Contagious: How to build word of mouth in the digital age
People love to share. We tell our friends about great restaurants, or colleagues about good deals. Every hour there are more than 100 million conversations about brands. Word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 per cent of all purchasing decisions. If word of mouth helps things catch on, how can companies with products or services to sell, or organisations with a message to get across, make people want to talk about them?
“Customers referred by their friends spend more, shop faster and are more
profitable overall.” Jonah Berger
In Contagious, author Jonah Berger attempts to define what it is that makes some things take off and others fail. Along the way, he highlights a few surprising facts.
|WARNING: Before you invest significant sums in trying to make something ‘go viral’ take a step back and consider this. If you were asked to estimate how much word of mouth happens online i.e, what percentage of chatter happens over social media, blogs, e-mail or chat rooms would your answer be 50 or 60 per cent? Or higher? In fact, research shows that only seven per cent of it happens online. While online social media sites are easier to see, and provide a handy record of how many views, tweets or likes, we can forget the fact that most people spend most of their time doing other things – talking to colleagues, or chatting to friends and neighbours. And another reason not to under-estimate the importance of off-line conversations is that although messages may be being conveyed online it doesn’t mean they are being taken notice of. People are bombarded with information online, but few things are more persuasive than a chat with a trusted friend.|
Having conducted his own research into subjects such as which New York Times articles are most likely to be forwarded on, and analysed behavioural-economic studies, Berger believes that six steps are important in making something get talked about both on and offline. Not all six steps need to be in place for something to take off, but the more elements your concept has, the greater the chances of success.
- Social currency – Will people look good by sharing this information? If I tell you about a (highly successful) secret bar called ‘Please don’t tell’ that you have to enter through an unmarked phone booth in a hot dog restaurant, will that reflect well on me?
- Triggers – Is what you want shared going to be at the top of people’s minds everyday so that it is also at the tip of their tongue? Cheerios are talked about more often than Disneyland because Cheerios are seen on your breakfast table every morning – holidays are rarer. Kit Kat increased sales by a third within a year by managing to link Kit Kats to having a cup of coffee – a daily and much treasured ritual for many people.
- Emotion – Something that is funny, moving or invokes awe (think Susan Boyle), or anger is more likely to be passed on. One unhappy United Airlines customer saw his guitar being roughly handled by the loading crew and failing to get a suitable response posted a song called ‘United Breaks Guitars’. Within 10 days the video had 3 million views and hundreds of similar negative comments, causing a 10 per cent drop in UA’s share price. But not all emotions are effective – people generally don’t pass on things that will make recipients sad.
- Public – Make sure your product is as visible as possible and built to show. That’s why after much debate Apple decided to put their logo on the back of their laptops the wrong way up for the user when they open the case, but the right way up when it is open and can be viewed by others. And why Movember (moustaches grown for charity in November) helped successfully highlight the cause of prostate cancer in a very visible way.
- Practical value – Is the story news you can use? Does it solve a niggly problem or show practically how brilliant your product is? Combining practical use with awe, more than 200 million people have shared information about a potentially boring US-made blender because the cheaply made video shows the company founder grinding everything from iPhones to glass marbles.
- Stories – Can your story be as strong as the Trojan horse while being obviously linked to your message? Narratives are inherently more engrossing than basic facts. The story about the Greeks overcoming the Trojans wasn’t written down for hundreds of years but was able to be passed on through generations because it was so memorable. But make sure your message is integral to the story – Dove beauty brand’s campaigns for real beauty are central to what it does, while an imposter wearing a tutu and t-shirt to advertise a casino and gatecrash the Olympics was not. Because there was no obvious product link, even if people did talk about it – mainly in anger about how it ruined the competition – they usually forgot the company name.
In the epilogue, Berger highlights the way that ideas can spread with the story behind why there are so many Vietnamese nail bar beauticians in America – over 40 %. Actress Tippi Hedren helped a few of the first industrious refugees, who were often highly skilled in other professions but had poor language skills, to re-train. As more Vietnamese arrived, and could see the success of their predecessors, more people undertook the training to make their new lives a success. Just goes to show what can catch on…
About the author
Jonah Berger is Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania. He studies social influence and social epidemics, or how products, ideas, and behaviours become popular. His research is published in academic journals and the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review and The Economist. Berger has been recognized with a number of awards, and was named as one of the top young scholars by the Marketing Science Institute.
‘The book is an easy, breezy read, peppered with absorbing examples…Berger is clearly following his own advice with plenty of storytelling and emotion to sell his message…If there was a like button underneath it, you would probably find yourself clicking it’ Maija Palmer, Financial Times
Author: Jonah Berger