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Contagious: Why Things Catch On Hardcover – March 5, 2013
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We’re all familiar with the idea of something—a video clip, for example—going viral. But how does it happen? Berger identifies six principles that operate, either singly or in combination, when anything goes viral, including social currency (a restaurant makes itself so hard to find that it becomes famous); emotion (the clip of Susan Boyle’s first appearance on Britain’s Got Talent exploded on YouTube because people reacted to it emotionally); triggers (more people search online for the song “Friday” on Friday than on any other day of the week); and practical value (a man’s video showing how to cleanly shuck a cob of corn exploded due to its useful application). Some of what the author talks about here will seem utterly obvious, but there is plenty of insider stuff as well (for example, the brain trust at Apple debated which way the logo should face on the cover of its laptops: rightside up to the user, or rightside up to someone looking at the laptop’s open lid?). On such decisions are fortunes made. An engaging and often surprising book. --David Pitt
“Jonah Berger is as creative and thoughtful as he is spunky and playful. Looking at his research, much like studying a masterpiece in a museum, provides the observer with new insights about life and also makes one aware of the creator's ingenuity and creativity. It is hard to come up with a better example of using social science to illuminate the ordinary and extraordinary in our daily lives.” (Dan Ariely, James B. Duke professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and bestselling author of Predictably Irrational)
“Why do some ideas seemingly spread overnight, while others disappear? How can some products become ubiquitous, while others never gain traction? Jonah Berger knows the answers, and, with Contagious, now we do, too." (Charles Duhigg, author of the bestselling The Power of Habit)
“If you are seeking a bigger impact, especially with a smaller budget, you need this book. Contagious will show you how to make your product spread like crazy.” (Chip Heath, co-author of Made to Stick and Decisive)
“Jonah Berger knows more about what makes information ‘go viral’ than anyone in the world.” (Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University and author of Stumbling on Happiness)
“Jonah Berger is the rare sort who has studied the facts, parsed it from the fiction—and performed groundbreaking experiments that have changed the way the experts think. If there’s one book you’re going to read this year on how ideas spread, it’s this one.” (Dave Balter, CEO of BzzAgent and Co-founder of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association)
"A provocative shift in focus from the technology of online transmission to the human element and a bold claim to explain 'how word of mouth and social influence work . . . [to] make any product or idea contagious." (Kirkus Reviews)
“Contagious contains arresting — and counterintuitive — facts and insights. . . . Most interesting of all are the examples Berger cites of successful and unsuccessful marketing campaigns.” (Glenn C. Altschuler The Boston Globe)
“An infectious treatise on viral marketing. . . . Berger writes in a sprightly, charming style that deftly delineates the intersection of cognitive psychology and social behavior with an eye toward helping businesspeople and others spread their messages. The result is a useful and entertaining primer that diagnoses countless baffling pop culture epidemics.” (Publishers Weekly)
“The book is just plain interesting. Berger’s cases are not only topical and relevant, but his principles seem practical and are easily understood. . . . I have a strong feeling that this book will catch on.” (Ben Frederick The Christian Science Monitor)
“Think of it as the practical companion to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.” (Tasha Eichenseher Discover)
"An exegesis on how ideas really 'go viral' (hint: the internet gets too much credit) by a marketing wunderkind." (Details)
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There are six essential factors that contribute to contagious ideas, shows Jonah, and a quick look at some of the most successful viral campaigns reveals each of them at work:
Social currency. We share things that make us look good or help us compare favorably to others. Exclusive restaurants utilize social currency all the time to create demand.
Triggers. Ideas that are top of mind spread. Like parasites, viral ideas attach themselves to top of mind stories, occurrences or environments. For example, Mars bar sales spiked when in 1997 when NASA's Pathfinder mission explored the red planet.
Emotion. When we care, we share. Jonah analyzed over six months of data from the New York Times most emailed list to discover that certain high arousal emotions can dramatically increase our need to share ideas - like the outrage triggered by Dave Carroll's "United Breaks Guitars" video.
Public. People tend to follow others, but only when they can see what those others are doing. There is a reason why baristas put money in their own tip jar at the beginning of a shift. Ideas need to be public to be copied.
Practical. Humans crave the opportunity to give advice and offer tips (one reason why advocate marketing works - your best customers love to help out), but especially if they offer practical value. It's why we `pay it forward' and help others. Sharing is caring.
Stories - People do not just share information, they tell stories. And stories are like Trojan horses, vessels that carry ideas, brands, and information. To benefit the brand, stories must not only be shared but also relate to a sponsoring company's products. Thus the epic failure of viral sensations like Evian's roller baby video (50M views) that did little to stem Evian's 25% drop in sales.
There is so much this book offers marketers, making it required reading that follows in the footsteps of Malcolm Gladwell and the Heath brothers. It also perfectly demonstrates why advocate marketing is such a powerful idea for modern marketers. Viral campaigns eschew overt marketing messages by cleverly tapping into consumer wants, desires and emotional needs. Similarly, advocate marketing helps marketers reach audiences through a more effective and trusted means than direct messaging. We share our experiences because that act enhances our personal and professional reputation and makes us feel good. When marketers tap into these very human needs, they can reach a much broader audience with a more genuine message than any advertisement can provide.
These kind of books, where the author presents anecdotal evidence and real life stories to illustrate points, are fun to read for me as I enjoy when the author helps you relate with the "stories" presented to validate a point.
Jonah writes to inform us of why things catch on. We see this quite a bit with things going "viral" with social media, but he goes deeper than just the social media aspect of contagiousness.
He provides an easy to follow acronym for outlining what items can help something catch on. This acronym is STEPPS and the books is divided into 6 chapters describing each of the elements. They are as follows:
Social Currency - Being "in-the-know" on something and wanting to share it with others.
Triggers - How one thing will instantly trigger a thought of something else. Peanut butter makes you think of jelly. Coffee and donuts go together, etc.
Emotion - When something inspires us and evokes emotion, we are often inspired to share. Some feelings are more prone to sharing like humor, awe, excitement, and on the negative side, anger and anxiety.
Public - Summed up as social proof. Two restaurants with same cuisine and one has a line out the door and the other one is practically empty. Where would you like dine?
Practical Value - Information that is useful is far more likely to be shared.
Stories - When a good story is told, it will often suck us in, evoke emotion, and prompt us to want to share.
Amazon reviewers give this one a 4.5 after 676 reviews. Goodreads gives it a 3.87 after 11,603 ratings and 1,090 reviews. I thought the book was entertaining but didn't really feel like there was anything revolutionary about the content. Still, if you enjoy psychology and social behaviors along the same lines as Malcolm Gladwell, then you might want to pick it up.