Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Overall I liked this book. It was easy to read, fun, and a great addition to the developing genre of "pop psychology". Being somewhat new and uncomfortable to traditional marketing methods this book reaffirmed things I feel like most people already know but can't quite describe as clearly.
At times I felt that Berger was a bit simplistic when describing psychological studies -measuring awe in NY Times articles sounds cool, but I am not sure how subjective or this actually is. On the flip side, I don't think that the simplicity of the book takes away from the things that can be learned and applied.
Here are the STEPPS to contagious ideas.
Social Currency - We share things that make us look good. Share an article because it makes us appear smart, a video because we want to be funny, or a political meme to illustrate our strong stance.
Triggers - Top of mind, tip of tongue. Rebecca Black's "Friday" spiked each Friday, other stories about small triggers that lead to products or organizations.
Emotion - When we care, we share. To understand the emotion or human level connection of a thing ask "Why is this important?" 3 times. Why do people do Google searches? To find things quickly. Why? So they can get answers to their questions. Why? So they can find what they need to achieve their goals, dreams, and vision. Physiological arousal is what moves people to share an idea. If they are left feeling content then there is no reason to pass it on.
Public - Built to show, built to grow. When decisions or deals are made public they catch on more (think Groupon, "I voted" sticker, Livestrong).
Practical Value - News you can use. "Corn" viral video of an elderly guy shucking corn in a new way. Simply helping people out and offering good information gets passed around because we can immediately think of specific people that could benefit from it.
Stories - Information travels under the guise of idle chatter. This one is pretty obvious. Be sure the brand is an integral part of telling the story, otherwise it will be left out along with other unnecessary details (think streaker at the Athens Olympics).
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I saw this humorous picture a couple times a week or so ago. At first it made me laugh, and then it made me think. While this is funny, isn't it so true of our current society?
Often I hear people complaining about "the poor" who get "handouts" but I think the fact of the matter is to some degree we all look for the path of least resistance. It is easier to drink a coffee or 5 hour energy shot in the morning than it is to manage and maintain a plan for getting a good nights rest. It is easier to watch TV than it is to read those classics waiting on your shelf. In a world increasingly filled with new inventions and modern marvels specifically targeting the pains of every day life, living with inconvenience and uncertainty is becoming increasingly rare.
So what? We live in the modern age, why shouldn't we eliminate pain and suffering completely? Innovations and new business are built around human pain constantly and why shouldn't they be?
To be clear, I am not exempt or "above" our instant gratification society. I love the microwave and the Internet as much as the next person. But I do think that many of the shortcuts that we take lead to long-term problems both in our own lives and health, and the general well-being of our communities and countries. For the last few months the way we eat has really drawn my attention as the one of the best examples of taking the path of least resistance and in turn suffering extraordinary long-term results.
How We Eat
The way I've chosen to eat for most of my life hasn't been the greatest. At the same time it hasn't been the worst either. I remember a period of time as an LDS missionary trying so hard to get my "5 a day" (5 servings of fruits or veggies) and just barely making it. I didn't have a hard time getting my 5 servings of sugar, fat, salt, and artificial sweetner though!
We all know we should have more fruits and veggies. And yet eating right is often a joke we tell about our childhood horrors (Doing paper work is worse than eating veggies, I can't stand it). Why is it that when I decide to eat a whole food, plant-based diet people get worried about my protein levels, but eating a high meat low plant diet they don't feel a little concern for all the nutrition they are missing out on? It is funny because you tell someone, "I don't eat meat" and many people think that is nuts and unhealthy. On the flip side what if I said, "Oh I don't eat vegetables"? Wow, guess what? Neither does most of our country! And yet veggies, fruit, and whole grains are consistently proven as the basis of any real healthy diet. We try to make ourkids eat them, but like other habits such as polite language and telling the truth, the fact remains that kids learn more from examples of adults than didactic or explicit lessons.
Though I occasionally have day dreams about taquitos from Costco, or double bacon burgers from just about anywhere, I am continuing on with eating the way I have for the last few months. In an effort to help others understand the possibilities out there I am revamping the little online cookbook my wife and I have been working on. Still lots of work left, but I am excited about the prospects!
Literature, movies, social media interactions, presentations, conversations, and so many other moments in our lives are filled with stories. What about classroom lectures, business reports, sales pitches, or even YouTube how-to videos? Often we don't think "story" when interacting with these latter categories, but when done right maybe we should.
Like the steps of a staircase, or the rungs of a ladder, explanation stories elevate your audience to a new level of knowledge. Lets look at the explanation video for the Android Watch.
If you are in a time crunch, check out a few examples of explanation videos at the end of this post.
Explanation Video: A Case Study on Android Watch
Illustrating the use of the watch (first 13 seconds) was a really good beginning point. Immediately I felt I was walking up the stairs toward understanding what this product was and how I might be able to use it. Having the designers there talking about the product was refreshing to me, since so often big tech companies are sort of faceless and numbing. Of course this kind of video smells of Apple --who, though maybe weren't the first to do it, certainly have taken the lead in this genre of media. I also appreciated the invitation for new thoughts and user-generated developments for expanding on the product itself. This concept is what really separates Android from Apple, and Singleton is really playing toward that strength when we see and hear him say he is "excited to see what developers do with this."
There should be less shots of the designers speaking. Sure, the video is just over two minutes, but really we aren't watching this video to see the faces of the Android team --though as I mention above that can be a positive element in the video. I want to see more shots showing how the watch is being used. This will spark the viewer's imagination as to what is possible, and beyond. I actually liked seeing Faaborg show us the watch and talk through some of its features, but again I think some power was lost when we didn't cut away to other people using and exploring with their own watches.
The Android Watch Explanation Story
Here is the video broken down in to bullet points. Definitely shorter to consume in text form, but think of all the nuances and detail lost when presented with just the bare steps of the explanation video!
The Bottom Line
Explanation videos don't have to be a talking head. They also don't have to have lots of expensive animations or graphics. They do need to be clear, focused, and straight forward enough that your audience can understand the new level of knowledge you are inviting them to stand on. In addition, a finely-crafted explanation video will also invite the viewer to consider new possibilities, see the organization or product in a new light, and spark their imagination as to how they can interact with what is being explained.
Here are a few examples I enjoyed
About 2 weeks ago I was in a real grind. Thanks to my own forgetfulness, stupidity, or whatever you want to call it, I had bought plane tickets for the wrong weekend.
After rejecting the idea in my head a few times, I eventually got around to accepting my mistake and began the dreaded process of trying to get in touch with some one at the two different airlines I would be flying with. Amazingly within minutes I was TALKING to a real person at United Airlines. Yes, I said minutes. In addition to this blessing, United agreed to waive most of the fee required for changing tickets and they answered all my questions.
Feeling surprised and encouraged, I went to the American Airlines website. "Where are the humans?" I muttered to myself as I scrolled through dense content and crisp stock photos. I could not find any contact information.
After a few searches, I resorted to some pathetic and desperate measures by googling things like "humans at AA" and "contact info for Airlines." Then this popped up. Gethuman.com.
Within minutes I was connected to a real person, talking over my dumb mistake, and pleading for some kind of bargain. Maybe the stars were aligned or something else crazy because after hanging up I realized I should have lost hundreds of dollars but instead my concerns were heard and then thoughtfully cared for at a very low cost to me.
That is the value of humans.
I deeply grateful (and perhaps a little more loyal) to United and AA for changing my flights with little-to-no charge. But I will give even more good karma and business to Gethuman, an organization that truly understands what we all want: to be treated with humanity and even a little dignity.
Whether it is the folks at your customer service desk or the commercial you approve for radio, think for a second: am I treating my clients the way I would hope to be treated? Good service and effective marketing is authentic and personal. It is accessible, it listens, and then responds genuinely.
If you haven't heard this story from TAL, take 22 minutes and get in the shoes of someone who may be similar to one of your customers. Consider: how can I use more humanity in my interactions with customers? What stories and actions can I share that might improve damaged relationships from past experiences?
I am a graduate student in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University. I enjoy writing, hiking, and spending time with my family.