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

All articles | Content Marketing
Published Oct 01, 2019 | 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, there are a number of opportunities it affords for content marketers today wanting to reach more prospects and grow their business.

The Tipping Point

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

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

Then they 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.

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 lessons can content marketers take from all of this?

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.

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%.

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

This 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.

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. In some cases, an infographic may 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".

Use “The Power Of Context”

The Power Of Context refers to the environment or moment in which an idea, product or trend is introduced. If the context isn’t right, the tipping point won’t take place.

If you think about this in a content marketing context, we’re talking here about the buyer’s journey. Every piece of content should be created to meet the specific needs of your buyer persona at a specific point in the buying process. If you don't get the context right, you won't 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.

In the same vein, if a new prospect has just downloaded your top of the funnel content offer, don’t immediately follow up with your case studies. They won’t yet be at the point where they are weighing up different options. Bombarding them with content that doesn’t meet them where they are will only serve to push them away.

With so much competition and a staggering amount of content all fighting for attention, you can’t sit on your hands waiting for your tipping point to come around. Instead, trigger your own epidemic; reach out to those with authority who can help build awareness of your brand, get to know your buyers so you can create messages that “stick”, and endeavour to always meet your prospects where they are in the buyer's journey.

Buyer personas guide

Published by Katie Hughes October 1, 2019
Katie Hughes