image source: Bill Wadman, TIME

image source: Bill Wadman, TIME

Marketers can learn a lot from the way Malcolm Gladwell looks at the world. He turns traditional assumptions on their head to reveal some surprising truths behind our thoughts, actions, and purchase decisions.

So it’s not surprising to me that SiriusDecisions asked him to deliver the keynote address at their upcoming summit on May 21.

We thought it might be fun to consider, What would Malcolm Gladwell do if he were in charge of your content? Here are a few things we can learn from that (albeit highly unlikely) scenario.

He’d Focus on Visuals

In his book, Blink, Gladwell argues that our ability to “thin-slice” or make split-second decisions about a person, situation, or problem can be every bit as good as decisions made more cautiously and deliberately.

Readers in the digital age are making split-second decisions about content all the time, often before they absorb any text at all. Since visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text, design influences these first impressions.

To cater to readers’ initial hunches, Gladwell would invest in the visual experience of your content. He’d craft a beautiful, interesting and clean experience for your readers. He’d argue that you aren’t going to win anyone in the first few seconds with great text, you’re going to win them with great design. And he’d be right.

He’d Find Something Sticky

What would Malcolm Gladwell do if he were in charge of your content? These 4 things.

Fads don’t just happen. In fact, fads really aren’t fads at all. They’re illustrations of what Gladwell calls “the tipping point,” that one moment when everything can change all at once. Ideas, products, and messages, he argues, can spread into fads just like viruses can spread into epidemics. What boosts them into a fad status depends on a variety of characteristics or “laws.” The “stickiness factor” is one of them.

At a time of information-overload, finding a way to make a message stick is essential to its survival. Gladwell would ensure that your content offered something that no other content in your industry offered—something unique to make it stand out from the noise and draw people in. Whether through its presentation, its theme, or its design, Gladwell would find a way to make a splash with your content.

He’d Create a Content-Friendly Environment

Context is a very powerful thing. And in Gladwell’s world, it can actually alter results. Want less crime in your city? Clean the subways and repair broken windows. Want to generate excellent, industry-defining content? Transform your conventional office space into an unconventional haven for creativity, innovation, and focus.

Create comfortable and fun collaborative work stations. Add bright colors to your hospital-white walls. Tear down the cubicles. Offer a meditation space. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Groupon have already hopped on this trend. And Gladwell would bring it to your company. Or at least your marketing team.

He’d Create a Variety of Content

“There is no perfect pickle; there are only perfect pickles.” These words were uttered by one of Gladwell’s favorites, Dr. Howard Moscowitz. A market researcher for Pepsi, Campbell’s Soup, Vlasic Pickles, and many more notable brands, Moscowitz argued that instead of tailoring your product to some sort of ideal your customers tell you they want in focus groups, cater instead to their intrinsically various tastes by offering a variety of products. Moscowitze found that people can’t really tell you want they want. You have to offer them a variety of experiences and watch what they do.

If Gladwell was in charge of your content operation, he wouldn’t settle on one or two themes to focus on based on what your customers say. He’d test out a variety of content themes and formats and identify which performed best with your audience based on their activity. He’d embrace the diversity of your readers and develop a host of different content types, formats, and themes to celebrate that diversity.

Gladwell will probably never write content for my company. And he probably won’t write content for yours either. Nevertheless, we’re really excited to hear him speak at the SiriusDecisions Summit. We can all benefit from adopting new perspectives that push us to think about our customers, business, and messaging in unconventional ways.

Are you going to the SiriusDecisions Summit, too? Come say hi at Booth 23. We’re really nice.