Is the 'Tipping Point' the way we know it?

Influences on Consumers arise from two sets of sources. One such set emnates from the marketer and so is discounted by the consmer as its identified with the marketer. The more potent source of influence is the Socio-cultural environment. Now within that environment lies what Malcom Gladweel termed in his book, 'The Tipping point', the 'Influentials', the few who can start and spread a trend to reach gigantic proportions.

Was Gladwell right in his analysis of how supertrends become just that? Consider Duncan Watts and his study of why and how trends happen and note his findings; 'Why didn't the Influentials wield more power? With 40 times the reach of a normal person, why couldn't they kick-start a trend every time? Watts believes this is because a trend's success depends not on the person who starts it, but on how susceptible the society is overall to the trend--not how persuasive the early adopter is, but whether everyone else is easily persuaded. And in fact, when Watts tweaked his model to increase everyone's odds of being infected, the number of trends skyrocketed.

"If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one--and if it isn't, then almost no one can," Watts concludes. To succeed with a new product, it's less a matter of finding the perfect hipster to infect and more a matter of gauging the public's mood. Sure, there'll always be a first mover in a trend. But since she generally stumbles into that role by chance, she is, in Watts's terminology, an "accidental Influential."

Perhaps the problem with viral marketing is that the disease metaphor is misleading. Watts thinks trends are more like forest fires: There are thousands a year, but only a few become roaring monsters. That's because in those rare situations, the landscape was ripe: sparse rain, dry woods, badly equipped fire departments. If these conditions exist, any old match will do. "And nobody," Watts says wryly, "will go around talking about the exceptional properties of the spark that started the fire."

It should come as no surprise that marketers have not all warmed to Watts's work. In September, he presented his findings to a standing-room-only crowd at a meeting of the Advertising Research Foundation. Ed Keller--The Influentials coauthor himself--then gave a polite but heated rebuttal.'

Read the complete article on Watt's work and findings here.


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