Contagious - Jonah Berger

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Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at Wharton, presents in Contagious an intuitive 6-part theory to explain why certain things go ‘viral’ and others don’t. Although the writing is stifled and at times tedious to read, Contagious offers the reader a useful framework to measure and analyze past and future products.

Berger says that word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20-50% of purchases, and that only 7% of word of mouth happens online. The conclusion from these statistics is that marketers need to instigate offline + word of mouth in order to successfully market their products. Further, Berger leans away from the use of influencers (covered in Gladwell’s The Tipping Point), instead arguing that leveraging certain principles that encourage regular users to spread offline + word of mouth is not only more cost-effective but also more likely to create virality.

Berger’s 6-part theory form the mnemonic STEPPS:

(1) Social currency: people share things that make them look good, e.g. intellectual, erudite, interested in XYZ

There are 3 ways to do this:

(i) find inner remarkability, e.g. Snapple facts

(ii) leverage game mechanics, e.g. airline loyalty programs -- people love to talk about their XYZ status

(iii) make people feel like insiders, e.g. Burberry's Art of the Trench campaign which crowdsourced photos from customers and ending up driving sales by 50%. It successfully leveraged the principle of exclusivity, which is socially desirable

(2) Triggers: offer triggers to remind customers of the product even when they're not using it. Understanding context and use cases is important, e.g. reusable grocery bags aren't effective as people often don't remember they have them until they get to the store without them. 'Poison parasite', the idea of injecting your message into an existing message can be effective -- a health campaign used the Marlboro man to great effect.

(3) Emotions: are more than just 1-dimensional (positive/negative), but are 2-dimension (also high/low activation), and it's the high activation that counts, e.g. shock/disgust/surprise. Google's Parisian Love campaign effectively utilised this.

(4) Observability: make the private public, e.g. the Apple laptop logo, which provides social proof about a brand's widespread-ness. Other examples include: the yellow Livestrong wrist-bands, seeding tip jars, and Hotmail's extremely effective marketing trick of appending "get your private free email at Hotmail" to the bottom of every email (covered in Holiday's Growth Hacker Marketing, currently reading).

(5) Practical Value: self-explanatory, but also subject to diminishing sensitivity, the idea that while you’d drive 10 minutes to get $10 off a $20 radio, you wouldn't do so to get $10 off a $650 TV (despite the same absolute discount, i.e. irrational behaviour)

(6) Stories: people don’t think or remember in terms of information, they’re far better equipped to deal with stories

One of Berger's case-studies was Blendtec, which created the highly successful 'Will It Blend' YouTube series (today stands at ~900K subscribers and 280M lifetime views). Off an initial $50 budget, Blendtec’s first video became the 33rd-most-viewed series ever on YouTube (at the time), and helped drive sales of the company’s $399 high-end consumer blender up  500%. (link

It used social currency (erudite information) emotions (surprise), practical value (product information about the blender's strength), stories (great story to share).