1.One reason some products and ideas become popular is that they are just plain better. We tend to prefer websites that are easier to use, drugs that are more effective, and scientific theories that are true rather than false. So when something comes along that offers better functionality or does a better job, people tend to switch to it. Remember how bulky televisions or computer monitors used to be? They were so heavy and cumbersome that you had to ask a couple of friends (or risk a strained back) to carry one up a flight of stairs. One reason flat screens took off was that they were better. Not only did they offer larger screens, but they weighed less. No wonder they became popular.
2. Another reason products catch on is attractive pricing. Not surprisingly, most people prefer paying less rather than more.
3. Advertising also plays a role. Consumers need to know about something before they can buy it. So people tend to think that the more they spend on advertising, the more likely something will become popular. Want to get people to eat more vegetables? Spending more on ads should increase the number of people who hear your message and buy broccoli.
4. But although quality, price, and advertising contribute to products and ideas being successful, they don’t explain the whole story.
5. People share more than 16,000 words per day and every hour there are more than 100 million conversations about brands.
6. Word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 percent to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions.
7. In fact, while traditional, advertising is still useful, word of mouth from everyday Joes and Janes is at least ten times more effective.
8. Word of mouth tends to reach people who are actually interested in the thing being discussed. No wonder customers referred by their friends spend more, shop faster, and are more profitable overall.
9. Research by the Keller Fay Group finds that only 7 percent of word of mouth happens online.
10. Fifty percent of YouTube videos have fewer than five hundred views. Only one-third of 1 percent get more than 1 million.
11. Further, by focusing so much on the messenger, we’ve neglected a much more obvious driver of sharing: the message. To use an analogy, think about jokes. We all have friends who are better joke tellers than we are. Whenever they tell a joke the room bursts out laughing. But jokes also vary. Some jokes are so funny that it doesn’t matter who tells them. Everyone laughs even if the person sharing the joke isn’t all that funny.
12. Contagious content is like that—so inherently viral that it spreads regardless of who is doing the talking. Regardless of whether the messengers are really persuasive or not and regardless of whether they have ten friends or ten thousand.
13. After analyzing hundreds of contagious messages, products, and ideas, we noticed that the same six “ingredients,” or principles, were often at work. Six key STEPPS, as I call them, that cause things to be talked about, shared, and imitated.
14. Principle 1: Social Currency - How does it make people look to talk about a product or idea? Most people would rather look smart than dumb, rich than poor, and cool than geeky.
15. So to get people talking we need to craft messages that help them achieve these desired impressions. We need to find our inner remarkability and make people feel like insiders.
16. Principle 2: Triggers - How do we remind people to talk about our products and ideas? Triggers are stimuli that prompt people to think about related things.
17. People often talk about whatever comes to mind, so the more often people think about a product or idea, the more it will be talked about. We need to design products and ideas that are frequently triggered by the environment and create new triggers by linking our products and ideas to prevalent cues in that environment. Top of mind leads to tip of tongue.
18. Principle 3: Emotion - Naturally contagious content usually evokes some sort of emotion. Blending an iPhone is surprising. A potential tax hike is infuriating. Emotional things often get shared.
19. Principle 4: Public Can people see when others are using our product or engaging in our desired behavior? The famous phrase “Monkey see, monkey do” captures more than just the human tendency to imitate. It also tells us that it’s hard to copy something you can’t see. Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular.
20. Principle 5: Practical Value How can we craft content that seems useful? People like to help others, so if we can show them how our products or ideas will save time, improve health, or save money, they’ll spread the word.
21. Principle 6: Stories What broader narrative can we wrap our idea in? People don’t just share information, they tell stories. But just like the epic tale of the Trojan Horse, stories are vessels that carry things such as morals and lessons.
22. These are the six principles of contagiousness: products or ideas that contain Social Currency and are Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valuable, and wrapped into Stories.
23. Word of mouth, then, is a prime tool for making a good impression—as potent as that new car or Prada handbag. Think of it as a kind of currency. Social currency. Just as people use money to buy products or services, they use social currency to achieve desired positive impressions among their families, friends, and colleagues.
24. Give people a way to make themselves look good while promoting their products and ideas along the way. There are three ways to do that: (1) find inner remarkability; (2) leverage game mechanics; and (3) make people feel like insiders.
25. Remarkable things are defined as unusual, extraordinary, or worthy of notice or attention. Something can be remarkable because it is novel, surprising, extreme, or just plain interesting. But the most important aspect of remarkable things is that they are worthy of remark. Worthy of mention. Learning that a ball of glass will bounce higher than a ball of rubber is just so noteworthy that you have to mention it.
26. Remarkable things provide social currency because they make the people who talk about them seem, well, more remarkable.
27. One way to generate surprise is by breaking a pattern people have come to expect.
28. People don’t just care about how they are doing, they care about their performance in relation to others.
29. Game mechanics help generate social currency because doing well makes us look good. People love boasting about the things they’ve accomplished: their golf handicaps, how many people follow them on Twitter, or their kids’ SAT scores.
30. Leveraging game mechanics also involves helping people publicize their achievements. Sure, someone can talk about how well she did, but it’s even better if there is a tangible, visible symbol that she can display to others. Foursquare, the location-based social networking website, lets users check in at bars, restaurants, and other locations using their mobile devices.
31. Effective status systems are easy to understand, even by people who aren’t familiar with the domain.
32. Giving awards works on a similar principle. Recipients of awards love boasting about them—it gives them the opportunity to tell others how great they are. But along the way they have to mention who gave them the award.
33. Word of mouth can also come from the voting process itself. Deciding the winner by popular vote encourages contestants to drum up support. But in telling people to vote for them, contestants also spread awareness about the product, brand, or initiative sponsoring the contest. Instead of marketing itself directly, the company uses the contest to get people who want to win to do the marketing themselves.
34. Scarcity is about how much of something is offered. Scarce things are less available because of high demand, limited production, or restrictions on the time or place you can acquire them.
35. Exclusivity is also about availability, but in a different way. Exclusive things are accessible only to people who meet particular criteria.
36. Scarcity and exclusivity help products catch on by making them seem more desirable.
37. Scarcity and exclusivity boost word of mouth by making people feel like insiders. If people get something not everyone else has, it makes them feel special, unique, high status.
38. If word-of-mouth pundits agree on anything, it’s that being interesting is essential if you want people to talk. Most buzz marketing books will tell you that. So will social media gurus.
39. Unfortunately, he’s wrong. And so is everyone else who subscribes to the interest-is-king theory. And lest you think this contradicts what we talked about in the previous chapter about Social Currency, read on. People talk about Cheerios more than Disney World. The reason? Triggers.
40. Interesting products didn’t receive any more word of mouth than boring ones.
41. Sights, smells, and sounds can trigger related thoughts and ideas, making them more top of mind. A hot day might trigger thoughts about climate change. Seeing a sandy beach in a travel magazine might trigger thoughts of Corona beer.
42. But triggers can also be indirect. Seeing a jar of peanut butter not only triggers us to think about peanut butter, it also makes us think about its frequent partner, jelly. Triggers are like little environmental reminders for related concepts and ideas.
43. More frequently triggered products got 15 percent more word of mouth. Even mundane products like Ziploc bags and moisturizer received lots of buzz because people were triggered to think about them so frequently.
44. So rather than just going for a catchy message, consider the context. Think about whether the message will be triggered by the everyday environments of the target audience.
45. The more the desired behavior happens after a delay, the more important being triggered becomes.
46. One product that used triggers brilliantly is Kit Kat. “Give me a break, give me a break, break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar!” Introduced in the United States in 1986, the Kit Kat tune is one of the most iconic jingles ever made.
47. Products and ideas also have habitats, or sets of triggers that cause people to think about them.
48. Competitors can even be used as a trigger. by making a rival’s message act as a trigger for your own.
49. A famous antismoking campaign, for example, spoofed Marlboro’s iconic ads by captioning a picture of one Marlboro cowboy talking to another with the words: “Bob, I’ve got emphysema.” So now whenever people see a Marlboro ad, it triggers them to think about the antismoking message.
50. Researchers call this strategy the poison parasite because it slyly injects “poison” (your message) into a rival’s message by making it a trigger for your own.
51. Triggers can help products and ideas catch on, but some stimuli are better triggers than others. The more things a given cue is associated with, the weaker any given association.
52. Triggers work the same way. The color red, for example, is associated with many things: roses, love, Coca-Cola, and fast cars, to name just a few. As a result of being ubiquitous, it’s not a particularly strong trigger for any of these ideas.
53. Compare that with how many people think “jelly” when you say “peanut butter” and it will be clear why stronger, more unusual links are better. Linking a product or idea with a stimulus that is already associated with many things isn’t as effective as forging a fresher, more original link.
54. It is also important to pick triggers that happen near where the desired behavior is taking place.
55. Triggers and cues lead people to talk, choose, and use. Social currency gets people talking, but Triggers keep them talking. Top of mind means tip of tongue.
56. As we expected, both characteristics influenced sharing. More interesting articles were 25 percent more likely to make the Most E-Mailed list. More useful articles were 30 percent more likely to make the list.
57. Sadder articles were actually 16 percent less likely to make the Most E-Mailed list. Something about sadness was making people less likely to share. What?
58. More recently, however, psychologists have argued that emotions can also be classified based on a second dimension. That of activation, or physiological arousal.
59. Arousal is a state of activation and readiness for action. The heart beats faster and blood pressure rises. Evolutionarily, it comes from our ancestors’ reptilian brains. Physiological arousal motivates a fight-or-flight response that helps organisms catch food or flee from predators.
60. Some emotions, like anger and anxiety, are high-arousal. When we’re angry we yell at customer service representatives. When we’re anxious we check and recheck
61. things. Positive emotions also generate arousal. Take excitement. When we feel excited we want to do something rather than sit still. The same is true for awe. When inspired by awe we can’t help wanting to tell people what happened. Other emotions, however, have the opposite effect: they stifle action. Take sadness. Whether dealing with a tough breakup or the death of a beloved pet, sad people tend to power down.
62. In their wonderful book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath talk about using the “Three Whys” to find the emotional core of an idea. Write down why you think people are doing something. Then ask “Why is this important?” three times. Each time you do this, note your answer, and you’ll notice that you drill down further and further toward uncovering not only the core of an idea, but the emotion behind it.
63. And it did. Among students who had been instructed to jog, 75 percent shared the article—more than twice as many as the students who had been in the “relaxed” group. Thus any sort of arousal, whether from emotional or physical sources, and even arousal due to the situation itself (rather than content), can boost transmission.
64. A key factor in driving products to catch on is public visibility. If something is built to show, it’s built to grow.
65. Observable things are also more likely to be discussed. Ever walked into someone’s office or home and inquired about a weird paperweight on the desk or a colorful art print on the living room wall?
66. The more public a product or service is, the more it triggers people to take action. So how can products or ideas be made more publicly observable?
67. One way to make things more public is to design ideas that advertise themselves.
68. Every time current Hotmail customers sent an e-mail, they also sent prospective customers a bit of social proof—an implicit endorsement for this previously unknown service. And it worked. In a little over a year Hotmail signed up more than 8.5 million subscribers. Soon after, Microsoft bought the burgeoning service for $400 million. Since then more than 350 million users have signed up.
69. Take Apple’s decision to make iPod headphones white. But because most devices came with black headphones, Apple’s white headphone cords stood out. By advertising themselves, the headphones made it easy to see how many other people were switching away from the traditional Walkman and adopting the iPod. This was visible social proof that suggested the iPod was a good product and made potential adopters feel more comfortable about purchasing it as well.
70. Designing products that advertise themselves is a particularly powerful strategy for small companies or organizations that don’t have a lot of resources.
71. But sharing something useful with others is a quick and easy way to help them out. Even if we’re not in the same place. Parents can send their kids helpful advice even if they are hundreds of miles away. Passing along useful things also strengthens social bonds.
72. If Social Currency is about information senders and how sharing makes them look, Practical Value is mostly about the information receiver. It’s about saving people time or money, or helping them have good experiences.
73. One of the main tenets of prospect theory is that people don’t evaluate things in absolute terms. They evaluate them relative to a comparison standard, or “reference point.”
74. The prices of the dresses were the same in both versions of the catalog. So using the word “sale” beside a price increased sales even though the price itself stayed the same.
75. Another tenet of prospect theory is something called “diminishing sensitivity.”
76. While almost everyone is willing to endure the drive for the cheaper clock radio, almost no one is willing to do it when buying a TV. Why? Diminishing sensitivity reflects the idea that the same change has a smaller impact the farther it is from the reference point.
77. As prospect theory illustrates, one key factor in highlighting incredible value is what people expect. Promotional offers that seem surprising or surpass expectations are more likely to be shared.
78. Another factor that affects whether deals seem valuable is their availability. Somewhat counterintuitively, making promotions more restrictive can actually make them more effective.
79. But offers that are available for only a limited time seem more appealing because of the restriction. Just like making a product scarce, the fact that a deal won’t be around forever makes people feel that it must be a really good one.
80. Researchers find that whether a discount seems larger as money or percentage off depends on the original price. For low-priced products, like books or groceries, price reductions seem more significant when they are framed in percentage terms. Twenty percent off that $25 shirt seems like a better deal than $5 off. For high-priced products, however, the opposite is true.
81. A simple way to figure out which discount frame seems larger is by using something called the Rule of 100. If the product’s price is less than $100, the Rule of 100 says that percentage discounts will seem larger. For a $30 T-shirt or a $15 entrée, even a $3 discount is still a relatively small number. But percentagewise (10 percent or 20 percent), that same discount looks much bigger.
82. Useful information, then, is another form of practical value. Helping people do things they want to do, or encouraging them to do things they should do. Faster, better, and easier.
83. So while broadly relevant content could be shared more, content that is obviously relevant to a narrow audience may actually be more viral.
84. Of the six principles of contagiousness that we discuss in the book, Practical Value may be the easiest to apply.
85. Virality is most valuable when the brand or product benefit is integral to the story. When it’s woven so deeply into the narrative that people can’t tell the story without mentioning it.
86. Sure, you can make your narrative funny, surprising, or entertaining. But if people don’t connect the content back to you, it’s not going to help you very much. Even if it goes viral.
87. Using scarcity and exclusivity early on and then relaxing the restrictions later is a particularly good way to build demand.