Influentials and the Tipping Point Meet Real Advocates


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Is The Tipping Point Toast?
That’s the title of article in the latest issue of Fast Company magazine. In the article Duncan Watts argues that Influentials don’t have the impact people like Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point) or Ed Keller and Jon Berry (The Influentials) claim. Keller and Berry say one in ten tell the rest of us what we like and what to buy.
According to Watts, when you do the research, the highly connected people Keller calls Influentials are no more likely than the average Joe to cause an idea to spread or a product to become popular. He claims his research indicates that market readiness is more important than who’s hyping a trend. For example, Madonna went viral in 1983 but probably won’t have in 1982.
Watts is not saying that word-of-mouth or social contagion don’t work, he is just saying that social worlds are more complex and are not ruled by an influential few.
Apparently, Watts’ research and position is upsetting a lot people who have a vested interest in viral marketing. I guess if that’s your goose that lays the golden egg it is natural to be defensive.
My take, the whole concept of going viral is not all that desirable for most businesses. Most businesses simply cannot scale for explosive growth, and sustain the growth. Two things tend to happen, the company focuses on operational aspects of the explosion and the viral nature runs its course.
What makes sense for more businesses is to focus on sustainable profits and sustainable growth. The viral model is not sustainable. Whether is happens from Influentials or the average Joe, viral events loses there momentum. In contrast, businesses that focus on nurturing real advocates have a shot at sustainability. In my book real advocates emerge because of the experiences that they have with a company and especially the meaning and value they have using the company’s product. If the company helps customers extract more meaning or value, they, the company gains relationship value which persists. And, the positive customer experience fuels advocacy. The experience is what advocates talk about, not product specification or price, and the experience of peers is what potential customers find insightful and meaningful.
The result, sustainable profits and a growing base of committed customer that value the benefits they derived from a relationship with the company.

John Todor
John I. Todor, Ph.D. is the Managing Partner of the MindShift Innovation, a firm that helps executives confront the volatility and complexity of the marketplace. We engage executives in a process that tackles two critical challenges: envisioning new possibilities for creating and delivering value to customers and, fostering employee engagement in the innovation and alignment of business practices to deliver on the new possibilities. Follow me on Twitter @johntodor


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