Friday, October 9, 2015

Why Things Catch On - A Review of Contagious by Jonah Berger

Every once in awhile I’ll find a business book that I can’t put down. Contagious, by Jonah Berger, is one of those books. He explores why some things catch on and others don’t. His research is compelling and his collection of stories made this book a page turner for me. 

Contagious - Why Things Catch On - by Jonah Berger |

Beginning with the premise that people love to share stories, news and information with those around them, he explores the concept of “social transmission”. We are so much more effective at sharing ideas and influencing the purchasing decisions of people we know than any paid advertisement method.

Our daily conversations are filled with opinions and recommendations aimed toward the topic at hand. We share about a new restaurant we just tried, a great movie we just saw, a new product we just bought. And depending on who we are talking with, our recommendations are targeted specifically toward their needs and interests.

Even though we are great at sharing information with each other, it’s thought provoking as to what makes some things more contagious than others? 


Jonah Berger’s book explains what makes content (stories, news, information) contagious. His research reveals a “recipe” for making products, ideas, and behaviors more likely to become popular.

He and his colleagues narrowed it down to six “ingredients” or principles that are often involved and cause things to be talked about, shared and imitated.


Knowing about something cool, having the inside scoop on something big or being the first to own the hottest new product, it all make us feel important, and socially speaking it makes us look important. Sharing information that make us look good - that's social currency!

One of my favorite stories in the book is about how Snapple came up with the idea of adding a message on the inside of their bottle caps.

During a marketing meeting someone suggested that the space under the cap was unused real estate. They tried putting jokes under the caps with little success and asked if “out of the ordinary” real facts might work better.

Have you ever opened a bottle of Snapple and found yourself ready to share it with your friends like you have a big secret? This is genius! This is social currency!

This idea causes me to ponder how I might create social currency through an aspect of my business. Does this stir ideas in your head? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 


Triggers are words or ideas that we automatically associate or connect together. Peanut butter reminds us of jelly. The smell of suntan lotion triggers thoughts of the beach.

Some of these are personal but many of them have been programmed into us through advertisements or our social patterns.

I was first surprised by Jonah’s stories about how our environment can influence our decisions but it all makes sense. From the music they play in the market to the location where we cast our ballot at election time.

As consumers we make associations that we aren’t even aware of and I appreciate how the stories in this chapter highlight the negative and positive impact that our brand, our photos, our words, etc. can make.

Jonah suggests that we take advantage of existing triggers that will work to our benefit. What ideas are triggered when you think about this? 


It is so true that when we care, we share. If it touches us in some way we can’t help but share it by word of mouth but especially through email or social networking.

When it comes to our business, it’s easy to focus on the function of our product, but what if we turn our focus from function to feelings.

Part of the discussion in the book is about how some emotions will increase sharing and others will decrease it. I appreciate how Jonah dives into this subject because so much of our business promotion is done through the internet - either by us or our customers.

What makes one image on Pinterest get pinned and repinned 100s of times when others don’t? What ingredient of a facebook post causes a page fan to click the share button? This kind of information is necessary for us to understand if we want to use this free resource to increase our sales.

My biggest take away from this chapter is that I'm merely skimming the surface of this subject. Have you tried anything lately that seems to be working? 


How public is my product? That's a good question.

This is a hard principle to integrate into a small business. A bigger brand is more visible and has valuable social currency. So what do we have that is visible and can work to our benefit?

The first thing that comes to mind is our customer feedback. It is public information for our potential customers. Not only is it visible in your online shop but also on the web. Have you ever searched for your business on Google? If not, take a minute to do that. Your custom feedback star rating is right there on the Google page for everyone to see without even going to your shop.

What are other ways that we, as a small business, can use this principle?

What problem are we helping our customers solve with our product or through our service?
Most of my customers are looking for a way to thank someone special in their life. My custom made personalized items are a solution for them. Until I heard it summarized like that I didn’t understand how this question could apply to my business.

Jonah explores this concept of practical value on so many levels and it can get a bit overwhelming to consider all the different ways we might do this in our business.

Perhaps there is a new way of offering a valuable service to your customers that you’ve already thought of but you’ve been putting off for a while. Is it time to make an action plan and get that started?


I mentioned up front that the stories in this book kept me engaged. Although Jonah includes statistics about his research, I stayed interested because of his stories.

The narrative of our message can become a beautiful part of our business if it’s wrapped up in a story.

Our stories can become contagious content! 

Needless to say, I’m intrigued by this book and eager to brainstorm how I can weave some of these concepts more thoughtfully into my business. 

I found Contagious at my local library but if you want to purchase it you can find it on Amazon. Jonah also shares the short version of this book in this YouTube video.

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