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Book review: 'Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age' by Jonah Berger


Get your copy here: amzn.to/3J1RXPc Jonah Berger is a Wharton professor who goes the mile to understand the reason why some ideas travel better than others, and why some products get more talked about than others. Whether that is emails, YouTube videos, films, advertisements or cultural memes. Whatever the case, some things get spread faster than others, and some are deep enough to become a part of the public lexicon. Berger explores this phenomenon, dissecting the science of why things get spread and how that influences the world around them. This is the subject of the book, Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age. Drawing from a range of areas like social psychology, philosophy, marketing and trends, Berger illustrates the case for the success of a product or idea’s social currency. It turns out that word-of-mouth generates more than two times the sales of paid advertising, accounting for some 20% to 50% of all purchase decisions. It’s also somewhere around 8.5 to 30 times more effective than traditional media. He points out the word-of-mouth has incredible democratic power — it’s available for all.


Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company that’s trying to increase its market share, a mom and pop restaurant store that’s hoping to raise awareness, a politician that’s seeking votes, a non-profit that’s fighting obesity, word-of-mouth is available. When it works, It can be, and in some cases, more effective than the millions of dollars spent on advertising. Or if that amount of money isn’t available for advertising. So how do you get people to talk about your product or service or idea? That's the challenge. Jonah Berger’s ‘Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age’ shows how that’s achieved. It reveals a framework for understanding the underlying factors that drive contagiousness, offering a variety of practical strategies and tactics for creating content that may get the ‘virality’ factor, especially in today’s competitive digital age. This isn’t a book filled with trends or gimmicks, but a thoroughly studied, dissected, cultural thesis that reveals ground-breaking insights to help brands and influencers stand out. Berger’s thinking is build on six steps. Or STEPPS: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value and Stories.


So if you think about the phenomenon of contagiousness, it’s not a matter of luck of happenstance, but a predictable outcome of certain patterns when they fall in place. It’s about social dynamics. Berger dissects a variety of viral campaigns to reveal the common traits that can help create the dynamics upon which ideas and products get their talkability.

A key concept that Berger discusses is social currency. He describes social currency as the thing that motivates people to share it. So when you’re able to create triggers that activate that social currency — using emotions like awe, surprise, amusement etc. — marketers can tap into the dynamics of social currency, inspiring people to share their ideas and products with speed and impact. Trigger is the other component of social currency that is worth understanding about. Berger suggests that when you’re able to associate your idea with triggers — such as holidays, cultural events, common experience, everyday scenarios etc. — you can turn up the likeliness of that idea or content being shared.


John Berger’s Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age looks at emotion as a key vehicle that engineers the dynamics of creating social currency. Berger makes the case that content that spreads is often on the spectrum — it’s either too positive or too negative, because extremes command shareability and remembrance. Besides this, triggering universal emotions like joy, fear, anger can help marketers resonate with people across cultures and networks. So products and ideas that evoke strong emotions are more likely to be spread. Such is the power of feelings.


John Berger’s Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age explores a variety of psychology concepts like social proof — which is based on the principle of public visibility. An idea’s contagiousness depends on its social visibility — if others are also talking about it. So understanding people’s propensity to appreciate social proof and social influences can help shape their behaviour and spread their ideas. So creating popularity around a product, applying techniques like the FOMO (fear of missing out) factor, can help marketers encourage others to get on the bandwagon. John Berger’s Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age is a book that presents a huge range of trends and case studies, such as Blendtec's 'Will It Blend?' campaign to the grassroots spread of the ALS 'Ice Bucket Challenge', offering readers a solid overview on how campaigns are getting their vitality and the learnings from such campaigns that can be practically applied to other campaigns, scenarios and their future marketing efforts.


Berger explains that one essential idea behind the success of many brands and campaigns is the product’s desirability. They way they are positioned by their users. Whether that be Apple’s clean design aesthetic, the unicorn frappuccino phenomenon or Benjamin Franklin's use of the scarcity technique, there are inherent principles of social currency at play and Berger lets the reader recognise and apply them.


John Berger’s Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age spends a good deal helping readers get underneath the power of stories and value the art of storytelling. Stories that tend to last are told over and over again over the years and centuries are an example of social currency that reflect people’s experiences, values and emotions. Even story arcs and universal archetypes characters contain traits and hints to establish the dynamics of contagiousness. Berger’s book helps readers understand how stories spread, and the learnings from universal dynamics that can be applied to everyday content and marketing efforts.


John Berger’s Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age is an exciting read that introduces the STEPPS framework: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value and Stories. This is a practical roadmap for creating contagious content that hits people with the right tones, helping drive word-of-mouth organically and quickly. It delves into human emotions and the power of creating content that stroke up the extremes — positive to negatives — to amplify contagiousness. This is a great book that offers a variety of insights born from studying the science of virality, offering readers practical strategies, techniques and learnings to understand human motivations, underlying desires to share, and create content and ideas that spread and captivate people like wildfire. Get your copy here: amzn.to/3J1RXPc

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