Jonah Berger first caught my attention in this Fast Company article (“Fifty Percent of ‘The Tipping Point’ is Wrong”). The article positions him as the new Malcolm Gladwell and challenges some accepted theory of The Tipping Point.

Berger is a Marketing Professor at the Wharton School of Business. At Stanford, he was a student of Chip Heath, author of the marketing classic Made to Stick. Made to Stick describes why messages stick with audiences. Berger has taken this concept a step further in his bestselling book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. Berger examines why certain products get more word-of-mouth marketing and why some online content goes viral.

In the Fast Company article, Berger says marketers have been obsessed with the wrong part of the viral equation. “By focusing so much on the messenger, we’ve neglected a much more obvious driver of sharing: the message,” he writes. The Tipping Point’s notion that social epidemics are driven “by the efforts of a handful of exceptional people, is just plain wrong.”

Instead, Berger has identified six reasons why certain products have great worth-of-mouth marketing and why content goes viral (acronym STEPPS):

  • Social Currency. We share things that make us look good. For example, if we are able to inform other people about a trendy new smartphone app that we discovered, it makes us look good…and, increases usage of the app.
  • Triggers. Ideas that are top of mind spread. Ideas become top of mind when they are activated by triggers which make people easily think of the product. Cheerios gets more word-of-mouth than Disney because it is so strongly associated with breakfast.
  • Emotion. When we care, we share. The author even cited tests where people who learned something during physical activity were more likely to pass along the concept.
  • Public. People tend to follow others, but only when they can see what those others are doing. Steve Jobs designed the Apple logo on the Mac so other people could see it when someone else is using a Mac. Ideas need to be public to be copied.
  • Practical. Humans crave the opportunity to give advice and offer tips…especially if they offer practical value. Berger has identified this ‘paying it forward’ to help others. No one will share a product or idea that does not have practical value to others.
  • Stories – People do not just share information, they tell stories. And stories are like Trojan horses that carry ideas and brands. To benefit the brand, stories must be interesting and relate to a sponsoring company’s products.
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A fascinating book, it has a lot of great advice for marketers and product positioning. Berger explains that you can pick and choose which of the six viral reasons to use in your messaging. He said you can use one or select a couple to apply. This is, from our experience, could be misleading.

It is possible that certain packaging will work better than others; or that packaging too many will confuse your audience. Which of these techniques have you applied to your marketing efforts? Did they work? Have you tried to package multiple techniques? We love to hear your comments.

If you think that you need insightful advice to take your international marketing to the next level, then contact us and we’d love to chat more.

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