Go Viral with Contagious: Why Things Catch On (Book Review)

There's something to be learned from cat videos. Beyond discovering that cats enjoy playing patty cake, per this quality YouTube evidence with more than 21 million views, this type of internet phenomenon shows the power of going viral. It's every marketer's dream, and Jonah Berger explains how to infect the world with your brand in his bestseller, Contagious: Why Things Catch On. Discover some of the key points in this book review:

Summary and Book Review of Contagious: Why Things Catch On

As an associate professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, bestselling author Jonah Berger is a master of consumer behavior and social influence. Big brands like Google, General Electric, Coca-Cola, and 3M turn to Jonah Berger for his insights on what gets people talking. He has written numerous articles in academic journals highlighting these ideas, and his book is just one of the latest accounts of how behaviors take off.

As Contagious notes, to understand word-of-mouth marketing, it's important to dispel myths about what makes an idea or product become popular. For one, advertising is not the be-all and end-all. Consumers don't always listen to advertisements, and going viral isn't a matter of luck —- it requires key steps, which are outlined in this book review.

Additionally, brands can't rely solely on early adopters to make or break their product. Berger believes the value of the message itself -- whether it's a product or ideas -- has greater influence on virality. Of course, as one of the best marketing books, Contagious: Why Things Catch On does more than outline what not to do. Jonah Berger offers directions and advice for creating a viral campaign for your brand.

Key Takeaways from Contagious: Why Things Catch On

While reading Contagious by Jonah Berger will give you the most detailed insights, this book review offers a simple breakdown of the digital marketing book's guidance on word-of-mouth marketing with this step-by-STEPP guide:

  • Social currency: People often view their pets as an extension of themselves, which, according to Jonah Berger, is why cat videos are so often shared. Those who post these viral videos do so because the cute kitty antics make them look good.
  • Triggers: Anything that goes viral must be memorable and based on something that's already top of someone's mind. In his blog, Berger cites the 2011 song "Friday" by Rebecca Black as an example of this concept. While the majority of listeners hated the tune, when the end of the week rolled around, it became one of the top searches on YouTube. The beloved day of the week served as a trigger or reminder to share the song.
  • Emotion: While writing for Scientific America, Berger notes that content that elicits positive emotion has a better chance of going viral.
  • Public (social proof): All efforts must be made public so they can reach more people. However, speaking with Forbes, Berger notes that the broadest reach isn't necessarily through social media. Only 7% of word-of-mouth marketing happens online, which makes dinner conversations and office chatter all the more important.
  • Practical value: Useless information does not yield as successful a viral campaign as practical advice or facts.
  • Stories: Brands must create a narrative when launching new products. This not only piques interest, but also helps create that essential emotional connection.

TL;DR? Check out this 8-minute animated review of the book by Fight Mediocrity:

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Sources: YouTube.com, Amazon.com, Marketing.wharton.upenn.edu, FastCompany.com, JonahBerger.com, ScientificAmerican.com, Forbes.com

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