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Tipping Point

Use this framework to influence beliefs and behaviours

The Canadian writer and thinker, Malcolm Gladwell, is famous for a number of books that help us understand human behaviour. In the year 2000 he published a book called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference. The point of the book is neatly expressed in the title.

The concept of a tipping point has long been used by sociologists. They are of the view that there is a point in time when large numbers of a population suddenly adopt what was once a minority view. For example, scientists in the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a private university in New York, found out that when 10% of a population holds an unshaken belief, this new belief will be widely adopted by most people if the last couple of people they met endorsed it.


Malcolm Gladwell followed up this theory by arguing that there are three requirements to move an idea from being in a minority to taking a majority position.


1. The right people

People influence people. You need to understand your audience. This means that we need the right kind of influencers to pick up the ideas and spread them. There needs to be connectors; people who, as the term suggests, are connected with many others. They are therefore the means by which the idea can spread. There must be Mavens. Mavens are people who we turn to for new information because they are particularly good at accumulating and distilling new knowledge. And there needs to be Salesmen because they are able to persuade people that the new ideas are worth adopting.


2. The idea needs to be sticky

By this, Gladwell means that the message or the idea must be memorable.  Various devices can be used to make an idea memorable – repetition helps a lot, so do memory cues (things that remind you about the idea and these could be graphics, colours, sounds – things that evoke the senses).


3. The idea must have context

The idea must be right for the moment in time. For example, when vandalism became a serious issue in New York, the concept of zero tolerance for minor crimes was able to take hold as a means of slowing down major crimes. Gladwell has a point here. It is difficult to persuade someone to eat a Chinese meal when they have just had dinner. The time must be right for the idea to be adopted.


In business we can use the tipping point to make marketing messages more effective. The starting point is to work out what message you want to communicate. It is helpful if the message is one with emotional appeal – such as "a product that includes 10% more material so that it lasts 10 times longer". The message must then be targeted at the right people – the connectors, mavens and salespeople. Devices should be built into the message so that it is memorable. And finally the message must make complete sense to people – "are you fed up of having to replace the products you are currently using every six months?".


Here is a sequence of how the tipping point could work when developing and sending out a marketing message.

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