The Butterfly Effect of Marketing
Illustration: Bruce Crilly
Have you heard of the Butterfly Effect? It’s a chaos theory-based rubric attributed to Edward Lorenz for explaining the sensitivity of the dependence on initial conditions relative to widely dispersed outcomes. The theory is expressed in the saying “the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Thailand can set off a tornado in Texas.”
Okay, so what does that have to do with marketing, especially for small to midsized companies? If you drill down into the Butterfly Effect statement, you learn that small, seemingly insignificant actions can, in time and to a great degree, affect or evolve into great, often extraordinary results not easily conceived in context of the original event. And conversely, you see that the auspices of great outcomes can be found to have relatively benign provenance.
In marketing, we’re often overcome trying to “think big” and “make it rain” and “blow it out,” and a zillion other clichés of bigness. The truth, however, is that we can sometimes reach these astonishing aims by applying the Butterfly Effect and initiating small actions and – this is the key - setting them on the right course.
Here’s a simple viral marketing example: you put a status up on Facebook, for instance, and tell 10 of your friends to pass it to ten of their friends, and so on. Perhaps you’re promoting a secret concert of a popular band. How many times does this have to be passed on for your initial (small) action to have a great effect? In just four repeats of your original action (tell ten friends,) you have 100,000 screaming fans show up at the concert. Uh oh – only 20,000 seats! So, sure, there's very little chaos there. But you can see how quickly simple actions can scale outward to a great degree.
Social media is really the Butterfly Effect in action in today’s marketing world. Brands are seeding conversations, and then setting them off into the ether. And in an extremely democratic (and sometimes terrifying) manner, the brand is weaved into conversations by people, and expanded, and turned into recipes or planking videos or mashups or hashtags. Who knows? It’s chaos, but it’s usually good for the brand. Sometimes (see AdFreak’s recent post on ChapStick’s social debacle,) it’s not so much.Continued on the next page