How to make your next idea contagious (in less than 10 minutes)


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There are many books out there focused on the opportunity to generate word-of-mouth for your product or service, but few break it down into specific, actionable tactics like Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. This is a quick read, but efficiently outlines (with numerous examples) the six keys to driving successful word-of-mouth marketing in today’s chaotic, buyer-centric world.

I highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself, but here are several passages from the book I highlighted that are at minimum worth scanning if you only have a few minutes.

Word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 percent to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions.

Their objectivity, coupled with their candidness, make us much more likely to trust, listen to, and believe our friends.

Word of mouth tends to reach people who are actually interested in the thing being discussed.

Research by the Keller Fay Group finds that only 7 percent of word of mouth happens online.

Facebook and Twitter are technologies, not strategies. [Tweet This]

what we talk about influences how others see us.

Knowing about cool things — like a blender that can tear through an iPhone — makes people seem sharp and in the know.

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.

Naturally contagious content usually evokes some sort of emotion.

Tather than harping on function, we need to focus on feelings.

Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular.

Here’s a little secret about secrets: they tend not to stay secret very long.

People share things that make them look good to others.

Give people a way to make themselves look good while promoting their products and ideas along the way.

The key to finding inner remarkability is to think about what makes something interesting, surprising, or novel.

One way to generate surprise is by breaking a pattern people have come to expect.

Emphasize what’s remarkable about a product or idea and people will talk.

People don’t just care about how they are doing, they care about their performance in relation to others.

What good is status if no one else knows you have it?

Leveraging game mechanics also involves helping people publicize their achievements.

Scarcity and exclusivity help products catch on by making them seem more desirable.

If something is difficult to obtain, people assume that it must be worth the effort.

People don’t need to be paid to be motivated.

Every day, the average American engages in more than sixteen word-of-mouth episodes, separate conversations where they say something positive or negative about an organization, brand, product, or service.

By acting as reminders, triggers not only get people talking, they keep them talking. Top of mind means tip of tongue.

The more something is triggered, the more it will be top of mind, and the more successful it will become.

Triggers and cues lead people to talk, choose, and use. Social currency gets people talking, but Triggers keep them talking.

interesting things are entertaining and reflect positively on the person who shares them.

Sharing useful information helps others and makes the sharer look good in the process.

Anger and anxiety lead people to share because, like awe, they are high-arousal emotions. They kindle the fire, activate people, and drive them to take action.

Rather than harping on features or facts, we need to focus on feelings; the underlying emotions that motivate people to action.

The best results don’t show up in a search engine, they show up in people’s lives.

Write down why you think people are doing something. Then ask “Why is this important?” three times.

When trying to use emotions to drive sharing, remember to pick ones that kindle the fire: select high-arousal emotions that drive people to action.

Simply adding more arousal to a story or ad can have a big impact on people’s willingness to share it.

if used correctly, negative emotions can actually boost word of mouth.

Designing messages that make people anxious or disgusted (high arousal) rather than sad (low arousal) will boost transmission.

Emotions drive people to action.

Seeing others do something makes people more likely to do it themselves.

If it’s hard to see what others are doing, it’s hard to imitate it.

Making something more observable makes it easier to imitate.

The easier something is to see, the more people talk about it.

The more others seem to be doing something, the more likely people are to think that thing is right or normal and what they should be doing as well.

When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate one another.

People don’t just value practical information, they share it. Offering practical value helps make things contagious.

Research finds that quantity purchase limits increase sales by more than 50 percent.

If the product’s price is less than $100, the Rule of 100 says that percentage discounts will seem larger.

Practical advice is shareable advice.

Narrower content may actually be more likely to be shared because it reminds people of a specific friend or family member and makes them feel compelled to pass it along.

People don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives.

Think of stories as providing proof by analogy.

When trying to generate word of mouth, many people forget one important detail. They focus so much on getting people to talk that they ignore the part that really matters: what people are talking about.

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.

In trying to craft contagious content, valuable virality is critical. That means making the idea or desired benefit a key part of the narrative.

Make sure your desired information is so embedded into the plot that people can’t tell the story without it.

Rather than being caused by a handful of special “influential” people, social epidemics are driven by the products and ideas themselves.

Read more with the full book here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.


  1. Matt:
    You’ve done an outstanding job of selling this book. You’ve really pulled out some key concepts to latch onto that are also easy to start doing. I also found the 6 steps to make something go viral (or contagious) useful as well: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories.

    Definitely a book worth reading and recommending.

    Thanks, John Gurnick


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