Tuesday, 21 February 2012

What is the Tipping Point?

Wow, I read a great book this week called The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell.  You guys and gals have probably already read it.

It's about social epidemics - i.e. what causes clothing trends to take hold, or a book to become a bestseller.  The author cleverly summarises different bits of sociological research, to come up with an overarching theory of what causes epidemics to 'tip': namely i) the Law of the Few, ii) the Stickiness Factor and iii) the Power of Context.

There are obviously lots of applications for these theories (which you'll notice I haven't bothered to explain, principally because I'll make a mug of myself and totally trivialise a great book); but here and now let's use the Tipping Point to examine the possibility of a 'craft'* upsurge in Birmingham.

The Law of the Few

Could Birmingham sustain a craft beer bar?  If so, why hasn't anyone opened one?  Well perhaps there isn't a visible beer geek culture in the City.  And if that is so, how do we turn the current level of interest into an epidemic of beer desire?  Well, we need three people, or perhaps one who can perform three roles:

i) a Connector - someone who knows people. Lots of people.  Someone who not only knows people, but is able to make, wait for it, connections based on the interests, skills and contacts of the people who are 'on their list'.  Perhaps there is someone in the industry who is able to galvanise others and get people excited, or perhaps there is a lucid, focussed, driven person who can flick some switches, fiddle with some knobs and get people to see the great benefits that a new type of bar could bring.

ii) a Maven - someone who is fastidious in their research, who obssesses about being more knowledgable, but who also has an inbuilt urge to share their knowledge and educate others.  I am certain that there are beer Mavens in Birmingham, itching to unload a big wad of beer love/passion/schooling on an unsuspecting public.    

iii) a Salesman - someone with the gift of the gab, who knows the arguments and how to win them.  If people need to be persuaded to sample new beers, new styles, new flavours etc, then a salesman (or woman) is the person to do it.  Money could be a motivator here.

The Stickiness Factor

How enduring a product is beer.  Quite enduring.  But what about new and different (and possibly more pricey) beers?  What will connect an unsuspecting Birmingham populous to these products which thus far have not reached our City?  I don't actually know this one, or at least I don't have anything succinct enough to write here.  Mail me for more details.

The Power of Context

What conditions in the local environment (the Birmingham beer drinking scene) will make it ripe for a 'craft' beer bar/explosion?  Well, my guess at this one is that people need to know what they're missing.  But how can this happen?

More importantly, is this post turning into a massive load of airy fairy drivel?  Don't answer that.

In conclusion then, Birmingham is in need of a tipping point, to start the new beer revolution, which has already happened in Manchester, London, Sheffield, Newcastle, Leeds, Cambridge.....  I promise to do my bit as a beer Maven, but I am unable to open a bar by myself.  Please will all potential connectors please contact me so that we can recruit suitable salespeople, in order to provide products which will become stickier and stickier.

*we won't be getting into what this term actually means, other people have already done that.

1 comment:

  1. Excellently observed. I reckon the stickiness factor isn't really an issue - having sat and looked around me on my last few visits to the Post Office Vaults, it really feels a case of "if you build it, they will come". The POV's bottled beer range provides a good variety for customers to reach out into new and different beer styles, and a significant proportion of people in there on a reasonably busy night are doing just that.

    The POV (along with several other reasonably good cask ale pubs in the close proximity) also demonstrates one of the key factors that I believe is essential in terms of the context - close access to the main public transport links. It is literally two or three minutes from the bar to the platform at New St as well as close to Snow Hill and lots of bus routes, and this is exactly what you need to attract the combination of commuters on the way home, passers-through changing trains, and those who will travel in specially. I think it is a great shame really that POV didn't go further in providing exactly what you, and an increasing number of other local Mavens, a group I'd hope to include myself in, are calling for more and more loudly.

    Unfortunately the more places that open, that are good but don't quite raise the bar high enough, then the harder it is to justify the next one that we need to start the revolution proper as the local market runs the risk of saturating. But at least the bar is being raised a little, and hopefully there's still plenty of scope for a new entrant that really will push the bar higher. We really do just need the Connectors and Salesmen to finally make it happen.