New study suggests a passionate minority can sway the majority

by Mack Collier

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have concluded that it only takes 10 percent of a population holding an unshakable belief in order to convince the majority to adopt that same belief.  In fact, the scientists found that this will always be the case.

“When the number of committed  holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority,” said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. “Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”

This study ties into an idea I’ve been thinking about recently; the difference between how companies market themselves versus how rockstars do.  And while my graphical skills on the computer suck, I am a bit better at freehand, so I drew a graph to demonstrate what the customer base for the average company looks like:

Obviously, the size of the market for New Customers will always be bigger than the others.  After that you get Existing Customers, then customers with Some Brand Affinity and finally, Brand Advocates.  Note also that New Customers have the least amount of Brand Loyalty, and that increases for each group with Brand Advocates having the highest levels of loyalty.

But note the disconnect between which group most companies target, versus the group that most rockstars target:

At first glance, this can seem like the smart play for companies, because they are targeting the group that’s the largest.  The problem is, this group also has the lowest levels of loyalty to the brand.  So the company may be gaining New Customers, but it’s probably losing them just as quickly, again due to a lack of brand affinity.

But note what Rockstars do;  They focus on the people that already love them.  Unlike the New Customers, this group has a strong degree of loyalty for the rockstar.  So much so, that they will go out and actively recruit people from the OTHER groups to the left to come join them.  And yes, we have stats to back that up as well:

Note that evangelists refer business equal to 45% of the money they spend.  That means that the Brand Advocates that the Rockstars target, and also going out and finding new business for the Rockstar from the OTHER groups.

Remember also the study I referenced at the start of the post: Scientists have discovered that if 10% of a population have an unshakable belief in an idea, they will eventually convince the majority to adopt their stance.  The ’10-Percenters’ are your Brand Advocates.

So let’s compare and contrast the two approaches:

Company – Targets New Customers. Loses them just as quickly as it gains them, so constantly having to reinvest in getting more New Customers to replace the ones it lost yesterday.

Rockstar – Targets Brand Advocates (Fans). Brand Advocates have a strong sense of loyalty for the Rockstar, so they not only stay as customers, they go out and actively recruit New Customers, Existing Customers, and customers with Some Brand Affinity to buy from the Rockstar.

See the difference?  While the company is engaged in an almost constant zero-sum game, the Rockstar isn’t focusing so much on expanding its customer base, but rather on delighting the people that are already delighted with the Rockstar.  Because the Rockstar understands that its next sale is just as likely to come from the efforts of its EXISTING fans as it is their own.

This also is why Steve Knox said this:

Said in terms of the above graph, that quote would be ‘Victory in marketing doesn’t happen when you get New Customers, but when you connect with your Brand Advocates.”  Because your Brand Advocates are the people that are bringing you the New Customers anyway.

Companies, y’all make this marketing stuff too hard.  It’s not about spending a lot of money trying to convince strangers to buy from you, it’s about delighting the people that already love you.

newdaynewlesson August 2, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I liked this one. Now I have proof it pays to be passionate eh?

gina_romero August 2, 2011 at 12:09 pm

@MissDestructo @mackcollier just LOVE that post – makes so much sense :-)

MackCollier August 2, 2011 at 12:15 pm

@gina_romero @MissDestructo Thank you both, wish it made sense to more companies 😉

ljcrest August 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Hi Mack! This is actually an established theory of organizational behavior in academic circles. But it’s so empowering to know that a motivated few can be the fulcrum for change!

MackCollier August 2, 2011 at 1:06 pm

@newdaynewlesson Yes, passionate people are attractive, literally!

newdaynewlesson August 2, 2011 at 1:08 pm

LOl why thank you. @MackCollier and if I had ever met you personally I might be blushing as well. :-) (Just kidding)

JayBaer August 2, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Excellent post Mack. I love the visuals!

MackCollier August 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm

@JayBaer Thanks Jay!

MackCollier August 2, 2011 at 1:50 pm

@belllindsay Thank you Lindsay, I really think Rockstars have a lot to teach companies about connecting with their customers & WHICH ones.

RyoatCision August 2, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Thanks Mack, this is really nice. One thing I really like about the focus on brand advocates is that they are also stakeholders in your product–they are the people you should already be paying attention to to improve or develop your product. It’s good business, good customer relations, and it’s nice to see this kind of payoff for that.

belllindsay August 2, 2011 at 1:55 pm

@MackCollier I’m a little on the fence about the whole “Rockstar” thing, but agree they are valuable, and your article was compelling!

MackCollier August 2, 2011 at 1:56 pm

@belllindsay I’m talking REAL Rockstars, not the fake Social Media kind 😉

belllindsay August 2, 2011 at 2:01 pm

@MackCollier LOL! Oh, I get it then! 😉

bhairoovnfd4 August 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm


MackCollier August 2, 2011 at 3:40 pm

@RyoatCision Great point, with advocates, there is an assumed level of ownership that the advocates feel in the brand. It only makes sense for the brand to encourage this, and approach its advocates as people that are stakeholders. Empower the people that want to help you. Simple as that.

MadelineHere August 2, 2011 at 3:53 pm

@ljcrest As an aside – you make a great point about why it’s good not to be myopic. When we allow ourselves to learn a lot from a lot of sources we may find that there is something someone has already worked out that we can put to use.

It stops the need for reinventing the wheel and strengthens the position of the original premise, idea, or product.

Plus “repurposing” allows us to see things from other perspectives.

MadelineHere August 2, 2011 at 3:56 pm

@JayBaer I think about visuals all the time – and I like these ’cause they “humanize” the experience of “chatting” here with Mack.

Sometimes we just get too fancy. Sometimes we don’t need all the latest frills – sometimes I like to see someone’s actual handwriting.

Isn’t that why people collect signatures?

(And let me just say this is from someone with a Master’s in Design…)

MadelineHere August 2, 2011 at 3:56 pm

@JayBaer I think about visuals all the time – and I like these ’cause they “humanize” the experience of “chatting” here with Mack.

Sometimes we just get too fancy. Sometimes we don’t need all the latest frills – sometimes I like to see someone’s actual handwriting.

Isn’t that why people collect signatures?

(And let me just say this is from someone with a Master’s in Design…)

CaraFuggetta August 2, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Mack, totally on board with you! Companies need to focus on the people who love them, and get them to spread the love on their behalf. Not only is it more cost-efficient, Advocates are much more influential and trustworthy than marketers. I work for Zuberance where we help our customers energize their Advocates to create social recommendations and we’ve found that Advocates make up much more than just 10% of a company’s customer base- on average, 40-50%, even for “non-sexy” brands (I wrote a blog post mentioning a few of these recently:

Thanks for the post. Cheers!

Peter St Onge August 2, 2011 at 7:40 pm

So related question, what if there are committed haters of your brand. A competing 10%, basically. Focus on them or pass them by and appeal to the enthusiasts? I’m thinking of Dell here.

Kids' Crafts August 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm

I’ve been reading up on the 80/20 Pareto Principle, and certain economists argue that it would be more profitable for a business to focus on the “20” percent of patrons that account for “80” % of its business, than try to get more out of the other 80% of the people. I think many businesses need to adopt this Law/Principle and make it work for them…

SteveWoodruff August 3, 2011 at 5:39 am

Always go for the passionate ones on both ends of the spectrum, I’d say. They will have the most influence – and if you turn a negative into a positive, even more so!

hubersports August 3, 2011 at 9:31 am


MackCollier August 3, 2011 at 10:40 am

@SteveWoodruff Peter that’s a great question, and Steve stole my answer. I would focus on the 10%ish that love you, but the next group I would focus on would be the haters. One of the biggest misconceptions that companies have about ‘haters’ is that they actually HATE the brand. Most of the time they don’t, it’s that they HATE the PROBLEM they are having with your product and they HATE the fact that they can’t get you to do anything to help them.

Most of the time, if a company will make an honest and sincere effort to listen to a ‘hater’ and solve their problem, the hater will be flipped into an evangelist.

This was actually verified by a study done over last Holiday shopping season –

MikaleenMcClure August 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm

@nateriggs @mackcollier The Loudest roar is thee only one herd!

MackCollier August 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm

@nateriggs Thanks Nate!

MackCollier August 3, 2011 at 5:29 pm

@juliacantor Thank you Julia!

Peter St Onge August 3, 2011 at 10:15 pm

@MackCollier@SteveWoodruff Really great points, guys. Sounds like it’s first the lovers, then the haters, then the silent majority.

BornToCall August 4, 2011 at 2:10 pm

@skweal Thought Gladwell’s been saying that for years 😉

MackCollier August 5, 2011 at 11:02 am

@Ekaterina Thank you! I am pretty passionate about that topic as I think most companies are completely missing the marketing boat!

Ekaterina August 5, 2011 at 11:04 am

@MackCollier totally agree!

badersartawi August 8, 2011 at 6:47 pm

@BakerSartawi they still dont understand the word #fanumers and its value nowadays.

hosakagxoi7 August 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm


MackCollier August 12, 2011 at 3:35 pm

@MayfieldGroup Thank you! The problem is companies focus on acquiring new customers, and spend 6-7 as much as on retaining existing ones!

MayfieldGroup August 12, 2011 at 8:00 pm

@MackCollier Very true. Now how do we get everyone to see it this way? Thanks again for the post!

MackCollier August 12, 2011 at 8:07 pm

@MayfieldGroup A big prob is CMOs are on VERY limited lifespan at cos, they need to show immediate results, which is why focus on NEW custs

MackCollier August 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm

@MayfieldGroup We keep saying it till they listen 😉 If something is right, it’s worth throwing your passion behind it till others hear it

MayfieldGroup August 12, 2011 at 9:12 pm

@MackCollier Very true. Are you going to be at SMIATL in September?

MackCollier August 12, 2011 at 9:25 pm

@MayfieldGroup I am, presenting a lil session called Think Like a Rockstar 😉 Will you be there?

MayfieldGroup August 12, 2011 at 9:33 pm

@MackCollier Not sure yet, but looks like it will be a great event!

Roger_Tee August 13, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Brilliant!! Building a system to help SMBs do this at

Roger_Tee August 13, 2011 at 4:39 pm

@Peter St Onge you can’t win with haters. Ignore them. If your top 10% love everyone else can go pound sand.

joefinley001 August 13, 2011 at 5:05 pm

@DanHolm Very interesting. What’s it about these evangelists that make ’em influential? Is it their passion or do they have something else?

DanHolm August 13, 2011 at 5:10 pm

@joefinley001 prepare to geek out with me. Passion: that’s all you need. Influence can be created, passion can’t.

HeidiCohen August 28, 2011 at 11:23 am

Mack–Thank you for highlighting this research. Companies need to treat prospects and customers differently depending on how involved they are and their past actions. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

LindaKleineberg September 12, 2011 at 10:02 am

Great post! I’m a believer in this approach. Had the pleasure of spending some time with BJ Bueno @CultBranding last year – they have made a science of building your brand around your BEST customers. Awesome, thought-provoking, meaningful information at

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