These days, leading-edge marketing gurus preach that buyers no longer trust advertising—either online or offline. Instead, buyers prefer learning the opinion of their friends (or other third parties) of a product or service they consider buying.
Even accumulating lots of online contacts and frequently posting your company’s blogs in three or six or even a dozen social media is not enough. Now, to prove your credibility/authority, etc. you must interact with your Followers, Links, Friends, “PinPals,” etc. to score high in search engine results. Yes, your conversation must actually be two-way with the public!
And then, you have to make sure to create marketing content that people will “take to heart” so much that they want to disseminate it to their friends and contacts.
- But what makes people talk more about some messages than others?
- Why are some stories and rumors more infectious?
- What ingredients must online content include for it to go viral?
- What does your article, post, news item or video have to do or say in order to motivate your audience to spread your message by “talking it up” or “sharing” it with their own friends?
Over the past ten years, Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger has painstakingly researched these questions. His ground-breaking new book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On reveals the secret science behind word-of-mouth and social transmission.
Berger’s research identifies six basic principles that drive all sorts of things to become contagious, from consumer products and public policy initiatives to workplace rumors and YouTube videos.
The more of the following principles you include in your marketing message, the more likely it will be talked about, shared and spread by your audience. [Note: Underline shows the pneumonic: STEPPS]
1. Social Currency. “We share things that make us feel good.”
We feel like insiders, “people in the know,” when we have the phone number of an unlisted, popular restaurant that is not open to the general public.
2. Triggers. “Top of mind, tip of tongue.”
Mars candy bar sales rose unexpectedly in l997 despite no change in marketing during widespread news coverage of NASA’s mission to—where else?—Mars!
Mentioning the planet triggered a memory of the candy and the desire to buy it.
The “Take a break with coffee and Kit Kat” revived a dying brand.
3. Emotion. “When we care, we share.”
The specific emotion that tested as most responsible for encouraging people to share is Awe.
Examples of awe include feelings experienced when standing at the very edge of the Grand Canyon and those inspired by the viral video of Susan Boyle singing on Britain’s Got Talent. (All videos cited in the book are at: http://jonahberger.com.)
Berger defines Awe as “the sense of wonder and amazement that occurs when someone is inspired by great knowledge, beauty, sublimity, or might. It’s the experience of confronting something greater than oneself.”
“Awe encompasses admiration and inspiration and can be evoked by everything from great works of art or music to religious transformations, from breathtaking natural landscapes to human feats of daring and discovery.”
[Reviewer’s comment: This principle, in particular, holds enormous potential for marketing fractional real estate]
4. Public. Built to show, built to grow. Or, “Monkey see, monkey do.”
The desired actions that are usually private are instead made public. For example, real estate that is for sale includes signs with the name of the Realtor.
[Reviewer’s comment: Of course, “logo wear” (hats, caps, t-shirts jackets) has long been distributed to home owners and employees at vacation resorts to promote awareness of a property and generate “buzz.”
As social beings, we mimic the behavior of others. That’s why baristas put large bills in their tip jars.
Many retailers give disposable shopping bags to customers for carrying their purchases home. Customers re-using Tiffany bags, for example, seek to benefit from the prestige of the store for Social Currency. [Reviewer’s comment: Behaviors can belong to more than one principle.]
5. Practical Value. News you can use.
Among the numerous entertaining anecdotes in the book is a five-minute video of an 86-year-old Iowa man demonstrating how to shuck an ear of corn with no silk left attached. “Shucking Corn–Clean Ears Every time,” collected more than five million views. [Reviewer’s comment: The technique works!]
6. Stories. Information travels under the guise of idle chatter.
Stories (and the previously mentioned Emotion) are particularly useful for creating fractional real estate-related marketing content built to go viral.
Contagious illustrates the concept with the classic story, The Trojan Horse. People do not simply share facts; they tell narratives—stories that link facts together. Stories, like Trojan horses, are vessels that carry ideas and information about the property (or product) being marketed.
[Reviewer’s comment: Telling (or creating) the “larger human story” of the fractional property—far beyond its bricks and sticks—can elevate the audience’s emotional engagement with the property and increase their desire to share its unique marketing story with their friends.]
Berger concludes his two-hundred-plus page book with this summary paragraph on how to construct a viral marketing message:
“Build a Social, Currency-laden, Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valuable Trojan Horse, but don’t forget to hide your message inside. Make sure your desired information is so embedded into the plot that people can’t tell the story without it.”
A superb example of “bundling” just about every one of the STEPPS is Google’s 2010 “Parisian Love,” a 53-second video. It follows a romance over time from a café meeting to baby crib—exclusively through search results. It ends with, “Search On.” See this emotional story at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnsSUqgkDwU
Berger maintains that anyone can apply STEPPS thinking without a large budget, having a special creativity gene or being a marketing genius.
In the Epilogue, Contagious provides a handy structured questionnaire that marketers can use to evaluate how well the content promoting a product or idea embodies each of the six principles for being contagious.
This brief review can include only a small sample of the practical ideas and examples provided in the book itself. If you are seriously interested in sending marketing messages that catch on and spread like the feathery white parachutes of a dandelion, reading the entire book is highly recommended.
Contagious is well-written, entertaining and an easy read—a great book to take to the beach. It is also worth reading again and again in order to assimilate and devise your own applications of the valuable six STEPPS for creating marketing content that your audience will want to spread for you.
If you like this article, please share it.
Also, please share your response to the following questions in the space provided below.
- Have you ever created/or seen a resort real estate campaign that went viral? Describe it.
2. The slideshow that begins The Fractional Consultant website was partly inspired by ideas in Contagious. It’s at: http://www.thefractionalconsultant.com/.
What do you think of it?
David M. Disick, Esq., helps real estate developers secure financing. He is internationally recognized as a vacation real estate development expert. He is currently at work on large mixed-used resort developments.