[IMAGE VIA THERESE FLANAGAN]
Several years ago Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point became essential reading for the marketing intelligentsia.
As in, if you didn’t have a crumpled copy leisurely positioned on your desk, you were like … one strange marketing dude, or just better off getting a career in finance or something (okay, okay, I exaggerate ...).
Since then Gladwell’s core thesis has sustained a few jabs and body shots from within the blogosphere (see here and here for example), but overall its basic tenets have stayed pretty much intact and continue to remain important axioms for viral marketing efforts and such like.
Rather than getting all technical with the idea itself, the question I would like to propose here is a rather simple one. Well, sort of.
To what extent is the success of the Tipping Point down to being an absolutely brilliant metaphor that people can instantly grasp and relate to vs being a completely robust theory that holds immense practical value for marketers?
This is not to suggest that Gladwell fails on the latter, only that the former is possibly even more accountable for the book’s extraordinary success.
Once again, I find myself (re)turning to this old chestnut on representation (I think I'm alone in my enthusiasm, but heh ...), where the allure of the metaphor is so appealing that it effectively renders the theory 'correct' simply by virtue of popular reference and usage. That is to say, the "Tipping Point", as metaphor, has become so deeply ingrained in everyday marketing parlance that the Gladwellian explanation (which is only one of many possible ways of explaining the Tipping Point phenomenon) almost becomes a given. But whether 'right' or 'wrong', it makes Gladwell no less of a marketing genius, that's for sure!
In fact, such has been the sheer reverberation of the Tipping Point's Tipping Point (sorry), that smugly unleashing this killer metaphor in workshops/meetings is now turning into one of those clichéd moments that’s rivaling the 'USP' and 'emotional connection' for top spot on the prestigious marketer buzzword chart.
Of course, the eco-nista's are lapping it up too now (and who can blame them), but when The Sun starts talking about the Climatic Tipping Point, you have to wonder whether it's almost too sticky for its own good! Or at least, I very much doubt that everyone who's using the metaphor has read the book and wholeheartedly endorses the theory. But does it really matter? In short, tough if it does!
So, what’s the crux of the post?
Metaphors. They rock n roll n sell ... so fire at will!
After all, when best-selling economists start resorting to uncharacteristically freaky behaviour, and generally favouring long tails over scientific manuscripts, you know there’s something fishy going on, even if their myopic lens might convince us otherwise! ;)