The Malcolm Gladwell guide for marketers

Do you want to read a Malcolm Gladwell book, but aren’t sure which one? Read these synopses of his books and their marketing takeaways to help you decide.

Malcolm Gladwell’s highly anticipated new book, “David and Goliath,” is now available to purchase.

The sociology and psychology author’s fifth book explores how adversity can inspire people, and what happens when the weak don’t play by the rules of the strong.

As marketers, we love the way Gladwell turns social science research and data into big, catchy ideas. Here’s a quick guide to the essential Malcolm Gladwell:

1. “The Tipping Point

Key idea: Small factors can add up to big results.

The following personalities, for example, can spread ideas and spur people to action:

  • Connectors know people at every event, whether the event is in their field or not. This ability to reach across social, economic, professional and cultural circles comes from a combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability and energy.
  • Mavens kick off word-of-mouth epidemics. They extensively research marketplaces and products, and share their knowledge with others.
  • Salesmen persuade people using powerful negotiation skills-some learned and some natural.

Marketing takeaway: Identify people with social skills that can help your brand. At his Vocus webinar, Spike Jones encouraged brands to stop targeting influencers to create word of mouth. Instead, brands can get more buzz by empowering their passionate customers.

2. “Blink

Key idea: Experts can make immediate decisions that are as good as, or better than, well-thought out ones.

These instinctive reactions are what psychologists call “thin slicing.”

“We believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible and spending as much time as possible in deliberation,” Gladwell writes. “But there are moments, particularly in times of stress, when haste does not make waste.”

Marketing takeaway: As an expert in your industry, making quick decisions can be beneficial because it helps you avoid analysis paralysis. However, quick decisions are only good ones when you recognize your prejudices.

This, for example, works in data collection. Confirmation bias can lead to making decisions off of data that only supports your assumptions.

3. “Outliers

Key idea: The 10,000-Hour Rule states that success at a particular task largely comes from having spent 10,000 hours practicing it. Hard work is only one reason people become outliers—Gladwell’s description of those who have achieved extraordinary success. Natural ability and being in the right place at the right time also contribute to becoming an outlier.

Bill Gates became a multibillionaire because of his work ethic and extreme, but not unparalleled, intelligence. Gates also happened to attend a high school with a computer-something few colleges had at the time.

“We vastly underestimate the extent to which success happens because of things the individual has nothing to do with,” Gladwell said in an interview.

Marketing takeaway: Success doesn’t come from one extraordinary person or team. It comes from talented people taking advantage of their skills and environments.

4. “What the Dog Saw

Key idea: Included among this collection of Gladwell’s essays from The New Yorker was “The Ketchup Conundrum”: Supermarket shelves have dozens of mustards but few ketchup options.

Grey Poupon started a mustard revolution through a series of advertising and marketing campaigns, including the “Pardon me. Do you have any Grey Poupon?” commercial.

Ragu made a killing when it stopped its one-size-fits-all approach to sauce and provided multiple varieties.

Despite these successes, new varieties of ketchup have sputtered. “I guess ketchup is ketchup,” is the only answer the essay provides.

Marketing takeaway: Following the marketing techniques of one company doesn’t guarantee success. Use other companies as examples, but tweak to create what works best for you.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Vocus blog.

Topics: PR

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