am 26. März 2013
*A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, April 2.
It is only recently, with the rise of the internet, that the term `viral' has gone, well, viral. But, the phenomenon of social pandemics--ideas, products and behaviors that catch on and spread quickly and widely--has been around presumably as long as sociality itself. The phenomenon is interesting in its own right, for it says something meaningful about our psychology and how we interact. However, understanding how social pandemics work also holds great practical value, for when public service messages, charity campaigns or products and services go viral, the effect stands to have a big impact on behavior and the bottom line.
On the mechanical side of things, understanding why something goes viral is straightforward enough: it must be something that has an impact, and that people are eager to talk about. But this just begs the question: what is it that makes something impactful, and ripe for sharing? We may think that our intuitions can carry us some way toward answering this. Nevertheless, getting something to go viral is certainly no easy task (as many a would-be influencer has come to find); and therefore, we may benefit from a more methodical, scientifically-minded attempt to understand the phenomenon. It is just such a project that Wharton marketing professor and writer Jonah Berger has been engaged in for much of his career, and in his new book 'Contagious: Why Things Catch On,' Berger reports on his findings.
Berger's research has revealed that there are 5 main factors that help explain social pandemics. They are 1. Social Currency; 2. Triggers; 3. Emotion; 4. Public; 5. Practical Value; and 6. Stories. (The 6 factors may be rendered as an acronym: STEPPS.)
When it comes to social currency, this refers to how good or important something makes us look for sharing it. We want to look bright, funny, entertaining, knowledgeable, prestigious etc. in the eyes of others; and therefore, we are more likely to mention those things that make us appear so. Prestige is particularly important here. We humans, like many other social animals, are concerned about our place in the social hierarchy, and so we are more likely to talk about things that make us appear accomplished or distinguished in some way (such as mentioning a very exclusive and secret club accessible only through a hidden entrance in the back of a hot-dog restaurant [loc. 461]), hence increasing the likelihood that these things will spread.
When it comes to triggers, this refers to stimuli in the environment that are associated with other phenomena, and that remind us of them. For example, the Space Shuttle Pathfinder that visited Mars is naturally associated with the Mars bar, and so the mention of the former may trigger the thought of the latter (the Mars bar did indeed witness an uptick in sales following the launch of the Pathfinder [loc. 1012]). Ideas, products and behaviors that are naturally associated with triggers that we encounter more often are more likely to be brought to mind than others, increasing the chances that they will be talked about, and hence spread. Interestingly, though, associations between unrelated items can be established through clever advertising campaigns (such as the Kit-Kat bar being associated with a coffee break).
When it comes to emotion, this refers to the fact that phenomena that evoke highly arousing emotions, both positive and negative (such as awe, excitement, anger and anxiety), are more likely to be shared (and hence spread) than those that evoke less arousing emotions (such as sadness and contentment). This helps explain why Susan Boyle went viral.
When it comes to public, this refers to how prevalent something is in the public eye. Things that are highly public and visible are more likely to be talked about than those that are more private. Nevertheless, there are ways to bring private phenomena into the public sphere. For example, donating to a charity tends to be a rather private affair. However, both the Movember movement in support of colon cancer (featuring the highly conspicuous moustache), and Lance Armstrong's Livestrong campaign in support of cancer (featuring the yellow wrist-band), managed to bring charitable support into the public sphere, thus contributing to the success of these campaigns.
Practical value refers to the fact that people like to be helpful to others, and so anything that is particularly useful is more likely to be shared than that which is less so. This helps explain why so many articles on health and education matters are so widely shared, and also why an otherwise nondescript video about shucking corn went viral on Youtube (just search `clean ears everytime').
When it comes to stories, this refers to the fact that people tend to enjoy telling and hearing stories. Therefore, ideas, products and behaviors that are wrapped in narratives (and especially compelling narratives) are more likely to be shared than those that are just presented as information. The Dove `Evolution' commercial, Google's `Parisian Love' commercial, and Panda's `Never say no to Panda' campaign are all good examples of products being wrapped in compelling narratives.
Berger's book is a very easy read, and he does a good job of using academic studies and interesting real-world examples to help prove his points. None of the theory here will be new to anyone who is steeped in the marketing/advertising industry (as is clear from other reviews). And much of it will even strike the rest of us as being somewhat self-evident after the fact. Nevertheless, it is not likely that many of us will have explored the subject with so much rigor, and this is valuable in itself. Altogether a very enjoyable read about an interesting subject. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, April 2; a podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.
"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance." -- 1 Timothy 4:9 (NKJV)
Some nonfiction books state important ideas for the first time. Others restate what is known in terms of new information. Still other texts capture the essence of what's known in more powerful ways. Contagious falls into the last category. If you haven't studied marketing before, it's a solid place to start with understanding what attracts attention and draws more people ... especially through face-to-face or telephone-to-telephone conversations. In other words, this book is about word of mouth, a profoundly important way to market anything.
In today's world, many people are convinced that only social media drive trends. While that may happen someday, the trends start elsewhere and are echoed later in social media. Unique experiences and word-of-mouth testimonials are at the core of how such things start and spread.
If you just want a recipe for marketing, go to page 209 in the Epilogue, which succinctly summarizes the book's elements: social currency, environmental reminders, generating emotion, visibility, practical benefits, and effective stories. I found the list a little overly summarized to be completely helpful. Professor Berger's strength as a business author is explaining what the labels mean. I advise you to dig in and study his examples.
While I've been involved with business marketing as a professional for many decades (you don't want to know how many), I found his examples to be more compelling than those I recall from other fine books on the subject.
I intend to recommend this book to all my entrepreneurial students who need a stronger marketing program.
Bravo, Professor Berger!
Jonah Berger ist Marketing-Professor an der Universität von Pennsylvania. In diesem Buch geht er der Frage nach, warum sich manche Waren, Medien oder Gewohnheiten immer weiter ausbreiten, während andere auf ein kleines Publikum beschränkt bleiben.
Seine Antwort fasst er in sechs Faktoren zusammen, die jeweils ein Kapitel gewidmet bekommen:
1. Sozialer Wert (Social Currency)
2. Auslöser (Triggers)
3. Gefühlsebene (Emotion)
4. Öffentliche Sichtbarkeit (Public)
5. Nutzen (Practical Value)
6. Geschichten (Stories)
D.h. um ein Produkt erfolgreich zu promoten, sollten zumindest mehrere dieser Faktoren zusammen kommen. Wie die meisten US-amerikanischen populärwissenschaftlichen Bestseller ist dieses Buch leicht verständlich und unterhaltsam geschrieben und einigermaßen seriös recherchiert. Die Botschaft wird anhand von zahlreichen Beispielen präsentiert; u.a. dem Mixer, der mit der Kampagne „Will it blend“ beworben wurde, oder das Restaurant, das sich scheinbar versteckt und so als Geheimtipp gelten will.
Wie ein guter Witz, der gerne weiter erzählt wird, weil es den Erzähler interessant macht, sollte auch eine zu verbreitende Idee einen Reiz und einen Unterhaltungswert haben. Wenn ein Produkt dazu noch öffentlich sichtbar ist wie die weißen iPod-Ohrhörer, ist das ein Plus. Eine das Gefühl ansprechende Story wie die Lebensgeschichte der Sängerin Susan Boyle ist auch hilfreich.
Das Buch ist eine Hilfe für jeden, der eine Ware oder eine Idee verbreiten möchte oder zumindest die Mechanismen verstehen möchte, wie ein Gegenstand erfolgreich promoted werden kann.