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[Summary] Contagious: Why Things Catch On

[Description from publisher] If you’ve wondered why certain stories get shared, e-mails get forwarded, or videos go viral, Contagious explains why, and shows how to leverage these concepts to craft contagious content. This book provides a set of specific, actionable techniques for helping information spread—for designing messages, advertisements, and information that people will share.

[My Synopsis] Much like bestselling authors Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers and Tipping Point) and Robert Greene (48 Laws of Power), Jonah Berger uses interesting anecdotes from real world examples, coupled with researched facts to deliver an onslaught of eye-opening “aha moments.” The psychology behind how we receive messages and what makes us want to share them with friends or on social media is, quite frankly, mind-blowing.

Through six principles, the reader is led to understand why some products and ideas become and remain popular while others don’t.

Social Currency – We share things that make us look good to others

Does talking about your product or service make people look good? Can you find the inner “remarkability” of your product? Can you leverage game mechanics (points, levels and leader-boards)? Can you make people feel like insiders?

Scarcity and exclusivity boosts word of mouth by making people feel like insiders. If a person can get something that everyone else has yet to experience, it makes him feel special, unique and of high status. Moreover, he’ll not only like a product or service more, he’ll tell others about it. Why? Because telling others is his social currency. It’s like saying, “Look at me and what I was able to get.”  Just like people use money to buy products and services, they use social currency to achieve desired positive impressions from their family, friends, and colleagues.

Most people don’t want to seem like an advertisement for some random company, but they do love to talk about a remarkable product. Along the way, they talk about the brand. Marketers must understand what consumers like to talk about and then attach their brand to a story that customers will want to share.

By breaking a notion that people have come to expect from common Philadelphia comfort food,  Barclay Prime’s $100 cheese steak  served with a small bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne, sliced Kobe beef, melted Taleggio cheese, shaved truffles ($900 a pound), sauteed foie gras, caramelized onions and heirloom shaved tomatoes on a homemade brioche roll brushed with truffle butter and squirted with homemade mustard was remarkable, unexpected and not easily obtained due to its high price . In a market where 60% of restaurants close in their first few years of opening, Barclay became the talk of the town and their story was picked up by media outlets nationwide.

Triggers – Top of mind equals tip of tongue

What cues make people think about your product or idea? How can you grow the habitat and make it come to mind more often?

Triggers are the foundation of contagiousness.  By considering the context of where your message is delivered, you can take into account how frequently someone will be triggered to think about your product or service. Some of the contextual cues which should be considered are physical location, time of day and year, or nearness of the messaging to the point of purchase.

In a radio ad, Kit Kats were presented as a perfect complement to a warm cup of coffee especially during midday coffee break . By creating a link to a prevalent trigger like the numerous cups of coffee Americans drink every day, the makers of Kit Kat candy bars were able to return the declining sweet snack back into a profitable one.

Emotions – When we care we share

Focus on feelings. Does talking about your product or idea generate emotion? How can you kindle the fire?

Sharing emotions helps us connect. By allowing people to connect quickly and easily, social media allows like-minded individuals to find each other, share information and coordinate plans of action. Many marketers think that social media is the catalyst for virility; however it is the physiological response of negative and positive arousal that causes people to share an outpouring of their emotion through this technology. The power of awe allows inspiring, joyful or funny anecdotes, as well as, angry, shocking or anxious triads to become consistently more viral than expressions of contentment, sadness or disappointment. High arousal emotions drive people to the actions of talking, sharing and buying.

A Google search engine ad displaying the emotional side of one of the least emotional products imaginable not only won awards for its creativity, it was shared by millions.  Google’s Parisian Love campaign humanized the functionality and features of Google’s search engine through the telling a budding love story where the main character uses Google searches to aid in his quest to win a women’s heart. The ad had no images or narration; it simply showed the following statements typed into a search bar and the results of the search:

The story begins with the “Study abroad in Paris, France.” Later, he searches for “Cafe’ near the Louvre.”  A women laughs in the background as he searches for “You are very cute.” Quickly he then seeks advice for “how to impress a French girl.” He reads the suggestions, then looks up chocolate shops in the area. The music builds as the plot unfolds. We follow the searcher through time as he seeks “Long distance relationship advice” to “Job hunting in Paris.” Next the searcher tracks a plane’s landing time and searches for “Paris churches” with the accompaniment of church bells in the background. Finally as the music crescendos, he searches ‘How to assemble a crib.” The video ends with a simple message: Search on.

Public Visibility – Built to show. Built to grow.

Does your product or idea advertise itself? Can people see when others are using it? How can you make the private public? Can you create behavioral residue that sticks around even after people use it?

People tend to do what lots of their peers are doing. We looked to others for information about what is right or good to do in a given situation and this social proof shapes everything from the products we by to the candidates we vote for. If people can’t see what others are doing, they can’t imitate them. To get our products or ideas more popular, we need to make them more publicly observable.

By making something that is usually private and taboo, like prostate cancer, into something public and talked about, Movemeber – Prostate Cancer Foundation was able to get people thinking and talking about their cause by encouraging supporters of this cause to grow mustaches in the month of November. The unusual spectacle of normally clean shaven men sporting handlebar mustaches is enough to get people talking across globe.

Practical Value – News you can use

Does talking about your product or idea help people to help others? How can you highlight incredible value packaging your knowledge and expertise to give useful information that others will want to disseminate?

Practical advice is sharable advice. Practical value is about helping or being helped. The psychology of the deals explains how infomercials use the allusion practical value to sell products that are said to save the end user money and time. Thorough each commercial, the host demonstrates the products time saving practical value. He then adds a slew of “But waits” to illustrate the money you can save by purchasing this remarkable product now. “If you buy now, you can get a free knife sharpener… But wait, we are also cutting the price in half for the next 500 callers.”

Of the six principles discussed in Contagious, practical value is the easiest to apply. When thinking about why some content gets shared more a couple of points are worth noting.

1. Think about how the information is packaged. Is it a lengthy 4 page email or are there main points focused around a key topic? Does it show your expertise in a clear and concise way?

2. Target content to a narrow audience. Targeted content is more likely to become viral because it makes sharer think of a specific friend or family member who would benefit from it making him more compelled to pass it along. Just because more people can share your message with other people doesn’t mean they will.

An 86 year man created a viral video about shucking corn completely by accident. This man is a corn farmer from Ohio who simply created a video for his granddaughter about an easy way to shuck corn without getting those stringy strands which are hard to remove and often annoy everyone who enjoys corn on the cob. The video was posted on Youtube and posted to a few friends. Those friends were so amazed by the usefulness of the video they sent the video to a few of their friends. This video amassed 5 million views.

Stories – Information travels under the guise of idle chatter

What is your Trojan horse? Is your product or idea embedded in a broader narrative that people want to share? Is the story not only viral but also valuable?

The ability intertwine your brand as a critical part of the narrative of a compelling story will allow potential customers to remember and retell your story days and even weeks after they were exposed to it. The story is an opportunity to wrap the previously mentioned 5 principles into one cohesive vehicle of messaging. A great story illustrates a product’s practical value, wraps the observer in the drama and emotion of the narrative and  triggers something that people already want to talk about to increase their social currency.  A perfect story leads to a publicly visible call to action, like purchasing and wearing a bright yellow limited edition  Nike Live Strong band, proving that you donated to the cause of stopping the plight of cancer through research.

Contagious: Why Things Catch On empowers readers to harness social influence to make their product, service or idea talked about and shared organically.  For more information about the Jonah Berge rand  Contagious visit,

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