Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Contagious. Why Things Catch On.
Author: Jonah Berger
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: 5/3/2016
The New York Times bestseller that explains why certain products and ideas become popular. “Jonah Berger knows more about what makes information ‘go viral’ than anyone in the world” (Daniel Gilbert, author of the bestseller Stumbling on Happiness).

Contagious: Why Things Catch On By. Jonah Berger

Key Insights

Have you ever wondered what makes a product successful?

There are some products and services that seem to spread like wildfire?

But, how can you make that happen for your business?

“If something is built to show, it’s built to grow.”- Jonah Berger

In “Contagious” by Jonah Berger, you will gain the insight you need to get your product to really catch on. He introduces the STEPPS formula that will help you to reach your sales goals and create a must-have product.

After reading this, your product will go viral! You’ll be fighting to keep us as consumers demand more and more.

Key Points

  • What Makes A Product Shareable?

What is it that makes a product go viral? Is it the quality of the product itself or is it great marketing?

Of course, it’s a little bit of each. There are some products that just have that must-have quality to them and automatically attract the consumer. But, there must be smart-planning behind it.

An example of this is the Barclay Prime Steakhouse in Philidelphia, PA. The restaurant owner Howard Wein introduced a $100 cheesecake to the menu which created a huge buzz, as you can imagine! There were celebrities visiting, news media covering it, and it overall made the restaurant more profitable and popular than ever before!

  • Word-Of-Mouth

Word-of-mouth is a great way for you to get your product or service to become contagious. It’s actually a greater influence than professional advertising and marketing.

Advertising and marketing is a good tool and can create a buzz, but it will not make a product become contagious, which is the goal.

Businesses must make people aware of the product for it to spread word-of-mouth.

In our modern-day world, we share things all the time on social media. It’s the new-age form of word-of-mouth. A lot of the things we share are products and brand-related items. We may not think we have the power of influencing others with our posts, but we’re wrong! Studies show that up to ¼ of all the purchases we make are influenced by word-of-mouth.

Though professional ads can reach more people, word-of-mouth is still stronger in the marketing game because we tend to trust people we know more. If a co-worker likes a certain brand of laundry detergent, maybe you will too!

Another reason why word-of-mouth is so successful is that it is more precise. If you are a quilter and so is your friend, you may shop at the same fabric place as her because she recommended it. Word-of-mouth spreads through communities of people.

Social media is only 7% of the word-of-mouth advertisement though. There has to be more advertisement to make a product contagious.

  • Sharing

We all like to impress other people. And, an easy way to do this is to share some “insider” knowledge of different subjects and new products.

Impressing people is pleasurable for humans. It actually activates the same part of the brain as food and money do. And, of course, sharing and helping others also makes us look good!

“When we care, we share.”- Jonah Berger

Sharing is a solid form of social currency. People will more likely share their knowledge or opinion on something if they think that it will impress the people around them.

Businesses often use this sharing currency to their advantage. For example, in big cities, many bars have secret entrances. This makes it elite and fun and a great conversation-starter for sharing knowledge.

“So to get people talking, companies and organizations need to mint social currency. Give people a way to make themselves look good while promoting their products and ideas along the way. There are three ways to do that: (1) find inner remarkability; (2) leverage game mechanics; and (3) make people feel like insiders.”- Jonah Berger

Another example of this is when drink companies put fun-facts under their lids. People find it enjoyable to share these little facts, and while they are sharing the facts, they are also sharing the brand name.

A lot of people gain pleasure by sharing the awards they have received. And, that is why companies give rewards to frequent customers, flyers, etc.

  • Why Products Can Be Influential

Sharing in social settings is a powerful influence, but there are only so many times we can endorse a product by sharing it with our communities.

That’s why it’s important for the product to have a trigger. The idea was brought to light by Psychologist Daniel Kahneman who discovered that there are certain ideas and products that trigger others. It’s all about the association and how things connect.

A great pop-culture example of this is the song “Friday” by. Rebecca Black. Of course, everyone hated the song. But, it was so popular because everyone has personal experiences with that day of the week. Everyone is looking forward to Friday, so the song “Friday” was referenced and repeated throughout the nation.

Triggers must be long-term for them to work. “Friday” will always be relevant because we will always be looking forward to Friday.

  • Arousing Emotions

It is proven that products and ideas that feed our emotions are the ones we are most likely to share with others.

For example, The New York Times did a study to see which of their articles were shared the most. The winner? Health and science articles that produced some kind of strong emotion from readers.

The same study determined that social-sharers were more likely to share positive news rather than negative news. This makes sense because people want to make other people feel good. This explains why certain articles and videos go viral online and in the media.

These viral videos and articles excite us, which pushes us to share it with others.

  • Frequent Observation

Did you know that the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign actually led to a rise in drug use? Why was that?

It was because it was so highly publicized and shared for the frequent observation that it served as a sort of advertisement for drug use, even though the opposite was the goal of the campaign. But, the logo made the use of drugs seem normal.

“Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular.”- Jonah Berger

As humans, we tend to imitate behavior that we see. So, when we see others performing an activity or using a certain product, we want to join in too.

This is seen widely in media trends. For example, “Movember” where men grow out their mustaches in November. Everyone wanted to be apart of it. And, the trend actually raised issues about men’s health.

This all relates back to social proof: When we see others doing something we automatically believe that it is good for us too.

A lot of marketers will take advantage of this. For example, the Livestrong bracelets were a huge success. They were bright yellow and so it was easy to see how many people were wearing them, and of course, everyone who wasn’t wanted to jump in and become involved.

Service people often put dollars in the tip jar in order to show others that tipping is common and the right thing to do.

  • Simple, Practical, & Useful

We share things that we find are useful. That is because we are always looking for things that will ease our daily stressors and improve our quality of life.

For example, an 86-year-old named Ken Craig made a video that went viral about microwaving ears of corn to remove the silk. It was so simple, but people benefitted from it so it was shared over and over again.

A lot of these viral videos and articles are about simple ways of saving money. This is because it is something everyone wants to do!

The potential audience is another factor to always consider when branding a product. If you focus on a smaller group of people or a niche community, you will have greater success than targeting a whole nation of people.

For example, if you are selling horse saddles, not everyone is going to jump to buy one. Most people don’t own a horse. But, if you focus on a community of riders and farm owners, you will have more business success.

  • Using Narratives

Before we wrote our stories down, narratives were what we used to carry our stories and ideas from one generation to the next and in different locations. A famous example of this is the story of the Trojan Horse, which has stuck with us for centuries.

Like the Trojan Horse, our narratives can hide ideas within them without us even noticing! And, it doesn’t even matter if these narratives are valid as long as people enjoy the story.

“People don't think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.”- Jonah Berger

We don’t often question narratives we see advertised. For example, the company Subway shared Jared Fogle’s narrative when he lost 245 lbs. by eating just sandwiches from Subway. This turned into an extremely successful campaign!

What people got out of Jared’s story was the message that Subway sandwiches are a healthy, tasty, and satisfying diet.

Narratives work to share information with people through an engaging and creative way.

The Main Take-Away

Contagious ideas are ones that people are excited to share with others. By following the STEPPS formula of sharing information, using triggers, arousing emotion, making your product visible, making your product valuable, and shaping it with a narrative, you too, can have a contagious product.


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