Monthly Archives: August 2007

Chasm and the Tipping Point

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell are two extraordinary books focusing on the concept of how something can be taken from a few early adopters to have an epidemic effect and reach the late majority. Crossing the Chasm explains how to market and sell high-tech products to mainstream customers. In the Tipping Point, Gladwell examines the epidemics occurring around us. Both books are great reads in themselves, but they somewhere touch on one common thing in the World of marketing that I think is worth talking about. That common thing is how any product or service, or a trend or a concept, that starts with a few individuals takes off and becomes widely accepted. In other words, how and when something becomes a mainstream phenomenon.

The thing that fascinates me the most is how this simple concept of mainstream adoption can be explained in two completely different yet related ways using the viewpoints of these two experts. To dive deeper in the comparison, let us analyze one of the most successful mainstream product (or you can call trend or fashion) adoption of the recent times: the iPod. The design genius of this product apart, let’s see how Apple marketed iPod to become a mainstream phenomenon.

Apple introduced iPod to its loyal customer base of Macintosh users (remember the days when iPod only worked with Mac!) The early adopters eagerly adopted iPod to envy of every PC user. How did iPod cross the chasm? The product supporters and specialists played a vital role in increasing the popularity of the music player making it more interesting and wannable for the pragmatists. Apple came out with the whole product which included the iTunes software to work on PC and Mac, and a set of dozens of accessories, count of which increased exponentially with a whole industry revolving around the iPod. This positioned iPod perfectly for the mass market adoption hence making it a mainstream phenomenon. 

Let’s see how, when and what “tipped” the iPod. I think the three things that were instrumental in tipping the iPod were the trendy appeal of the product, the passionate drive of the mavens and the consecutive releases of the iPod targeting the right customer at the right time. When Apple came out with this sleek, all white music player, it instantly became the fashion symbol of the cool kids. Those white earphones defined the social status of the college students hopping between classes and the health conscious folks running in the parks. These people, who paid the premium to get this expensive device, played the role of mavens for Apple best to their capacity. And to help further, Apple attracted the right customer at the right time by coming out with a version of iPod ranging from $100 to $400 for every type of customer. All this together helped the iPod tip by the 2004 holiday season.

Both outlooks, the one by Geoffrey Moore and the one by Malcolm Gladwell, are adept in describing, or teaching, how a product reaches mass adoption. Where do they meet? To put it in very simple words, I think we can define the tipping point as the point where the chasm ends. It is that inflection point from where the mainstream adoption starts. To think tipping point as that magical moment when a trend crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire makes perfect sense when you look back at all the efforts put by the parent company to create a support ecosystem, and acknowledge the early adopters, the mavens, the connectors and the salesmen who put the right efforts, knowingly or unknowingly, pushing the trend across the chasm.

The empowered mavens

Malcolm Gladwell has emphasized the importance of connectors, mavens and salesmen very clearly in The Tipping Point. Mavens, the people who are experts on a subject matter, play a critical role in success or failure of a product. They are different from paid consultants, because they pass on their advice not for money or business, but for the love of it. They are the product enthusiasts, the people who are willing to shell out a premium to be the first ones to use a product. This zeal of these seemingly weird people adds a greater credibility to whatever they have to say.

Mavens are the people who kick start the word of mouth epidemic. They are the ones on whom their friends or neighbors or coworkers rely to get expert advice. But in this connected World, mavens have become a more powerful force than ever before. They have got new weapons in the form of blogs and newsgroups to spread the word and extend their reach. They have the channels to start and spread the epidemic faster. So quite obviously, the companies need to find and embrace the mavens, more than ever before.

The accent of information age has made one thing easier for the companies, that is, finding the mavens. The companies can set their maven traps on the web and locate the mavens. Mavens on the web are the early adopters, the beta participants, the feedback providers and the newsgroup contributors. Though locating mavens on the web in no way, shape or form should substitute the much more outreaching maven traps, but it makes it easier for the companies to communicate to the mavens, listen to them and give credibility to them.

Now let’s talk about embracing the mavens. If there is only one thing a marketing organization can do right for launching a product, it should be this. The most important task for any marketing organization is to connect to the customers. And who are better people to connect to than the mavens? Every company should welcome the feedback given by these product enthusiasts, and more important than that, make sure they know that their feedback is being noted and taken seriously. How you can embrace the mavens in the Internet age? Share the spotlight with them. Thank them publicly in newsgroups or blogs for their advice. When they reply to someone else’s query, back them up as if they are part of your company.

Mavens can sometimes be a big pain to deal with. But remember, it’s not the 0.1 percent of your customer base that makes a lot of noise, it’s the 0.1 percent of your customer base that can make or break the remaining 99.9 percent of your market. There are lots of examples where the mavens have shifted the dynamics of the market. They have the unique capacity of making or breaking a brand. If a company handles the mavens in their industry with care, they can add a virtual sales force to their marketing team which is unmatched to anything else in the World! 

Why are Elephants going Guerilla?

Guerilla Marketing, the unconventional way of performing promotional activities, has long been used by small businesses to market their products (and services). But recently, more and more big companies are resorting to this tactic for marketing and advertising their products. This new trend of big companies being attracted towards Guerilla marketing highlights some issues of concern with traditional advertising mediums and some major benefits of Guerilla marketing.

I think the stickiness factor of advertising is one of the most important reasons why companies are looking for alternative ways of product promotion. Due to the developments in information technology, the mediums to which a customer is exposed to has risen dramatically. On an average, a typical individual has access to more than 50 television channels and a dozen radio stations. Along with this there are tens of magazines coming out every month and millions of websites on Internet. This has risen the number of advertisments the customer is exposed to, reducing drastically the stickiness of the messages. Guerilla marketing may look like a rescue for advertisers to attract the customers, or even a boon if the size of budget involved in the effort is comparitively small.

I think budget, though a very big factor, doesn’t seem to be the only factor. Companies with hundreds of millions in marketing budget are also resorting to Guerilla marketing efforts. Guerilla maketing is pulling companies towards itself because it is one of the most targeted way of marketing products. Take for example Red Bull, the highly caffeinated energy drink. Red Bull is one of the companies with the most unconventional advertising strategies in the World. Some Guerilla efforts that made Red Bull the most popular sports drink in the World are organizing extreme events from cliff diving in Hawaii to skateboarding in San Fransisco to support atheletes who compete in these sports and attract a very targeted customer base. Red Bull also conduct a slew of not so typical promotional activities to make it a staple at hip bars around the World including creating student brand managers and consumer educators (read more about Red Bull marketing in Sep 2001 issue of Fast Company)

Another important advantage of some of the bigger Guerilla marketing efforts is the free media attension earned by the companies. Guerilla marketing does miracles in creating a buzz and start people talking about the brand. Consider the KFC campaign to become the first logo visible from outer space right when online firms were investing millions in publishing arial images of the earth. The campaign created more buzz for KFC than any other promotional activity for any fast food company. This also clears a misconception that all Guerilla marketing efforts you see out there are on small budgets. It took more than 50 engineers, designers, architects and other professionals working nearly 3 months round the clock to create the World’s largest logo.

Talking more about the budget, Guerilla marketing normally has the advantage of smaller budget than running campaigns on traditional mediums. One of the more recent successes of Guerilla merketing is the launch of Mini by BMW in the US for a budget of about $13 million. How did BMW pull this successfully in a country where every third advertisement on any conventional advertising medium is of a car? By deploying some great Guerilla marketing tactics.

Guerilla marketing broadens, or we can say removes, the limits of creativity in the space of marketing and advertising. Companies irrespective of their size, products and marketing budgets can use Guerilla marketing to promote their products. And when elephants dance well to the tunes of Guerilla, it readily attracts the customers’ attension and keeps the cash register ringing!