Monday, April 14, 2008

Bad influence or how many influentials does it take...

One of the more interesting debates in the always exciting world of market research has emerged from the surprisingly heated exchanges between Duncan Watts and Malcolm Gladwell. The issue in question is whether the much-touted category of Influencers really exists, or more accurately, whether so-called influencers are any more influential than any of the rest us.

The question of the influencers' real marketing power wouldn't matter so much if it wasn't central to the whole best-selling Tipping Point thesis and the foundation of innumerable costly marketing efforts. As the challenger, Watts is the crankier of the two contestants, calling Gladwell's thesis a bunch of crap, if only because it never explains the "mechanism" around which the influencers manager to influence so many people. For the Influencer thesis to be true, he asks, wouldn't every person the influencer touches have to become magically transformed into another influential? Gladwell, as the reigning champion, is more circumspect or generous or just too rich to care at this point, and suggests we all are just seeing part of the great whole.

The whole debate was covered with some depth and acuity here in the February Fast Company and it's worth spending some time with for a couple reasons. One, it's just weird that a qustion in market research is the center of this much controversy. Two, it suggests how powerful intuitive theories like The Tipping Point can be, even if they happen to be wrong, though the jury certainly is still out on this point. E.g:

Why didn't the Influentials wield more power? [Watt's speculates about a simulation he created] With 40 times the reach of a normal person, why couldn't they kick-start a trend every time? 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. And in fact, when Watts tweaked his model to increase everyone's odds of being infected, the number of trends skyrocketed.

"If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one--and if it isn't, then almost no one can," Watts concludes. To succeed with a new product, it's less a matter of finding the perfect hipster to infect and more a matter of gauging the public's mood. Sure, there'll always be a first mover in a trend. But since she generally stumbles into that role by chance, she is, in Watts's terminology, an "accidental Influential."

Turning away from the fascination with new media magic and the (seemingly free) power of WOM, Watt's takes us back to the right message at the right time. Certain ideas fly around so fast less because they are implanted in the smartphones of the well-connected than because they are good or at least culturally resonant ideas.

To me, it seems likely that they are both wrong, at the extremes. Most of the time, fast-talking hipsters can't save an irrelevant idea any more than a resonant idea will necessarily circulate itself. And both perspectives are valuable, as they offer two useful views on the social life of information. But at the moment, Watt's is more fun to read, if only because his arguments are fueled by the ferocity of a born spoiler. Hard to believe it, but this might be one argument worth following.


Beecham said...

In the past, I think you've said, more or less that the excitement with the counter-intuitive is a marker of the academic world and not of the market world, and I guess that the inverse is true too: that the market world favors the intuitive idea. How interesting then that you like the spoiler now! The academic in you, or just the one rooting for the underdog, perhaps.

But seriously, that statement has really stuck with me. I'm still thinking your initial claim through, also how it relates to this post, and am still not sure it's true.

sk said...

Yes, I like Watt's argument both because I've also been perplexed by the unexamined mechanisms of the magical influencer's influence and because I love a spoiler... But I'd definitely hold my line that the intuitive has great power to drive business decisions, even in the face of contrary evidence. Just look at any number of business books involving pre-school education and moving dairy products. And I invite any of my other few readers to weigh in, but if I had a nickel for every boss or brand manager who told me "not to overthink" an issue or "make it too complicated" well, you know... It's why I joined with some partners who asserted "embracing complexity" as one of their founding principles.

Home Theater said...

Hello. This post is likeable, and your blog is very interesting, congratulations :-). I will add in my blogroll =). If possible gives a last there on my blog, it is about the Home Theater, I hope you enjoy. The address is A hug.

Anonymous said...

To get started winning at an online casino the first thing that you need to do is find one that suits your needs. After all, if you do not have an internet casino that you can wager with, you will never be able to reach your goals in the end. In order to find a casino all you have to do is start your search online. This will allow you to find several options to choose from, and also research each one. In turn, you will never have any problems finding the one that will best match your needs.
[url=]online casino[/url] casino When you are seeking the play based on the bonus you should also check out the cashing out policies that are in place. There are some of the smaller casinos around that will limit the cash out that you can receive. In essence they are telling you when you can have the money that you have won and when you cannot have it. This is a very poor practice that takes place in some of the casinos and you should be mindful of such policies before you start playing. Most of the larger online casinos have no such limitations.
[url=]casino[/url] casino Of course, when you play in a casino, you have a basic understanding that the house almost always wins. This also applies in online casinos. So make sure that you go slowly on transferring money, since online casino, just like traditional casinos, can become quite addictive. [url=]online casino[/url] casino [url=]casino affiliate program[/url] In bingo, each player will get a sheet, which has six cards with a total of 90 numbers. [url=]bingo[/url] [url=]bingo[/url] bingo bingo Bingo is usually played in special halls where many players can play at the same time. The actual fun is the tension building up seeing other players closer and closer to the finish line. However, with the advent of the Internet, BINGO has gone online as well. There are many ways to play on the net, though the basics remain the same. You will have to complete a given pattern before anyone else in order to win. Over the net, you need not shout the computer will flash it out for you. Some online games also have chat attached to the games where you can speak with other players online and have fun right from your home, office or any other place where you can get on the net. Chatting is a great way to meet new people and pick up the tips and tricks. [url=]buy phentermine[/url] buy phentermine