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Contagious by Jonah Berger

Posted on:May 27, 2021

Heading image with book

This is the first book review that I have written. I think most books can be summarized drastically and still have most of the main ideas. The goal is to do just that with the book review section of this blog. For the first iterations they will cover three main parts:

  1. Quick Summary
  2. Overall Thoughts on the Book
  3. One or more Key Takeaways

This structure might change in the future, but for now let’s start with this.

Chapter Breakdown

Introduction: Why Things Catch On

Word of Mouth is so much more effective than general advertising because of two main things.

It’s more persuasive because you are more likely to trust a person that you know than an advertisement. When you see an advertisement, you know that their main objective is to sell you something. Even if they are being honest about their product, it makes you trust less. When it comes to people you know, you know they don’t really care about what’s best for the company. They are looking for something that helps you.

It is also more targeted. Ad campaigns can try and target specific people that they think are more likely to buy their product, using targeted ads, but they can still only narrow down to certain demographics. When people are talking about these products to their friends, they are more likely to pick out the friends that actually need or care about that item. For example, you wouldn’t recommend car repair product to your friends unless you knew they were into cars.

So word of mouth is extremely powerful, but how do you get people to start talking about it then. This book breaks it down to 6 STEPPS.

But in order for content to go viral, it doesn’t need every single one of them. But the more of these that it has the better the chances!

Chapter 1 - Social Currency

Just like people use money to buy things, people use social currency to create good impressions with other people. Social Currency is the way you present your self and making yourself look “good” in front of other people, either through what you own, or what you talk about.

How do you help people increase their social currency:

One example of a perfect way to be “remarkable” is Snapple. They put interesting facts under the cap, and people would tell their friends about this because it makes them look smarter.

These products are “remarkable”. They are more likely to make people remark. It can be cool, unusual, interesting, etc. One way to make something remarkable is to break people’s expectations.

Game mechanics encourage people to spend more to on specific products. Ex. Frequent flier miles, coffee punch cards. People end up flying more, and getting more coffee just to get more of the points and rewards. People are talking because they are talking about their achievements. They talk about the company at the same time.

The last technique is to make people feel like insiders. If things are limited access, they blow up. One of the biggest examples of this is yeezy’s shoes, and clubhouse. There were limited shoes, and literally everybody was talking about it. It even changed the industry to have more and more companies limit the amount of shoes they sell. Similar thing happened with Clubhouse the audio live chat app. It was an exclusive invite only, and only on iOS. Even though it was hard to get into the app, and less people can use it, everybody was talking about it.

Chapter 2 - Triggers

We understand that people are the best marketers through word of mouth. But there are two types of word of mouth: Immediate and Ongoing. Immediate word of mouth happens when something big happens, and people talk about it for a couple days and they forget about it. The more effective and one that brings the most results is ongoing. And the best way to achieve this ongoing word of mouth is through triggers.

There are tons of examples of triggers. Sunny beach might trigger a Corona, saying “wassssup” might trigger Budweiser, the day being Friday might trigger Rebecca Black song Friday.

If you can tie your product to something that people see often, they will be reminded about it every time they run into that thing. But to get something connected like that is the holy grail of marketing.

Chapter 3 - Emotion

How do emotions factor into marketing? According to Jonah Berger there are certain emotions that are more likely to make people share. But it doesn’t matter whether it is positive or negative emotion, as long as that emotion is a high arousal emotion.

Arousal is what makes you physically feel something. Some examples of high arousal emotions are anger, awe, funny (not an emotion really 😅). Content that brings those emotions out of people is more likely to get shared.

A method to dig deep and figure out how to get to those emotions, there is a method called the “3 Whys”. Ask why 3 times to really dig down to the core issue. Here is an example of this:

John Smith (JS) talking to his boss: “I think I need to quit, I really don’t like my job.”

John’s Boss: Why don’t you like your job?”

JS: “The atmosphere isn’t what it used to be when I started. It feels toxic and I never used to hate showing up for work, but now I do.”

Boss: Why do you hate showing up for work?”

JS: “The culture that existed when I started working here has changed. It’s just not the same.”

Boss: Why do you think the culture has changed?”

JS: “Well, it’s that new guy, Tom. He’s so negative. He has a comment for everything. He’s frustrating to be around and really hurts our team’s dynamic.”

Chapter 4 - Public

This next half of the book, got into the parts of marketing that most people know of, but it dives deeper on the impact that each part has. Starting by making your product more public.

Thoughts are private, behavior is public

Making a way for your products to be seen, or having people inherently talk about them, will be great advertising. My favorite example they covered was about voting. Voting used to be a private act, but in order to get more people to vote they started making the “I Voted” stickers. People would proudly wear it and even show it off on social media sometimes. This was all a plot to get more people to vote.

Making things more public makes people talk about it more. If you can manage to make your private product public, it will advertise itself.

Chapter 5 - Practical Value

This point goes very hand in hand with the first part of the book that talked about Social Currency. People share information that is helpful to other people. One way of giving practical value is by discounts. And for discounts you can follow the Rule of 100. If you are offering a discount for a product over $100, advertise it as a dollar amount, if the item is under $100, advertise it as a percentage.

Chapter 6 - Stories

The last way is probably the most common marketing method out there. Using stories helps people remember the message better. In fact most of the stories that you know have some underlying message. For example the story about the wolf blowing down the house of the three little pigs has a message of putting in work before hand, will give great rewards for the future.

Finding a way to tell a story is one thing, but one thing to make sure is that your product is interwoven into the story and the story can’t be told without it. On the other hand offer something that allows people to tell the stories themselves. One of the good examples was excellent customer service.

My Thoughts

This was the first marketing book that I have read, and it really opened up the whole world of marketing for me. Reading this book made me realize that literally everything is controlled by marketing in our world. Each company is fighting for our attention and for the ability to alter how we think and influence us to share their products.

But I guess this is what the whole world is really about, even as individuals we are constantly marketing ourselves to the world. Especially on social media, with the things we are accomplishing, and the places we travel.

Marketing is such an important part of this world, I think it is key to understand it.

For me, although this book was very eye opening, I believe it could have been summarized into 30-40 pages, and it would have been just as effective. It was filled with lots of stories, that were definitely helpful, but they seemed to just drag on.

Key Take Away

Marketing is crucial in every part of our lives, and to almost guarantee success in marketing you need to use the 6 STEPPS

Rating: ★★★★☆