Would you call the 1 800 number on a soap bar?

In case some of you have not noticed, products sold in the US have the distinctive property that there is almost always a 1 800 number written somewhere on the back of it. Now, this seemed rather weird to me the first time I saw it. My initial thought was that this must be part of some weird law or requirement similar to the bizarre warning - Caution: Contents may be HOT - that you can find on coffee cups. After all, when someone purchases a bar of soap, would they really want to call that number other than to complain about something?

Well, it seems that there is indeed such a group of people who do care about such things. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell labels such people Mavens . Mavens are people who seek to be experts in their respective field. You can think of them as the equivalent of the computer geeks but in the real world. Mavens are people who devote themselves to finding out anything and everything they can about a product. They then propagate this information to anyone who is willing to hear them out. And since normal people like you and me don't really care so much about that bar of soap, the 1 800 number is generally reserved for the Mavens.

What's the point of all this? Well, turns out that Mavens are people who might actually affect whether something sells or not. Not everyone cares about a bar of soap but most people will care about something that they are going to invest a lot of money in, say, a car. No one is going to get a car without consulting a friend or a friend's friend who has more experience on a car. And this is where Mavens play a very important role. You are probably going to trust what the expert says. And smart companies are going to try their best to win over these experts.

Mavens occupy a very precise role in influencing the selling point of a product. Sometimes, their roles seem so inconsequential. But at other times, their opinions carry so much weight that it is almost suicidal for a business to ignore them. Of course, it is important to be able to distinguish the real Mavens from the wannabes.

The Tipping Point contains lots of tit-bits like the above. While the book itself is lacking a cohesive theme, it redeems itself by presenting lots of interesting cases and it lets the reader form his or her own conclusions. Reading the book is probably not going to change your life - which never was the intent of the book. Instead, the book aims to bring together a collection of these observations and present them as plausible theories of how the tipping point might come about.

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