing on environment.
A Celebration of Small Things
“There are times when we need a convenient shortcut, a way to make a lot out of a little, and that is what Tipping Points, in the end, are all about.” - Malcolm Gladwell
In essence The Tipping Point is a celebration of the opportunity for small changes to make a big difference. It’s a celebration of grassroots campaigns, word-of-mouth movements and modest initiatives that have a big impact. In short, it’s all the reasons I believe in power of small business.
When resources are limited, focus your efforts first on the right people, the right message and the right environment.
Your brand message might just tip.