Contagious: Why things Catch On

It’s a bit strange reading a book called Contagious at a time when the COVID-19 virus is in full swing.  In my defense, I started reading this book a month ago after hearing Berger, a Professor of Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania, conduct a webinar.  Contagious discusses viral marketing and is both insightful and practical at the same time.

Berger shares many examples throughout the book of viral campaigns which made me interrupt my reading to check out some of these examples online.  Spoiler alert.  Check out Ken Craig’s corn video. 

To summarize the key points in the book:

  • Any product or behavior can go viral, so there is no excuse that your brand, product or service is just not capable of becoming contagious.
  • Next time you think you need to hire a celebrity or social influencer, think again.  These people are NOT the reason something goes viral.  Berger states, “…social epidemics are driven by the products and ideas themselves.” 
  • The characteristics that are most likely to cause a product or service to be shared or talked about are captured in Berger’s “STEPPS” acronym.

Social currency - -people like to share things that make them look good (i.e., smart, cool hip)

Triggers – If something is top of mind people will talk about it.  Triggers help keep things top of mind.  A song called “Friday” gets a lot of airplay on what day?  You guessed it – Friday!

Emotion – when we care, we share things with others and when we are “riled up” about something we overshare.  How can you get your audience “riled up”?

Public – the product or service must be a public behavior in order to be shared.  If your product or service is private (i.e., the toothpaste you use, the pantyhose you wear), you must determine a way to make it public.

Practical Value – people like to help one another.  If you have practical information that can help someone, then a person is more willing to share that information, especially when the information is about a narrower topic.  Although it is counterintuitive, sharing a narrower topic will be more likely to trigger someone to share information.

Stories – information travels through stories and chit chat, just make sure that the story can’t be told without mentioning the product or service.

Berger has just released another book called The Catalyst which is about getting people to change their minds.  Based on how interesting and digestible Contagious is, I can’t wait to read his next book.