Tipping Our Way

In an article published in this month’s Fast Company magazine, Columbia professor cum Yahoo! researcher Duncan Watts debuffs Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of the Tipping Point. Using network simulations (whose alternative uses include predicting the spread of disease) Watts determined that the role of the Influencer, that highly connected firestarter of new trends, is not as important as previously believed. Trends propagated or withered, regardless of an Influencer’s presence. Networks that consisted of a few people who knew a few people were just as probably to reach critical mass as those venerated in The Tipping Point. Interesting read.

The conclusion that Watts comes to is that targeted viral marketing is really no more effective than good old fashioned mass marketing. I’m not a fan of this on many levels, one of which is highlighted by the number of offers I receive in my spam email folder. But another interesting take-away is this:
“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.”

So what is our society susceptible to?

It might be that corporate culture can affect the way you deal with your customers.  The subtitle of the 2008 New York Stock Exchange CEO Report is “Putting Customers First,” and the report proceeds to highlight the importance of the relationship with the customer.  From the executive summary:

  1. “The first  theme is that this may be the year in which there is a renewed vigor around the customer — 2008 may be a year where [sic] many CEOs put the customer at the top of the long list of issues on which they must focus.”
  2. “Brand, reputation, and investments in corporate social responsibility are more important this year — all efforts that are focused on winning the hearts and minds of the customer.”

Here are two core components of a corporate culture – executive leadership and shared company values – that must focus on the customer.  This is at the heart of a strong market culture, and the message we’re sharing.  Folks are starting to listen, and those that adopt these principles and apply them to their business the fastest are the ones that are going to keep their customers the happiest.

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