Contagious: Why Things Catch On [Speed Summary]

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Ever since Gladwell’s Tipping Point, the business press has been adding flesh to the bare bones theory that what make’s a product or idea ‘go viral’ is 1) The Law of the Few (seed with influencers), 2) The Stickiness Factor (play to psychological biases), and 3) The Power of Context (shape to fits the context of adoption and use)…

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Wharton associate marketing professor Jonah Berger is the latest attempt, and it offers some new examples and a new mnemonic for creating stuff that spreads: STEPPS

  • Social Currency: ‘Appearances matter.’ Give your product – and its owner – social status by making it – and those who own/talk about it appear REMARKABLE (interesting, exclusive, distinctive, attractive, successful).  Example: Blendtec’s Does it Blend Videos, Please Don’t Tell NY hidden bar, Rue La La’s secret flash sales…
  • Triggers: ‘Top of Mind, Tip of Tongue.’ Associate your product with ideas and activities in peoples lives (moments – Kit Kat = break, colours, Coke = Red, music, words (more Mars candy stories in news during Mars pathfinder news story)
  • Emotion: ‘When we care, we share’. Focus on what really matters and be ‘awe-some’ by asking the ‘3 Whys’ (Why is this product important, why is that important, and why is that important) and striving to evoke ‘awe’ – the sense of wonder and amazement that occurs when someone is inspired by great knowledge, beauty, sublimity. Example – Google’s Search On campaign (how to impress a French girl)
  • Public: ‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’: Make adoption and use, publicly visible and copyable – e.g. Prostate cancer Movember campaign, Nike Livestrong
  • Practical value: ‘News you can use’  Should be Useful – in a short, straightforward, and simple way – for you, and for who you share it with.  Example, a corn on the cob tip on YouTube gets 7M+ views. The Power of Lists (buzzfeed style news)
  • Stories: ‘Once Upon a Time’ – Your product should be wrapped up/communicated in a shareable (human) story or narrative – e.g. Subway – Jared Fogle story, went from 60″ waist to 34″ eating Subway sandwiches.  But ensure your product is an integral part of the story (many people forget the product that is advertised in story-based ads/word of mouth)

The BG Take

Contagious – Why Things Catch On adds useful new examples, and a new STEPPS mnemonic into the innovators vocabulary.  There are a many ways to skin the viral cat – Tipping Point, Unleashing the Ideavirus, How Hits Happen, Made to Stick – and while there are few  ‘awe-some’ revelations Contagious holds its own…

Contagious Summary


Paul Marsden

All stories by: Paul Marsden

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