The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell tried to explain why events, stories, issues go viral. Why they spread. And his explanations are as important today as they were when he first published in 2000.  There is so much in this book to inspire entrepreneurs to think outside the box and to understand how to tell their stories so they spread. The central thesis is that epidemics happen because they tip. They potter along, (Airwalk shoes, crime rates, Sesame Street, Winston cigarettes, suicide rates, hush puppies) at a pedestrian rate and then bang something changes and the volume (sales, viewing figures, crime rates) takes off.

It’s worth noting the elements identified by Gladwell for something to tip, to go viral! They are the same elements that make great story telling succeed.

The Law of the Few, why the messenger is unreasonably important. We understand that 20% of public companies represent 80% of the value of the stock market. We understand the 80:20 rule. We understand in many industries there a few dominant players then a long tail of smaller players. Well it’s the same with epidemics, “a tiny % of people do the majority of the work”. You need to understand that in your business you need to develop very good story tellers. People who can engage in deep conversations. Is your sales team filled with well trained messengers who can diagnose the prospect, who define themselves by the questions they ask, who sound and talk like businessmen not sales people?

Stickiness, the need for a compelling story. Do you have a compelling story? A simple, laconic narrative of what your remarkable at! Is this messaging reinforced in all marketing collateral? “The Stickiness Factor says that there are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable; there are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a big difference in how much impact it makes”.

Context, how human beings are ultra sensitive to their environment. Are you using vocabulary in your marketing and sales scripts that your prospects understand, recognize, relate to? Do the words you use offer the context of why your solution is relevant to their world?  It’s about them not you.

So telling compelling stories is a key skill for the CEO and the leadership team. Just think of the plethora of situations:

  1. CEOs explaining their strategy to employees
  2. Marketing leaders defining the exact space the company is trying to monopolize
  3. Sales teams translating the marketing message into clear business results you can achieve for customers
  4. Acquirer’s persuading a seller of a business why the deal makes sense
  5. Raising finance is all about telling a story, really well
  6. Motivating your team will always be about great story telling

You can get many things right in scaling your business but if your story is not contagious, not told by talented messagers and lacks context for the audience, it will fail to connect. Great story telling and successful entrepreneurs are symbiotic.

Further reading:

Luke Johnson Column FT
Tell to Win by Peter Guber