Contagious by Jonah Berger suggests that word of mouth is the key to making things popular. For something to be contagious, it must be interesting enough to spark conversations. Berger offers tips on how to use word of mouth to popularize products, art, articles, and ideas.
- Part One of our guide examines Berger’s reasoning for why word of mouth reigns as the top influencer of popularity.
- Part Two delves into his three-step approach for generating word of mouth: attract, engage, and benefit your audience.
Our insights will include a blend of psychological research and alternative viewpoints, providing a more nuanced perspective on Berger’s strategies. Additionally, we’ll showcase real-life examples and offer practical tips on how to tailor them to your own product or concept.
Part 1: The Source of Popularity
Berger’s analysis centers on the origins of widespread popularity, encompassing ideas, products, and internet content. He puts forth two key assertions: firstly, the traditional assumption that three factors underlie popularity falls short of capturing its essence; and secondly, popularity stems from word of mouth.
Berger introduces the typical views on product popularity, which commonly attribute it to three factors: affordability, quality, and advertising volume. Yet, he posits that while these factors may play a role, they aren’t the decisive aspect that determines popularity, meaning they can’t solely generate it.
Word of Mouth and Popularity
Berger identifies word of mouth as the genuine catalyst of popularity. It’s frequent, trustworthy, and targeted.
People frequently discuss products they’re interested in, trust personal recommendations, and word of mouth automatically targets an interested audience, further amplifying its popularity.
Part 2: Generating Word of Mouth | Step 1: Attract Your Audience
Berger proceeds to outline how to stimulate word of mouth. He presents six principles that we’ve divided into three key steps:
- Capture your audience’s attention
- Engage your audience
- Add value for your audience
Initially, Berger suggests two marketing tactics to attract your target audience: creating public visibility and utilizing effective triggers.
Method #1: Create Public Visibility
To attract an audience, Berger suggests making your product visible in public. When people see your product frequently, they begin to think about it more often. To ensure visibility, prominently display your product’s name or logo, as seen on computers, sneakers, and headphones. If public use isn’t feasible, find an alternative way to display your product, such as offering a free branded item like a water bottle to customers.
Method #2: Use Effective Triggers
Use effective triggers to promote your product. Triggers are reminders that link to something else and automatically make people think of your product. For example, an ice cream brand can associate their product with sunny weather, making sunny weather a trigger that reminds people of their brand.
Berger suggests that an effective trigger needs to be relevant for a long time so that people encounter it frequently. To achieve this, he offers two methods:
- Make the trigger highly relevant to people’s everyday lives by connecting it to a common phrase, activity, or feature of an area. For example, a business based in New York City connects its product to traffic jams, which its target audience encounters frequently.
- Ensure that the trigger will remain relevant for weeks, months, and even years into the future. This creates a more effective trigger than one that connects your product to a temporary trend or uncommon occurrence, such as vampires around Halloween.
Step #2: Engage Your Audience
Berger stresses that merely attracting an audience is insufficient, as you need to sustain their interest in your product to generate word-of-mouth.
Method #1: Inspire an Emotional Response
Berger suggests evoking high-arousal emotions like anger, anxiety, awe, amusement, and excitement to generate word of mouth. Marketing can use humor, breathtaking photos, or other methods to inspire these emotions and motivate people to talk about the product.
Method #2: Tell a Story
Berger suggests integrating your product into a captivating story to engage your audience and generate word-of-mouth. For example, PepsiCo’s Superbowl commercial in 2019 made their product an essential part of the story by using the phrase “Is Pepsi okay?” as a central theme.
Step #3: Benefit Your Audience
Berger advises that in addition to attracting and engaging your audience, it’s essential to offer them something valuable that motivates them to talk about your product.
Benefit #1: Social Currency
Berger suggests that your product should give customers “social currency” by making them look interesting and influential when they talk about it. If talking about your product doesn’t make someone look good, they’re unlikely to generate much word of mouth.
Berger suggests three ways to make your product or idea a source of social currency: making it remarkable, applying game mechanics, and using scarcity and exclusivity.
Making Your Product or Idea Remarkable
Berger suggests making your product remarkable by highlighting its unique or innovative features, as people enjoy talking about extraordinary things that make them seem remarkable as well, increasing their social currency. Gillette’s launch of the world’s first five-blade razor in 2006 is an example of a remarkable product that was prominently featured in their marketing.
Applying Game Mechanics
Berger advises using “game mechanics” to your product or service, such as reward points or bonuses for frequent customers, to create a sense of accomplishment. When customers feel a sense of achievement, they are more likely to talk about it, thus generating word of mouth and increasing social currency.
Using Scarcity and Exclusivity
Berger suggests that scarcity can create social currency and generate word of mouth by making customers feel exclusive. By indicating limited supply or potential sellouts, customers may boast about their exclusive status, generating interest in the product. For example, first-class airplane seats provide extra benefits, making passengers feel special and likely to share their experience with others.
Benefit #2: Provide Practical Value
Berger suggests that one way to generate word of mouth is by making your product or service useful and providing practical value. This could include things like money-saving tips or life hacks that make people’s lives easier. When people find something useful, they are likely to share it with their friends and family, which can lead to more word of mouth about your product or service.
Berger suggests two ways to make your product a source of practical value that generates word of mouth: offering discounts and providing useful information.
Discounts can save people money and motivate them to tell others about your product. Providing practical tips or advice can also make people eager to share with their friends and family, creating word of mouth. Berger recommends limiting the information to three or four simple and engaging points at a time to ensure that people will read it and find it interesting.
Additionally, sharing information about how your product solves common problems can also be an effective way to generate word of mouth.