The Tipping Point

Posted by on Jul 2, 2011 in Advertising, DOOH, Insight

I have read a couple of Malcolm Gladwell’s novels including Blink and The Tipping Point. In fact, I recently finished Outliers, another one of Gladwell’s masterpieces. I love Gladwell’s research and writing style. He looks at mundane things with irregular focus and finds obscure studies to open the mind to new ways of seeing the world. If you enjoy a good business book, it’s high time you looked into Gladwell’s stuff. Believe me, it’s good. The three rules of the Tipping Point — The Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, the Power of Context — offer a way of making sense of epidemics. They provide us with direction for how to go about reaching a Tipping Point.

The Law of the Few

According to Gladwell, there are those few who become the champions and the touters who help to fuel epidemics. It is essentially the idea that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. These people are referred to as those who have a rare set of social gifts and are broken into three subcategories. Gladwell claims the attitudes of these three categories are often innately born. However, he also acknowledges the ability to develop and hone skills through effort in all three categories. It also important to note that none of the following categories is mutually exclusive. The categories are as follows:


Mavens are those who like to bring new information and tell everyone about it. They enjoy getting the word out. They also enjoy being information specialists who acquire information and then share it readily. Interestingly, “a Maven is someone who wants to solve other people’s problems, generally by solving his own.” As information brokers, Gladwell claims Mavens are generally responsible for word-of-mouth epidemics.


Salesmen are the negotiators. They include individuals who often have an innate persuasive ability. It’s not so much what they say, but the modus operandi of delivery which makes them effective in starting an epidemic. I have done a few years of door-to-door selling (both B2B and B2C), both of which have witnessed to me how some just have the knack. For instance, a very close friend of mine was one of those salesman that sell a ketchup popsicle to an 80 year-old woman in white gloves. Some people just have that knack. He was born with all the non-verbal cues which allow for a more convincing sale’s pitch. As we would do training for some of those less-experiences salesmen, he would give small pointers which–in many cases–meant the difference between winning and losing the deal. According to Gladwell, salesmen are the charismatic that draw a crowd and then get them to move in the direction he/she wants. They are the natural leaders.


Connectors are successful socialites who through a combination of “curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy” bring people together. These individuals link the world together–they’re human versions of LinkedIn. They are not the “weakest links,” but are those old friends who’ll call you up out of the blue just to say “hello” and talk about the others they’ve been in contact with. In my world, they are the ones who bring me up to date on old friends because they are always in constant contact of with all their old friends. We know people like this.

The Stickiness Factor

How well does the particular concept, product, or service stick? Does it remain strongly influential for long enough to make a significant impact. As part of his analysis, Gladwell also claims a part of the stickiness factor includes contradictory ideals to the prevailing and conventional wisdom. For instance, he analyzes children’s televisions shows, including Sesame Street and Blues Clues to show that the traditional assumption that television watching could not improve childrens’ cognitive abilities was erroneous. He claims that turning an idea on its head can easily launch something that will be around a very long time. In short, prove a long-held assumption false and be prepared to reap the reward of having the new “sticky” product or service.

The Power of Context

Gladwell puts it succinctly when he says, “epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.” It’s a matter of timing and location of a particular event that can make or break an epidemic-style result within any industry. Gladwell also uses the number 150 as the upper threshold for effective trickle-down. That is, once social groups reach a population greater than 150, their level of intimacy, interdependency, and efficiency begin to decline markedly. Hence the need for effective organizations to–at times–to change size.

This is all great and all, but what do these things have to do with digital signage? Surprisingly, digital signage has been a topic of conversation in the blogosphere for quite some time now, but context and tradition have stifled the potential success of this industry. Context in that a recession has significantly slowed potential industry growth. Traditional looks at media–which do not necessarily apply in the context of digital out-of-home–have been used to define it. Turning such ideals on end could help in moving the industry toward a much more rapid mainstream expansion.

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