Interview with Dr. Jonah Berger – New York Times Best Selling Author of Contagious, Why Things Catch On

Christina:            Hi, I’m Christina Daves, the best selling author of PR For Anyone. I want to welcome you to today’s edition of Experts Corner. I’m so excited, we have Dr Jonah Berger, who is a professor at the Wharton School of Business, and he wrote this fabulous book called Contagious, Why Things Catch On. I read the book and loved it! He is here today to talk to us about what he’s learned. He’s worked with companies like Google and Facebook, and he’s going to share some tips with you on things that you can do to make your business contagious.

Welcome Jonah Berger, number 1 New York Times Best Selling Author. So excited to have you here, I loved, loved, loved, your book. You have six steps to contagiousness, and I know in our short amount of time we can’t go into all of them, but maybe you can quickly name them all, and let’s dive deeper on one or two and really help these business owners find ways that they can make their business contagious.

Jonah:            Definitely, and I think to refine the discussion a little bit, it’s challenging being a small business owner. You don’t have a lot of money for marketing, you don’t have a lot of money for a fancy television ads. How can you get the word out about what you’re doing? Word of mouth is much more effective than traditional advertising, and dollars spent on word of mouth goes about ten times as far as dollars spent on ads. But to get people to talk and share, we have to understand that science. How do we take someone who’s a customer, who likes us, and turn him into an advocate. That’s what Contagious is all about, how to activate those people that already like what you’re doing.

As you mentioned, in the book I sort of talked about the six key steps, or factors that drive people to talk and share. I spent about a decade doing research on this subject. We see again and again it’s not random luck or chance, there’s really a science there that drives conversation. STEPPS is an acronym, it stands for Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories. Each of those are the driver that causes people to talk about and share information, and gets all sorts of products and services to catch on.

Christina:            Awesome. What’s the one that you think of all of those would really be beneficial for a small business owner to make themselves contagious?

Jonah:            I think we can talk about a couple. I want to go through the first two. Just Social Currency, the simple idea there is, people talk about and share things that make them look good, rather than make them look bad. Just like the car we drive, and the clothes we wear, what we talk about and share affects how other people see us. No wonder that people post positive things online rather than negative things. They want other people to think they’re exciting and have a really great life. No one says, hey, I’m in the front of the computer working on Excel spreadsheets. People post the exciting things, the things that make them look good. The idea here very simply is, how can we give our customers, or clients, something they can share that makes them look good, but brings us along for the ride? Like too often as business owners we care about how we look. Do we look good to the customer or the client? How do we look? Can we give them something that make us look good?

Foodies love talking about new restaurants, people that are into sports love talking about the most recent trade. Folks that are into fitness love talking about the newest dietary supplement. Whatever business you’re in, how can you give people information, content, ideas, that make them feel like they’re insiders, that make them feel smart, special and in the know like they’re not like everybody else. The financial advisor, how can you give them a way to talk about the market that makes them look ahead of their peers? If you’re a small business, let’s say you’re a coffee house or something like that, how can you give them access to information about the newest blends or trends in coffee that make them feel special, like they understand organic beans better than anyone else in their neighborhood. Give them something that makes them look good, that makes them feel like an insider, they’ll be more likely to talk about you and bring your message along for the ride.

Christina:            That’s brilliant, brilliant! I love that. Can we get into another one, please?

Jonah:            Yeah, sure. T is for Triggers. I think of the six ideas here, Triggers is one of the most underutilized. It makes a lot of sense when people hear it, they get it, but ahead of time they don’t necessarily think about it. My favorite way to explain Triggers is to think about an ad many of your listeners are probably seeing for Geico about Hump Day. There’s a camel walking through an office going, “What day is it today? What day is it? What day is it?” Someone then goes, “It’s Hump Day!” He get’s really excited in the ad and says, how happy are people who save money with Geico, happier than a camel on Hump Day. It’s sort of funny, but it’s not that funny, yet so many people have shared that ad, millions of people. It’s the second most shared ad actually of last year.

If you wonder why, it’s interesting to look at the data. There’s sort of a spike in shares, and then it goes down, then another spike, and then it goes down, and another spike, and then it goes down. If you look closer, the spikes aren’t random. They’re actually seven days apart. And if you look even closer you’ll notice what you’re thinking, they’re every Wednesday. The point here is, that message is equally good or bad everyday of the week, it’s equally funny everyday of the week, but Wednesday rolls around and it’s a ready reminder what a psychologist would call a trigger, to make people think about it, and talk about it and share it.

Christina:            Share it.

Jonah:            Very simply, something’s on top of mind, it’s much more likely to be tip of tongue. If I said peanut butter and … What word might you think of?

Christina:            Jelly?

Jonah:            Jelly, right? Yeah. Or if I said rum and … You might think of well Coke.

Christina:            Coke, yeah.

Jonah:            If you notice peanut butter is almost like a little advertisement for jelly. It’s almost like a little reminder, every time peanut butter is on, jelly doesn’t have to remind you it exists, peanut butter does all the work for jelly. It’s like jelly should pay peanut butter like a kickback or like a commission or something, right? Very simply, thinking about that, not only should we think about that people like us, how can we get that Social Currency, but what’s our Trigger? What’s our peanut butter? What’s the thing in the environment that will remind people to think of my service, my idea even if I’m not around? How can I make sure my client, my customer might love me and talk about me when they’re having dinner with someone else. How can we make sure that we come up in conversation? By making sure we link ourselves to things in the environment, to ideas, to topics, to even visible things in that environment that will make sure people think about us, we come to mind and they’ll talk about us more.

Christina:            It’s interesting you said that because I tell people all the time, really pay attention to breaking news, what’s trending. Are there studies in your industry? And use that to go forward to the media and say, “Hey, I can speak about this.” Sending that to their customers would be that trigger every time there’s something like that and that’s great.

Jonah:            Just as you’re saying I do a lot of consulting work for different clients working for some that are in the financial space, think about, what are the right hooks, think of them, triggers or hooks in the media? What are the topics that when they come up … If you wait until they came up, sometimes it’s too late. Think about it in advance, what things tend to come up across a year that I can link myself? If I’m on the financial service industry, around New Year’s people make new goals. What financial goals might they have? Around spring cleaning, we clean out our homes. What about cleaning out our financial lives? Tax date comes up. Back to school season. Thinking about those things that come up over time, and how you can link, as you nicely said, your idea, your message to those existing stories. A big trigger, a big peanut butter will help sure make more people think of you.

Christina:            Yeah, that’s great. Thank you so much, we try to keep our interviews short. We want people to watch the whole thing. What you gave us was wonderful! Your book is great! I’m going to show it one more time, Contagious, Why Things Catch On. I really recommend it. It was a great read. It was great to have you here, thanks so much.

Jonah:            Thanks so much for having me, appreciate it.

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