Monday, October 19, 2009

The Law of the Few

Malcolm Gladwell (shown above in this Harry Rosen ad, oddly enough) is a British-born Canadian journalist, author, and pop sociologist. He writes for The New Yorker and has authored three books that really get you thinking: The Tipping Point (2000), Blink (2005), and Outliers (2008). I recently read Gladwell’s first book, The Tipping Point, and would like to share some highlights with the lovely readers of The Daily Breakthrough.

The Tipping Point is a fascinating book about epidemics. Not epidemics like H1N1, but rather social epidemics such as Paul Revere’s ride, Hush Puppies, Blue’s Clues, and suicide in Micronesia. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell examines how and why some ideas, products, messages and behaviours spread just like viruses do. This question is extremely relevant to people in marketing, because we obviously would want to know what we can do to deliberately start and control positive epidemics of our own. In the book, Gladwell argues that there are three important agents of change, which play key roles in social epidemics: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. This blog post will focus on the Law of the Few. I will post again later in the week to write about the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context, so stay tuned.

The Law of the Few refers to the idea that social epidemics are driven by the efforts of a handful of exceptional people (sociable, energetic, knowledgeable, influential). Gladwell identifies three kinds of people that can be the messengers responsible for ‘tipping’ the word-of-mouth epidemics that dictate our tastes, trends, and fashions: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.

Connectors are very sociable people, who bring the world together. (Think: Kevin Bacon.) They have a knack of making friends and acquaintances. They manage to occupy many different worlds, subcultures and niches. A key tidbit of information relating to Connectors is that when it comes to finding out about new jobs, new information, new ideas, “weak ties” or acquaintances are always more important than strong ties or close friends and family members. This is because acquaintances by definition occupy different worlds than you do. This means that they are much more likely to know something that you don’t. Acquaintances represent social power. I would argue that social media are a good example of this argument, although your relationships with the majority of your connections/friends/people you follow on Twitter might not even be strong enough to call them acquaintances. No matter, these weak ties provide you with access to information that you would not otherwise acquire, which I would say is part of the appeal of this technology.

Mavens are socially motivated experts, sharing and trading information that they have collected. They read more magazines than the rest of us, more newspapers, and they may be the only people who read junk mail. In social epidemics, Mavens are data banks that provide the message.

Finally, there are the Salesmen. These people are persuasive by nature and have innate abilities including body language and verbal expression skills that make them highly influential on the rest of us.

The Law of the Few says that there are exceptional individuals out there, capable of starting epidemics by influencing the masses. So if you want to make an impact, entrust your message or product to a Connector, Maven, or Salesman, or better yet, all of the above, and hope they can work their magic and get the word out!