Contagious: Takeaways and Key Points Book Summary

When everyone is talking about your product, topic, or idea, you can say that it’s gained “social contagion.” This can happen instantly, out of the blue, due to natural interest from the community and people talking to their friends, family, or associates. Needless to say, this is a highly effective form of promotion (with 93% of it happening offline).

In other words, you want to stop relying solely on paid promotions, such as traditional advertising, and get real honest people excited enough to talk about your product or service to their friends and family. This is because people trust the opinion of their friends and family members far more than they do advertising.

In his book Contagious, Jonah Berger discusses the factors that cause people to talk about products, brands, causes, and ideas with steps you can take to make your product catch on. By following his recommendations, you’ll greatly increase the probability of having a buzzworthy product or service that everyone is talking about.

Key Points From Contagious

  • Word of mouth aka “social contagion” is a low-cost way to promote your product.
  • 93% of conversations about brands, products, and services happen offline.
  • People need to feel influential when discussing your product, brand, or service.
  • Creating familiar triggers allows people to remember your item.
  • Using either positive or negative emotions can motivate people to discuss your item.
  • Your business activities and products need to be extremely visible to the public.
  • Sharing practical information can prompt people to spread the word of your brand.
  • Stories are the best way to convey information about your product or service.

Takeaways From Contagious

Takeaway #1. Create Social Currency

When people feel important or knowledgeable as they discuss your idea, cause, product, or service, you are operating in the realm of “social currency.” This currency can apply to interesting and fun facts, which prompt people to share the information that they believe reflects well on them; a breakthrough idea that people get excited about and want to discuss; or a reward or game system that gives back to the customer, such as frequent flyer miles or McDonald’s Monopoly rewards that users want to boast about to their friends and family.

So ask yourself, how do my products, services, or ideas possess inner remarkability? How do they stand out from the crowd? Remember that every conversation someone has about your products or brand is free promotion.

Takeaway #2. Create Triggers

Triggers, which can be naturally occurring and unexpected or planned, can be used to remind people about your business or cause, prompting them to talk about it. Some word-of-mouth conversations occur immediately after a trigger, like after using a product or having a particular experience, which can create a buzz in that moment, while other conversations continue over a period of time. Given that people talk about products, brands, and organizations roughly 16 times each day, even if your company produces an everyday product that could be perceived as quite ordinary, such as milk or toilet paper, know that people will still discuss it and want to hear the opinion of others, providing you give them reason to discuss it.

Associations are the most powerful tool for creating word of mouth, with familiarity also helping. For example, sales of Kit Kat bars went up when an ad paired Kit Kats with a cup of coffee.

These factors can be used when evaluating the potential effectiveness of the trigger:
- How often the trigger happens
- How strong the link is between trigger and product
- If the trigger is part of the product’s usual environment
- Location (a cheesesteak campaign is unlikely to succeed outside of Philadelphia)
- Time of year (orange products sell better in October than in December)

Takeaway #3. Stir Strong Emotions

To get people talking about your product, brand, services, or idea, you have to strike a chord with them, as people talk about things that stir their feelings. Amazement, awe, anxiety, and anger are all “high arousal” emotions which can be used to get people talking. While amusement can also be used to get people talking about your product or cause, feelings of happiness or sadness tend to lessen the impulse to share.

Takeaway #4. Create High Visibility

A phenomenon known as “social proof” in psychology means that people who follow the recommendations and tastes of others do so when others’ preferences are visible. This is a theory that Steve Jobs understood, and it’s why the logo on a laptop faces viewers and not the user, so that people are spurred on to buy that brand when they see it in their environment. People are inundated with information in today’s fast-paced world, so they seek out others’ choices to guide them in what to purchase.

To achieve high visibility with your own products, brand, or services, you should:

  • Make the Private Public - This means turning your cause into an event or item that catches your audience’s attention and inspires them to talk. Prostate Cancer Awareness does this by asking men to grow mustaches and beards in November.
  • Design Ideas for Self-Advertising - By incorporating a commercial into your brand, your ideas will advertise themselves. Hotmail did this by adding a tagline to every email to advertise its service.
  • Employ Behavioral Residue - Ensure your tactic or campaign has a long shelf life. For example, The Livestrong Foundation decided that bracelets would create longer-lasting cancer awareness than a single day of bike racing featuring a celeb.
  • Provide Practical Value - Practical information such as tips and recipes spread easily, as people enjoy sharing information with people they know who might find it useful, so create “news others can use.” Reference points can also provide practical information by showing people when a price is a good deal. (Retailers often do this by posting the regular price next to the discounted price, so that consumers can see the difference or “good value”; however, a 25% discount on a high value item has less impact than the same discount on a lower priced item, which is why big ticket items normally have the price reduction shown in the monetary value: i.e., save $50.)

Takeaway #5. Tell a Good Story

Stories can interest and capture your audience's attention more than regular advertising, so tell your story—or create one—to get people noticing and talking about your business or cause. Storytelling comes naturally to us humans far more than sharing stats does, and we’re more readily able to recall narratives than we are stand-alone figures, especially when outside of a business environment when talking amongst friends and family. Further, when someone is listening to a story, they’re unlikely to contradict the storyteller, unlike they would when reacting to a paid marketing campaign.

A story that promotes interest in your business or product should be logical, amusing, and creative, while also meaningful, understandable, and easy to associate with you. Think of the skincare business Dove, which benefited from a commercial showing how unrealistic professional models look when they have had their hair and makeup done. Keep the story simple, for when people pass stories to one another, they tend to omit the unnecessary details, putting heightened meaning on the vital points.

When applying the above steps, remember that so long as your business, brand, or cause makes people feel important, appears to them frequently and clearly, evokes emotion, is useful, and has a good story to it, it has higher chances to become contagious.

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Contagious Chapters

Introduction: Why Things Catch On 1
Why $100 is a good price for a cheesesteak
Why do some things become popular?
Which is more important, the message or the messenger?
Can you make anything contagious?
The case of the viral blender
Six key STEPPS
Chapter 1 Social Currency
When a telephone booth is a door
Ants can lift fifty times their own weight
Why frequent flier miles are like a video game
When it's good to be hard to get
Why everyone wants a mix of tripe, heart, and stomach meat
The downside of getting paid
We share things that make us look good
Chapter 2 Triggers
Which gets more word of mouth, Disney or Cheerios?
Why a NASA mission boosted candy sales
Could where you vote affect how you vote?
Consider the context
Explaining Rebecca Black
Growing the habitat: Kit Kat and coffee
Top of mind, tip of tongue
Chapter 3 Emotion
Why do some things make the Most E-Mailed list?
How reading science articles is like standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon
Why anger is like humor
How breaking guitars can make you famous
Getting teary eyed about online search
When we care, we share
Chapter 4 Public
Is the Apple logo better upside down than right side up?
Why dying people turn down kidney transplants
Using moustaches to make the private public
How to advertise without an advertising budget
Why anti-drug commercials might increase drug use
Built to show, built to grow
Chapter 5 Practical Value
How an eighty-six-year-old made a viral -video about corn
Why hikers talk about vacuum cleaners
E-mail forwards are the new barn raising
Will people pay to save money?
Why $100 is a magic number
When lies spread faster than the truth
News you can use
Chapter 6 Stories
How stories are like Trojan horses
Why good customer service is better than any ad
When a streaker crashed the Olympics
Why some story details are unforgettable
Using a panda to make valuable virality
Information travels under the guise of idle chatter
Epilogue
Why 80 percent of manicurists in California are Vietnamese

* Key Sources: Amazon, Contagious: Summary Review

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Best Quotes from Contagious

"People don't think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride"

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

"People don't need to be paid to be motivated."

"Marketing is about spreading the love."

"Most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead."

"When we care, we share"

― Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On

About The Author

Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and bestselling author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On and Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior. Dr. Berger has spent over a decade studying how social influence works and how it drives products and ideas to catch on.

About The Book

Genres: Business, Nonfiction, Psychology

Synopsis Summary: The New York Times bestseller that explains why certain products and ideas become popular. In Contagious, Berger reveals the secret science behind word-of-mouth and social transmission.

Editorial Review: "Faster-spreading than the flu are the ordinary conversations people have about products and ideas, according to this infectious treatise on viral marketing. Drawing on his own nifty research, Wharton marketing professor Berger investigates all manner of phenomena—surging name brands, chic restaurants, YouTube hits, most–e-mailed articles—that catch on through word-of-mouth popularity. There are discernible dynamics behind the apparent chaos of trendiness, he argues: we naturally want to talk about things that seem fashionable, secretive, useful, or remarkable, that arouse our emotions, that come to mind frequently in mundane settings, and that wrap themselves in compelling stories. He applies these principles to illuminate a slew of marketing and PR conundrums, explaining why a Philadelphia restaurant prospered by charging for a cheese steak, why “Just Say No” ads may make kids say yes, why people sometimes pay more to get a discount, and why that Budweiser commercial featuring dudes saying “Wassup?” was a stroke of genius. Berger writes in a sprightly, charming style that deftly delineates the intersection of cognitive psychology and social behavior with an eye toward helping businesspeople and others spread their messages. The result is a useful and entertaining primer that diagnoses countless baffling pop culture epidemics." (- Publishers Weekly)

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