What do Beanie Babies, pet rocks, Pokemon, and Harry Potter have in common? They’re fads. Almost overnight, it seemed, they became “in.” Stores sold out as soon as shipments arrived. Of course, Harry Potter’s popularity makes some sense, since it is an entertaining and engrossing story. But pet rocks? Come on.

What causes a fad to succeed? What drives grown men to eat Happy Meals at lunch so they can get their kids a Teenie Beanie Baby?

It has to do with something called the “tipping point.” The tipping point is a phrase used in epidemiology (the study of epidemics). It reflects the fact that small changes have little effect until a critical mass is reached, which is the tipping point, and one more small change tips the mass over so that a large effect is seen.

Dave Rothacker of www.area51hvac.com introduced me to the notion of tipping points by referring me to the book, “The Tipping Point,” by Malcom Gladwell.

You’re probably thinking, “Great Michel, but what does this have to do with Pokemon? I want to learn what causes it so I can kill it.”

Well, you’re thinking that if you had kids of the right age during the Pokemon craze. Otherwise, you may not have a clue what I’m writing about.

In his book, Gladwell describes how epidemics spread. He says that he asks people to take a piece of paper 1/100th of an inch thick and fold it in half. Then fold the folded piece of paper in half. Repeat it. Again and again until you fold the piece of paper 50 times. How high will the paper be?

Go ahead. Guess. It’s more than you think.

Get out a calculator and try it. The resulting stack of paper will stretch 177.7 million miles high. That’s 177.7 million. The sun is only 98.4 million miles away.

That’s how epidemics are spread and fads are created. One person buys something and tells two others. They buy and each tell two others, who buy. The process repeats. It repeats five more times. There are now 127 buyers.
If the process repeats another five times there are 4,095 buyers. If it repeats yet another five times, there will be 131,071 buyers.

It’s called geometric progression. And it can work in your business.

Ask a customer to tell two people about your business. If a referred person gives you try, ask them to tell two people, and so on and so on. Applying the tipping point principle to word-of-mouth marketing, it’s possible to build a wildly successful business on referrals alone. But there’s a catch.

You have ASK for referrals. Always. All the time. Every time.

As a very wise man once said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.