Viewpoint | Chandradeep Mitra

In his famous book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell spoke about the unique phenomenon of ‘social epidemics’ and their underlying principles. I believe it has a lot of lessons that marketers haven’t understood and applied enough.

Gladwell dwells on how, sometimes, a social occurrence (such as the spread of a disease, or the popularity of a book, or even the adoption of a brand) grows slowly till it crosses the threshold of a “tipping point", and then takes off suddenly and exponentially.

He talks of three key contributory factors that make a social phenomenon take off like an epidemic:

Spreading it around: Chandradeep Mitra on ‘social epidemics’.

The second, the ‘Stickiness Factor’, defines the unusual power that few social phenomena have, or acquire, which helps them catch on and take off.

Last, ‘The Power of Context’, looks at the unique conditions and circumstances that contribute to the tipping phenomenon, and why a few social occurrences reach tipping point when most don’t.

What lessons can marketers learn from The Tipping Point?

I believe that it can guide us on how to create a cult brand —the ultimate dream of any marketer. Apple Inc. is a master at this game, and is getting better at it (Mac, then iPod, now iPhone). Tipping Point can teach us the best practices of viral, or word-of-mouth, marketing. Recent successes are mostly virtual brands such as Orkut, YouTube and Facebook. The theory can help marketers get hugely disproportionate RoIs (return on investment) for their marketing spends. Starbucks Corp. spends relatively less on conventional advertising. And, it can help redefine the ‘early adopters’ or ‘influencers’ among a core target audience. Gmail grew primarily as a Tipping Point phenomenon.

In order to make their brands ‘tip’, marketers need to ask themselves the right questions. Do we have a unique and un-replicable ‘stickiness factor’ to help build a cult brand? When we think integrated marketing, should we go for an intrusive 360-degree campaign, or first define the right marketing contexts where we can truly capture consumer attention and involvement? And, instead of talking to a loosely defined (demographically), large mass of prospective consumers, should we search hard for the few but disproportionately influential mavens, connectors and salesmen for our brands?

There are important lessons for marketers in this famous book on social epidemics, but to apply them successfully, marketers need intelligence, insight, imagination and inspiration. And plain old guts.

Chandradeep Mitra is president, Optimum Media Solutions, the media specialist arm of Mudra Communications Pvt. Ltd.

As told to Anushree Chandran