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How the Network Principle will change the way you think about influence

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What do all of those pictures in the header image have in common?

They are all displaying networks. And they are not the only ones. Take a second to reflect upon the structure of the clothes you are wearing, the muscle tissue in your body, the world wide web you are connected to right now. Everything in this world is interlaced, connected to each other, forming networks. You are a part of a network, and so is your brand and your consumer.

In fact, our beliefs and behaviour are a product of the inputs from those in our network we choose to listen to. As a result, these voices will influence what we buy, where we travel and where we put our vote in a political election.

As a marketeer, the moment you understand the NetworkPrinciple and apply it to the social networks your consumers are part of, that is when you will gain the upper hand. That is when you will be able to successfully spread your message to your audience group, leave an impact and stimulate action. That is when you will make decisions based on science, get the desired results and maximise your marketing budgets.

If you, on the other hand, don’t understand how consumer behaviour is affected by the network laws, your brand’s success will be left to chance.

Uncovering the Network Principle

It’s not only social networks that function in this way. If you’re observing the neurons in our brains, the transport system, the internet, the molecules in a matter or individuals in a social construct - you will realise that most networks function in a similar way.

So how do these networks work? They consist of nodes (points) connected to each other through edges (links). The nodes are constantly receiving, processing and passing on information to each other. And just like they are structured in the same way, they also have the same goal - to make sure that the pass of information between nodes is as efficient as possible. In many networks, this means that the nodes must put a threshold in place to block out some of the many signals from passing on, so that room can be kept for the more valuable signals.

For example, zoom in on the brain and you will observe 86 billion neurons connected to each other - receiving, processing and sending information from one neuron to another. With each neuron firing between 5-10 signals per second, you do the math - it’s a lot of signals firing! Thus, a signal needs to reach a critical threshold to be passed on, which in neuroscience is called the action potential.

Zoom in on any substance and you will realise that all matter, in fact, consists of a large number of atoms and molecules connected to each other in a network. And for a matter to change state, the network of molecules needs to reach a certain temperature and pressure threshold, which is called the boiling/freezing point.

Only when the specific threshold is reached will the desired event take place. Such is the law of the Network Principle.

Overcome your consumer’s attention filters

That also means that when it comes to your consumers, your marketing message needs to reach a certain threshold, in social constructs called the critical mass, for them to notice, listen to and act upon your message. Think about it, while reading this article, there are plenty of distractions fighting for your attention, on your computer and in your surroundings, but yet, you manage to focus on this text (I hope!). We cannot possibly react and act upon all the millions of stimuli we are exposed to every day, so to help out, our brain decided to put attention filters in place (learn more about attention filters here).

For a piece of information to reach the critical threshold and get through the attention filter, it needs to be deemed important, relevant and trustworthy enough (being communicated repeatedly also helps) to be brought to our attention. But just like different matters have unique boiling points, each social network has their unique critical threshold. Understanding the critical threshold for a specific network does not happen overnight. It happens after repeatedly analysing the data, psychology and behaviour of the nodes, your consumers, in the network.

So what can you do right now?

Well, although every social network has a unique threshold, there are some universal laws governing all networks. Firstly, the message will be spread more successfully if it is communicated from the most influential nodes (the single node with the most connections) and secondly, in the most clustered areas of the network (areas with a high amount of connections between nodes).

Ask yourself:

● What networks are your ideal consumers part of?

● Which is the most influential and well-connected voice within that network?

● Can you locate areas where interaction between your potential consumers are high?

The three steps approach

To figure this out is the first step. The second step is to have the most well-connected voices within your ideal customer's network to communicate your message repeatedly. The third step, yet hard to reach, is the ultimate aim of all marketers. It’s when your message has been adopted by a sufficient number of individuals and becomes self-sustaining. It’s when you are the most influential node in your network.

Summary

Understanding the network principle is key to becoming an influential brand in today’s world. Just like neurons and molecules, your consumers’ behaviour is not easy to trigger. However, if you understand what is needed for information to flow between your customers, you will soon discover how to create and spread a message that is adopted by a sufficient number of individuals, and that in the end becomes self-sustaining. When your message resonates and spreads between the people that matter to you, your brand has become a strong source of influence. In a world where influence is the real currency for growth, it’s only when you become the most influential node in your desired network that you can become a true category leader. To get there, you need to start at square one - uncovering and understanding the networks of your ideal customers.

Alice Pavin, Innovation and Psychology Research at Tailify

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