3 content marketing lessons from Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point

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Published Jul 20, 2023 | Written by Katie Hughes

You may be familiar with the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. 

It's a book about how small actions at the right time, in the right place, and with the right people can create a 'tipping point' for anything from a product to an idea or a trend.

Gladwell describes the tipping point as "that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire."

Although the book was first published almost 20 years ago, it provides valuable insights that can be applied to content marketing strategies in the manufacturing industry. 

The Tipping Point brought to life

The Hush Puppies story 

One example Gladwell uses to illustrate the tipping point is the American footwear brand Hush Puppies, whose tipping point came in the mid-1990s.

Sales of the classic shoe were down to just 30,000 pairs a year, primarily to outlets and small-town family stores. Sales were so low that Wolverine, the company making Hush Puppies, was considering phasing them out.

They then heard the shoes were suddenly becoming popular in the clubs and bars of downtown Manhattan. People were buying them in re-sale shops and wearing them just because no one else was. Soon after came the calls from designers wanting to use Hush Puppies in their new collections and shows.

In 1995, they sold 430,000 pairs, and the year after, they sold four times that, until once again, Hush Puppies became a staple item in the wardrobe of young men across America.

No one was trying to make Hush Puppies a trend, but somehow, it happened.

Tipping Points that transformed the manufacturing landscape

There are plenty of examples of tipping points in the manufacturing sector. Let's take a look at just a few.

Introduction of assembly line production - The introduction of assembly line production by Henry Ford in 1913 was a major tipping point in manufacturing. This innovation drastically increased the efficiency of the manufacturing process, reducing the time taken to produce a Model T car from 12 hours to just 2.5 hours. 

Adoption of lean manufacturing - The development and adoption of lean manufacturing principles, primarily by Toyota in the mid-20th century, marked a significant shift in manufacturing philosophy. Lean manufacturing has since been adopted by manufacturers worldwide to minimise waste and maximise productivity.

Advent of industrial robots - The introduction of industrial robots in the 1960s marked a major shift in manufacturing. Robots could perform repetitive tasks faster and with more precision than human workers, leading to increased efficiency and productivity. Now, the use of robots is commonplace in many manufacturing industries, from automotive to electronics.

Tipping Points in the creation of electronic products

And if we focus on electronics manufacturing, there are plenty of examples of tipping points in creating electronics products.

The iPhone - When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, it was a tipping point for the entire mobile phone industry. The iPhone was the first smartphone to successfully integrate a touchscreen interface, internet capabilities, and a sleek design, setting a new standard for what a mobile phone could be. This innovation led to a rapid shift in consumer expectations and demands, pushing other manufacturers to develop their own smartphones.

Electric Vehicles (EVs) - The introduction of Tesla's Model S in 2012 can be seen as a tipping point in the automotive industry. The Model S demonstrated that electric vehicles could offer high performance, long-range, and desirable design, challenging the dominance of internal combustion engine vehicles. This has led to a significant shift in the automotive industry, with many manufacturers - from Hyundai to Kia - now investing heavily in electric vehicle technology.

Amazon's Echo and Alexa - The launch of Amazon's Echo smart speaker and the Alexa voice assistant in 2014 marked a tipping point in the way we interact with technology. It popularised the concept of voice-controlled smart homes and led to a surge in the development of similar products by other companies.

Defining the Tipping Point

Gladwell unpicked the nature of what sparks epidemics like these. He defined three specific principles that determine whether and when the tipping point will be achieved:

  • "The Law Of The Few" - social epidemics are created by a small group of people
  • "The Stickiness Factor" - a phenomenon needs to be memorable to spread quickly and effectively
  • "The Power of Context" - small changes in the environment can make a big difference in how people act

So, what content marketing lessons can manufacturing marketers take from all of this?

1. Leverage "The Law Of The Few" 

The Law Of The Few is the idea that some people in society carry a much greater potential for making something go viral. 

Gladwell defines it like this: "The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts."

He identified three types of people who accelerate epidemics:

  • Connectors - people who know a lot of people
  • Mavens - people who share their knowledge with others
  • Salespeople - people who can subtly inspire agreement in others

For brands today, these Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople are your influencers. They're the social media personalities with the many highly engaged followers or the authoritative and respected voices in your industry that people listen to.

In the B2B space, the real influencers are a buyer's peers, the superiors in their company, and recognised industry authorities. Connect with these people and encourage them to share your content - they will help build your brand awareness.

2. Find "The Stickiness Factor"

The Stickiness Factor is the unique quality that causes a phenomenon to stick in people's minds and influence their behaviour.

In his book, Gladwell cites how Sesame Street managed to make learning through the medium of television "sticky" for children by restructuring the content.

Then there's the university, who added a campus map and a list of appointment times to a brochure encouraging students to get tetanus shots, thereby increasing the percentage of students that followed their call to action by 25%.

In the manufacturing industry, this could be a unique product feature, a revolutionary manufacturing process, or a compelling case study.

As a content marketer, the stickiness factor will allow you to stand out from the crowd. Find the stickiness factor, and it will be your brand, not competitors, that sticks in the minds of your prospects.

This, of course, requires a true understanding of who your prospects are. What are their pain points, their goals for the future? What makes them tick? Look to your buyer personas to inspire you.

Read the Guide to Developing and Using Buyer Personas

Gladwell wrote, "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."

So think about how you present your content too. Sometimes an infographic can be more memorable than a blog post. In other cases, perhaps video might be the best way to attract people to your content and make your message "stick".

3. Use "The Power Of Context"

The Power Of Context refers to the environment or moment in which an idea, product or trend is introduced. The tipping point won't occur if the context isn't right.

If you think about this in a content marketing context, we're discussing the buyer's journey here. Every piece of content should be created to meet the specific needs of your buyer persona at a specific point in the buying process. You need to get the context right to be successful in connecting with them.

When prospects are at the awareness stage, you should be helping them to identify and understand their problem or opportunity. 

At the consideration stage, you want to provide content that helps buyers define what is important to them in managing the problem or grasping the opportunity. 

And at the decision stage, you should be helping buyers make the most educated decision possible.

Similarly, if a new prospect has just downloaded your top-of-the-funnel content offer, don't immediately follow up with your case studies. They will still be at the point of weighing up different options. Bombarding them with content that doesn't meet them where they are will only push them away.


In contract manufacturing, waiting for a natural tipping point is not an option. 

With so much competition and a significant amount of content all fighting for attention, you can't sit on your hands waiting for your tipping point to come around. You need to trigger your own epidemic. Here's a recap of how:

  • Content marketing lesson 1 - Leverage "The Law of The Few" by identifying and engaging with key industry influencers who can amplify your message and boost your brand awareness.
  • Content marketing lesson 2 - Find "The Stickiness Factor" by identifying the unique aspects of your brand or product that make it memorable and influential.
  • Content marketing lesson 3 - Use "The Power Of Context" and tailor your content to meet the specific needs of your buyer personas at each stage of their buying journey, ensuring that the right message is delivered at the right time. 

Applying these principles allows you to create a content marketing strategy that resonates with your audience and drives your business growth.

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Published by Katie Hughes July 20, 2023
Katie Hughes