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Contagious: Why Things Catch On Hardcover – March 5, 2013
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Faster-spreading than the flu are the ordinary conversations people have about products and ideas, according to this infectious treatise on viral marketing. Drawing on his own nifty research, Wharton marketing professor Berger investigates all manner of phenomena surging name brands, chic restaurants, YouTube hits, most e-mailed articles that catch on through word-of-mouth popularity. There are discernible dynamics behind the apparent chaos of trendiness, he argues: we naturally want to talk about things that seem fashionable, secretive, useful, or remarkable, that arouse our emotions, that come to mind frequently in mundane settings, and that wrap themselves in compelling stories. He applies these principles to illuminate a slew of marketing and PR conundrums, explaining why a Philadelphia restaurant prospered by charging for a cheese steak, why "Just Say No" ads may make kids say yes, why people sometimes pay more to get a discount, and why that Budweiser commercial featuring dudes saying "Wassup?" was a stroke of genius. 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. Agent: James Levine, Levine/Greenberg Agency. (Mar.) Copyright 2012 Publishers Weekly Used with permission.
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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.
Interestingly, Berger's academic work cites Rogers' work. In addition, a podcast interview with Berger posted on influencerinc.co notes that one of Berger's "favorite five" is the book "Diffusion of Innovations." In another interview posted on thereadinglists.com, Berger states that "'Diffusion of Innovations' was one of the first books to examine the question of why some products succeed while others fail. The author looked at everything from hybrid corn to new computer technologies." The syllabus for the course taught by Berger for The Great Courses (How Ideas Spread) includes suggested readings; none other than Everett Rogers and his <i>Diffusion of Innovations</i> appears on the list.
I earned a PhD in marketing from the University of Washington and my dissertation focused on innovation adoption and diffusion. Before entering academia, I briefly worked as a consultant. I was fortunate enough to have worked along with Rogers on one of my consulting projects with a major packaged foods company. There are simply so many things stated in Berger's book that mirror concepts that Rogers wrote about and talked about in his own work. While "Contagious" is obviously a well written book, anyone interested in the topics Berger presents must read "Diffusion of Innovations," which is far more comprehensive (and interesting) than Berger's work. "Contagious," I believe, is nothing more than a "dumbed-down" version of Rogers' work presented in a way to sell to the masses. Other than the concept of persistence, nearly everything covered by Berger was written by Rogers in 1962.
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