Why do some ideas, behaviors or products start epidemics while others don’t? How do you curb a rampant epidemic, or start a positive campaign that spreads like wildfire? Malcolm Gladwell addresses some of these questions in his famous book, The Tipping Point. In this summary, we will give a synopsis of the 3 rules of epidemics to create your own tipping point.
The Tipping Point: The 3 Rules of Epidemics
In his book The Tipping Point, Gladwell identifies 3 “rules of epidemics” that determine whether something tips and spreads like wildfire. Whether you are a marketer, educator, social worker, or someone looking to make an impact, these 3 rules will determine how far your campaign succeeds (or fails).
1. LAW OF THE FEW
A tiny percentage of people – Mavens, Connectors and Salesmen – are accountable for building huge initial momentum because of their special social gifts, and are single-handedly responsible for many trends around us today:
• Mavens (the Data Banks) always have the inside scoop, and can’t help accumualting and sharing knowledge.
• Connectors (the Social Glue) seem to know everyone, and naturally connect people across different worlds and communities.
• Salesmen (the Persuaders) are charismatic, persuasive, and effortly influence others’ buying decisions.
If you are starting a new campaign, don’t waste your resources. Focus your resources on these 3 groups of people
[Check out the book for examples and case studies that help you to identify each of these influencers, and understand how they help to tip epidemics.]
2. THE STICKINESS FACTOR
Were you or your children ever hooked on Sesame Street or Blue’s Clues? Ever had a jingle that that you couldn’t stop humming? These messages are powerful because they are “sticky” – you just can’t get them out of your heads. There are many techniques to make something stick, including the use of stories, audience participation and repetition. Success often hinges on small details (such as placements and sequencing) rather than major changes (such as a revamp of the content).
The tough part is to find the right stickiness factor for your specific target audience. If you are not achieving the desired effects in your campaign, take a step back. Test different formats and structures of your messages with your target audience to see which ones stick.
Ask yourself: Is your message irresistible and memorable? Does it stick? Check out our Made to Stick summary for great tips on creating Sticky Messages!
3. THE POWER OF CONTEXT
Our characters and convictions are less important in determining our actual behaviours, compared with the influence of our immediate environment or “context”. Because our environments and social norms define what “acceptable behavior” means, they consequently shape our actual behaviours. Someone who is law-abiding and peace-loving in one environment may commit serious crimes in another.
According to the “Broken Window Theory,” broken windows in a neighborhood will lead to higher violent crime rates. Based on the Power of Context, to reduce the crime rate, we should fix the windows rather than arrest people for crime.
In the same vein, to shape people’s behaviours, you can change the context and manage their social groups (through small groups of less than 150 people to effectively leverage on social bonds).
Other Details in “The Tipping Point”
The book is packed with examples that illustrate the 3 rules at work across a wide range of industries, companies and circumstances. Since we can’t replicate the book here, we’ve summarized some of the useful examples you will find in the book:
• Retail brands such as shoe companies Hush Puppies and Airwalk, and innovation clothing company Gore
• Politics, crime rates, teen suicide and smoking trends: including the reversal of negative epidemics
• Real-life examples of connectors, mavens and salesmen: who they are, what makes them different, and how they tip epidemics
• Children and education programs, including Sesame Street, Blue’s Clues and medical programs
• Books and communities including Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood and the Hutterite Methodist community