Tipping Point Book Review

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Courtney Cheevers

April 4, 2018

Organizational Management

The Tipping Point Review

“The Tipping Point” authored by Malcolm Gladwell explores the underlying factors that create an epidemic or a viral fad. He asserts that no matter the field (public health, television, fashion, crime, etc.) there are three constants: The Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. If all aligned, these three things are what make an idea tip.

The Law of the Few reveals that there are special people in this world that things seem to always go back to. There are the Connectors, people who have incredibly large social circles spanning over many worlds. Mavens, who are people in constant pursuit of information and inherently strive to share this information. And finally, Salesmen, who are so full of charisma they can make you believe in just about anything. Mavens pick up an idea (or product), Connectors spread it, and Salesmen sell it. The Stickiness Factor is simply making an idea stick. Its what makes a message memorable. And finally, there is the Power of Context. As we all know, timing is everything. When an idea or product is released it must be relevant to the current culture, society, or economic or political climate. Any one epidemic can rely more heavily on one or another factor but will always engage all three.

Because anyone could want a message to go viral, this research is broadly applicable. However, it is incredibly pertinent for marketing. Most of our job as marketers is to make a message tip. While our end goal may be generating sales for a product, spreading awareness of a brand or information about a product can be just as vital.

For example, I am currently working on a product that packages a 300mL Coca Cola and a mini Crown Royal bottle for a Visual Communications class. We are looking to make our product and our message, that Coke and Crown go together, to tip. As a guide we use Gladwell’s three principles starting with the Power of Context. The context we are entering is a fast paced, convenience hungry, technology driven world. Whiskey sales are skyrocketing, and Coke sales are as strong as ever. As a company we are capitalizing on this situation by providing a quick, easy, and readily available drink that incorporates trending liquors. Next, we consider our Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen.  These people can be hard to pinpoint for a new product in an undeveloped market, but for now we can go with bartenders as Mavens for their expertise, and celebrity influencer for a Connector and Salesman abilities. Finally, we want to make our message stick. There are many ways to go about this according to Gladwell and the more innovative and creative, the better. People are constantly bombarded by advertisements. It takes an especially pungent marketing strategy to break through that selective attention barrier. To do this were going to use interaction and a call to action. Our product is named “Duos” so we are starting a Snapchat campaign to challenge the target population to “name a more iconic duo” which references a popular meme from 2017.  In theory, all these facets should lead to a very successful campaign.

The applications of Gladwell’s studies are endless and fascinating. While so much of it can be focused on and used for business, Gladwell also shows how the phenomenon appears in society outside of marketed product. A poignant example would be his case study on teenagers, guns, suicide, and cigarettes. Teenagers are extraordinarily susceptible to external influences, and anyone who was a teenager or has met a teenager knows they’ll do just about anything to be cool or fit in. In “The Tipping Point” Gladwell presents three cases where this is so painfully true. First, he explains that in Malaysia there was an epidemic of male teen suicides with seemingly no explanation. Upon further investigation, Gladwell concludes that one famous Malaysian celebrity who hung himself after a scandalous affair was the tipping point. One boy who survived a hanging attempt reported he “just wanted to try it”, and he was not alone. These boys didn’t understand the repercussions, they just wanted to see what the hype was about. In his second case, he explores the numerous of occurrences of school shootings. Here he starts with Columbine, a famous of many school shootings that received an incredible amount of news coverage. And soon after there was a domino effect, school shootings cropped up all around the country, though it had never been an epidemic before. And finally, there are teenagers and cigarettes. When I was seventeen I started smoking because the summer camp I worked at had a designated smoking barn, which happened to be where the boy I had a crush on hung out. Not my finest moment. But it does illustrate the point Gladwell makes, “smoking isn’t cool, cool people smoke.”  It has nothing to do with the action of smoking, it is an epidemic because teenagers want to imitate people they believe to be cool. This is why choosing the right influencer for a brand can be so effective.

Social perception is so powerful we often don’t even realize how many of our decisions are essentially being made for us. In the Process Model of Communication, a message is encoded and decoded with a lot of noise surrounding it. It is crucial to break through this noise if you are going to gain the customer’s attention. Noise is also different from person to person, and it would be insanely expensive to change your medium and message for everyone, instead targeting certain age cohorts or people with specific lifestyles with the same message is more productive. Because of their similarities, they will tend to see the message similarly as well.

Throughout “The Tipping Point”, Gladwell expertly proves how epidemics are not a freak phenomenon, but rather a calculated and precisely thought out plan. Some trends may be by accident or just the alignment of the stars, but fads, especially ones regarding business, are created by methodical marketers making intentional choices supported by heavy research.


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