MBA Student

Getting a Viral Hit: How To Make a Product Or Idea Stick

viral-ideasWhen given the choice between a plate of broccoli and a juicy hamburger, most people are going to choose the latter. Even though they know the healthier food option, people often choose the saltier, sweeter or fat-laden one because – no surprise – it tastes better.

Communications work the same way. Some “ideas fit better with how people’s minds are designed,” said Jonah Berger, Marketing Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, during the recent webinar, Are Your Ideas Contagious? The Secret to Why Things Catch On. “If we understand how people’s minds work, we can make messages tastier.”

Dr. Berger has spent 15 years studying the impact of “word of mouth” and why some ideas go viral. He also wrote a book on the subject, Contagious: Why Things Catch On. Word of mouth generates twice the sales of traditional advertising so getting it right is critical for selling a product or conveying an idea.

Many people think social media is the best way to turn a message into a viral hit, but only 7 percent of word of mouth activity occurs online so it is important to consider more than just the channel through which an idea is shared.

Dr. Berger explained that understanding the science behind people’s motivations is essential for successful promotion.  He outlined 6 “STEPPS” or principles that will take a message into the viral stratosphere:

  1. Social Currency – People share information that makes them look good and provides a “social currency” that gives them “insider” status.
  2. Triggers – When messages are cued by the social environment, people remember to talk about them. For example, Corona Beer’s advertising as a “beach beer” makes people remember it when they are at the beach.
  3. Emotions – When people care about something, they tend to share it more often.
  4. Public – When it is easier to see behavior, it is easier to imitate.
  5. Practical Value – People like to share useful or valuable information.
  6. Stories – Go beyond providing information; tell people a story that includes a kernel of information inside of it. There is a reason children are told bedtime stories and not “bedtime facts.” People are more likely to remember a good story.

By including one or more of these six principles when promoting a product or idea, it is more likely that it will be shared.

Find out more by watching the webinar on-demand and becoming a Forté member. More information about Dr. Berger’s fascinating work can be found on his website.


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