The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point is one of those books you should read just because everyone else you meet is sure to mention it and its theories :) It's a prime example of viral marketing, the very theories that the book discusses.

The key message of the book is that a group of factors all congregate to make some items sell well while others do not. That it's not necessarily one tangible thing - like a higher quality shoe design - but sometimes is something seemingly minor like "a certain hip group of kids likes them". So, because a certain hip group of readers enjoy this book, they have promoted others to get it, and the book has become "sticky". The aura grows.

Many of the messages in here are common sense. If you have nice landscaping outside of a building, it might just "tip" a person into stepping inside the building to look around, vs passing through. If a neighborhood is well kept, people might be less likely to be the first to throw trash on the ground vs in the nearby container. It's often the subtle things that convince a person to turn left instead of right.

That being said, a lot of the examples given are a bit extreme. But really, the examples are in there for their "cool factor". They are little tidbits that fascinate you, so that you tell them at your next cocktail party. And then of course you mention that you learned them in this book, which adds to the viral marketing. They talk about crime in NYC. They talk about Sesame Street. They talk about gonorrhea in Colorado. There's a little story that will appeal to each type of person reading the book, that they'll probably want to share.

But really, the whole point of selling a product or achieving a goal is that it's the combination of many influences that results in its standing in society. You can do huge marketing pushes for pinot noir from California - but crank out an odd movie that follows two degenerate winos while they drink it rather than "F---ing Merlot", and the pinot sales skyrocket while merlot sales plummet. Create a homemade video about Coke and Mentos, and soon "cool" people are telling their friends ... who tell their friends ... and it becomes seen by millions.

Why did any of us end up with our partners in life? Few relationships are planned out from birth. Most are the result of a string of odd coincidences ... you happen to miss your plane and end up on the next one. You happen to sit down at an empty seat. You decide to go to that party after all. Sure, some people like to organize parties and some people like to gather knowledge. We all have multiple facets. I'm not sure that it helps to "name" people with titles, any more than a woman who stays at home is a "mom" and nothing else. We are all complex, multi-tasking individuals. We all like to do different things in different amounts - but few of us are "all about friends" and "hate all knowledge".

I think part of what concerned me is that several of the examples seem rather patently incorrect. So now not only are people spreading stories at cocktail parties, they are spreading incorrect stories. Which maybe is another aspect of viral marketing - you can get *any* sort of story, true or false, to become widespread and accepted just by printing it. Does it matter if you get good insights based on bad examples? I suppose that's a moral question that people can debate, but I'm not sure why you couldn't present interesting ideas based on valid examples. Couldn't you also do it without inventing labels that pidgeonhole people into cubbies?

Certainly a fun read, and it provided things to think about. I just would take it with a grain of salt.

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