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Contagious: Why Things Catch On Hardcover – March 5, 2013
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“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)
Top Customer Reviews
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.
On a personal note, his New York Times study featured prominently in Contagious was the final piece of the puzzle behind the theory in my second book. Jonah goes back to the results in this mammoth study a number of times throughout this book to give you a full understanding of the fascinating results.
In full disclosure, I obtained an early copy of Contagious. As a blogger and Internet marketer my livelihood depends on being the first to understand the newest social contagion theories. Because of that, I requested an early copy from Jonah and he was nice enough to oblige.
First, what I disliked about Contagious, and there were three things:
1. Much of Contagious is an explanation of his work in a more organized, concise, and interesting manner. Because of that, not a lot of the material is new if you've already read his studies.
2. The book is based on 6 principles: social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value, and stories. Each principle is described in detail and are the major sections of the book.
I was disappointed with the practical value section as I felt that it was a rather superficial overview of what's now become known as behavioral economics. Jonah describes "prospect theory" originally put forth by Daniel Kahneman and uses it to explain how irrationally we behave in our purchasing habits. In particular, he discusses how we value goods and services relative to a precedent and how that precedent isn't necessarily an accurate portrayal of the actual value of the product in question.
I would have liked Jonah to delve deeper into the application of prospect theory and how it could be applied to his own research. If you were looking for a better explanation of behavioral economics, you'd do well to also check out Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational".
3. My third point, and I expected this to be the case, is that Jonah is primarily a researcher. In Contagious, he delves deeper and more effectively into social contagion than anyone or anything I've ever seen (and I've spent the last two years researching the subject). What I feel is missing from this book are specific steps for implementation.
What I loved and why I gave this book 4 stars:
The section on triggers is magnificent. In this age of over-stimulation, the most effective communicators need to be succinct--and the best way to be succinct is through the use of triggers. Jonah illustrates this perfectly in his example where he mentions the word dog (and you immediately think cat).
A lot of Jonah's research is fascinating and I won't spoil it all for you, but the entire chapter on emotion is worth 10x the price of the book alone.
In Contagious, one study outlines the power of physiological arousal. Here, the insertion of 60s of jogging increased social transmission by 50%! Imagine getting 50% more people to share your material--that's how powerful the theories contained within this book are.
What was also interesting for me was how Jonah explained the reasons behind a lot of the viral sensations that we've seen over the past 5 years. He explains why views of the worst song ever written, "Friday" by Rebecca Black, spiked on YouTube in a predictable pattern, he explains how an 86 year old made a viral video about corn, and he breaks down the reasons behind a blender company becoming an Internet sensation.
I believe that anybody already doing or planning on doing business online should study this book. It will teach you how, why, and when information will spread.