Book Summary #4: How to make things go viral

Contagious – Jonah Berger

About the Author

Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the author of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller ‘Contagious: Why Things Catch On’. Jonah has published dozens of articles in academic journals whilst consulting for a number of different Fortune 500 companies. He has spent the past 15 years studying social influence and how it causes ideas and products to go viral which has lead him to become one of the world’s leading authorities on the matter.



In Contagious Jonah Berger explains how influential word of mouth is in the decision making of consumers. Word of mouth he says is so big because people love to share things with those around them and what those around us say influences everything we do, say, read and buy. It is actually the biggest contributor to virality over anything, being the primary factor for twenty to fifty percent of all purchasing decisions. The main reasons for this are a) We are much more likely to listen to what our friends say about a product over an advertisement. This is because ads are biased whereas our friends will tell us what they honestly think. b) Word of mouth is also targeted, so we are unlikely to tell our friend about a product they have no interest in but will tell them about a product related to their interest. c) Even when ads are directed at an interested audience, the audience may not need the product the ad is pushing as they already have it.

So that is why word of mouth is influential, but how can we best use this to our advantage?

To answer this question we will explore 4 of the key principles the book offers:

1. Social Currency

People love to look cool and disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding, this is probably because about forty percent of what we talk about is our own personal experiences and preferences, so if your product can provide social currency you’re onto a winner.

You can provide social currency in 3 ways:
a) Find inner remarkability – The fact is people love talking about remarkable things, which is why you will need to make your product or service surprising, novel or interesting. When people share remarkable things with others the story gets exaggerated and details are lost in order to make people look better. This leaves the core details of your product and the more remarkable they are the better. Offering things that are deemed impossible, mysterious or controversial are great ways to find inner remarkability.
b) Leverage game mechanics – This is literally incorporating a game into your product or service. The best example of this is the McDonald’s Monopoly which happens every year. It is so effective because it is a challenge to win prizes which everyone enjoys, you have the opportunity to achieve things which entices people, it also enables you to compare your progress with others and it gives you the opportunity to boast to your friends about how many of the tokens you have or how close you are to getting all of one colour. Being able to look good in front of people increases social currency tenfold.
c) Make people feel like insiders – If you can make people feel like they are part of an exclusive club or they gain perks from being a part of your service this can increase social currency massively. Examples of this are secret bars, listing products as limited edition or having a membership providing paying customers with perks non-members don’t get.

What word of mouth do you want?

Before we get into the next principle it is important to mention that there are two types of word of mouth, immediate and ongoing. Opening a funny email and telling your friend next to you would be immediate word of mouth but ongoing word of mouth would be talking about something or using something weeks or months after you first heard about it. Different products and services rely on different types of word of mouth, movies for example rely on immediate word of mouth as they are trying to sell big when they release, an anti-bullying campaign on the other hand would be ongoing as they are hoping to cause ongoing change to stop people bullying. When something is remarkable or interesting it is very good at getting immediate word of mouth but research has shown that there is no difference between an interesting and boring product when it comes to ongoing word of mouth. So what causes the difference?

2. Triggers

Top of mind – There are always things which are more top of the mind than others. What is top of mind is influenced heavily by what is around us or what we are fanatics about, a football fan may always have football at the top of their mind because that is what they love. All of the things in our surrounding environment that our senses pick up trigger what is at the top of our mind. These triggers can be both direct (smelling pizza so thinking of pizza) or indirect (seeing a jar of peanut butter and thinking of jelly). The reason we want to trigger things to be at the top of people’s minds is because those accessible thoughts turn into actions and ultimately sharing.

How to use triggers – When we are conversing with others the main thing we have in mind is to keep that conversation going in order to show that we aren’t poor conversationalists, so we will say whatever is at the top of our minds in order to do that. This is why things that are triggered in our everyday lives are so important as they influence what we talk about. Research has shown that triggered products get more ongoing word of mouth than non-triggered products so it is important that we use these triggers to our advantage. Here are a few different ways you can do that:

a) If something is used every day it stays at the top of the mind which leads to it being at the tip of the tongue. You want a product that is triggered by your everyday environment, the more interesting the better but that doesn’t matter as much as triggers as products that are triggered more frequently get 15% more word of mouth.
b) Another thing you can do is to have your product link strongly to something else that is frequently used, just like peanut butter is strongly linked to jelly. Take note however that the link must be unique and strong, red and coca cola go together but you will probably think of other things first when you see the colour red.
c) You also need to consider the context, so think about the environment of the people a message or idea is trying to trigger. Different environments have different stimuli, so certain triggers will be more effective depending on where people live. The 100 dollar cheesesteak would not have worked if it had been outside a city famous for its cheesesteaks for example.

Social Currency gets people talking but triggers keep them talking.

Now you will have noticed so far that the more we see things the more we are triggered by them, which leads us to the next principle which is making your product public.

3. Public

For a product to be public it needs to be visible to other people. We are always looking to others for information on how to behave, what to wear, what products to use so it makes sense that we are more likely to buy something that we see other people using, as the product has social proof. Apple for example made the decision to flip the logo on their laptops. Originally the logo would appear the correct way up to the user when they closed the laptop however it would appear upside down to anyone observing that person use the laptop. Now this made it difficult for people to see what the laptop owner was using as it wasn’t designed to look good to others. Noticing this Apple flipped it so other people could see the logo the right way up. They decided that having it look good to other potential buyers was more important; this gave the laptop social proof and also massively increased their sales. The more visible a product is to observers the more likely we are to buy it.

So what happens when your product is not a public product, but a private one?

The fact of the matter is people are more likely to be influenced to buy a t shirt than a tube of toothpaste; simply because of the amount of social proof that comes with a public product (t-shirt) over a private one (toothpaste), and that we very rarely see the brand of toothpaste people use. This does not mean however that we cannot make something that is private public. A fantastic example of this is Movember, which helped to spread the awareness of prostate cancer. By growing moustaches randomly, which is both unusual and visible, it sparked people to ask those with moustaches why they were growing them. They would then be informed of the reason and the cause behind it.

So we have looked at social currency, we have looked at triggers and we have looked at making your product public, what else is there to make your product go viral?

4. Emotion

Emotion has been known for quite a while to be an effective tool for spreading word of mouth however it has always been quite hit and miss. Originally researchers thought that the reason emotions were so effective at spreading word of mouth was because they made us feel good, so things like awe, excitement and contentment all caused us to spread the word. When actually running experiments with different emotions researchers found that there was an increase in word of mouth from both positive and negative emotions just like sometimes where there would be no effect whatsoever. So what is the reason for this? Why do some emotions cause virality and why don’t others? The general conclusion is that for an emotion to cause word of mouth it needs to cause a state of high arousal, regardless of whether that emotion is a positive one or a negative one. Emotions that do this are those like humour, excitement, awe, anger and anxiety. Emotions that cause low arousal such as contentment and sadness do not cause virality. The reason high arousal emotions work is that they make us take action. You are not going to take action when you are sad or content as you are relaxed and slowed right down whereas anger, anxiety or excitement raise the heart rate like fight or flight and make you much more likely to talk about or share something.



So, next time you try to get your product to go viral have a think about the boxes you need to tick. Does your product make people look cool and provide them with social currency? Will your product be triggered often enough for people to think about it? Does it cause high arousal emotions? And is it in the public eye? If not how can you go about making it public? Doing all of these things can set you up a very powerful marketing campaign and give you an edge when it comes to marketing. There is more to each of these principles however and we have not covered practical value or storytelling, so after reading this, buy the book, it should really be your marketing bible.

Rule Breakers: Free online conference with Andrew & Pete

Online mega-conference with the world’s best Rule Breakers, Leaders and Innovators, 9th – 13th May 2016

rule breakers conference2

Calling all future rule breakers, innovators and leaders; here’s a free online conference facilitated by Lancaster University graduates, Andrew and Pete.

They describe the web based conference as:

Nobody has ever got to the top doing what everyone else is doing. To succeed, we need to get away from the mediocrity, dare to be different and achieve something amazing. We need to innovate, lead, break the mould… we need to be… Rule Breakers.

This conference is for anybody who wants to get away from being the average, stand out and build a successful business.

To be involved all you need to do is sign up with your email for free. During 9th – 13th May, more than 25 sessions delivered by marketing experts from around the world will be delivered straight to your inbox, and you’ll get the chance to take part in the discussion in the official Facebook group.

The line up includes Andy Crestodina, named Top 10 Online Marketing Experts to Follow in 2015 (Forbes Magazine), Nevil Tynemouth who was involved in launching popular brands, Dyson and Blackberry, and Sue B Zimmerman, founder of the world’s first comprehensive online Instagram course.

Find out about the Rule Breakers conference, here and sign up today.

Breaking Badvertising

Your marketing can define your business: don’t ignore the value of good advertising


If you watch even a little bit of television, you’ll know which website is associated with the meerkat above.

Compare the Market have successfully created a campaign which people recognise, and buy into, and has made the price comparison website founder an estimated £220 million

The Russian meerkat might have been a hit for Compare the Market, but there are countless other adverts which have not made the cut – creating an advertising campaign is an art, and as Peter Harrington (founder of Simventure) writes, “chronic badvertising” is a major issue for most SMEs who piece together a campaign with disastrous results.

He argues that “badvertising” is often the result of creative designers working with clients to create a beautifully crafted campaign, which very often neglects the real message and call to action which is supposed to be featured. He says art and copy should be viewed in unity rather than as separate entities and campaigns should be created with both in mind.

His solution to curing “badvertising”? Find out here.

Megan Macedo – Crisis is the Cure

The Business of Self Disclosure


Megan Macedo is a marketing strategist, writer and founder of Becoming Yourself in Business.

It’s no secret that an entrepreneurial path is paved with uncertainty and risk and failure is unavoidable. Whilst most commentators would encourage you to capitalise on your successes and ignore your failures along the way, Megan believes that it is the “whole series of smaller wins and losses that are the real stories of success.” She says;

“I’m interested in their success, but I want the complete version. I don’t just want to know what they did to make their current venture a success, I want to know the whole story of how they got to where they are.

I recently heard Brené Brown say that the question to ask is not “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” but “What is worth doing even if you fail?” The people asking themselves that question are the ones I want to talk to.

I think if we’re living right we should be going through some kind of crisis on a regular basis…. Crisis is how we come to know ourselves, discover our strengths and hear the whispers that tell us what we’re made for. The problem most of us have is we try to keep everything on an even keel all the time, even when we know something’s not right with the status quo.

If you resist the crisis you miss out on the progress it brings. Every story worth telling is the story of someone coming out of the other side of crisis.”

Read more from Megan here.

Crowdfunding and other creative business models

Event: Minor Hall, 3:45pm-4:30pm, Tuesday 6th Oct

Crowdfunding and other creative business models

Meet the pioneers of fan-based funding within the UK music industry and find out how you might harness the power of your followers in growing your creative enterprise.

Hope & Social is ‘the band anyone can join’.  

They proved this by leading thousands of people in the creation of the official song for the Tour De Yorkshire last year.  But this was only one of a number of ambitious and creative moves they’ve made since they broke the mold in 2004 by launching the first fan-funded record label with £100,000 investment from their fans.  Now everything they do is fan-driven, from including fan performances in their recordings, through taking them out on daytrips to the seaside, to adopting a pay-what-you-want approach to their downloads and live performances.

Oh, and did we mention that they are Lancaster alumni too!

Regardless whether you are thinking of business models for music and other creative industries, or for something completely different, there is a huge amount to be learned from their experiences of trying new things in the name of art and fun.

The band is booked to play the Nuffield Theatre as part of Lancaster Arts Music Week (ticket info here), but are inviting anyone who would like to speak to them about their creative business models (or anything at all really!) to join them in the Minor Hall before the gig for a drink and a chat (3:45pm-4:30pm).

Reserve your place on Target Connect.

For more information, please contact

Your Branding Style Guide

Style your brand (and not just your haircut!)

brand importance2

The saying goes that first impressions count; you may have a great business idea, a professional and approachable appearance and a winning business strategy in mind, however, if your branding is below par, this could all count for nothing.

When thinking about large multinational corporations, we recognise the brand, before necessarily thinking about their products. Logos and colour schemes are usually simple, yet eye catching, and associations are immediately made with the company. It is often the case that branded items are the most sought after; adidas trainers, for example, are popular and easily recognisable and purchases can be made due to the branding alone.

Even as a SME or start up, knowing your branding style can be vital to ensure consistent marketing and to increase awareness of your product or service. If you’re committed to your branding style, you might even consider creating a style guide to record every detail and colour tone.

Read more about style guides (and 50 well known brands who use them), here.

LU Creative Services Framework- Opportunities to tender

Lancaster University Marketing and Procurement teams creating new creative services framework


The LU Marketing and Procurement teams are currently working together with colleagues across the University to create an EU tender for a creative services framework.

The framework will enable Lancaster University to appoint a selection of suppliers to deliver services in design, video and photography for up to 4 years, with the intention of encouraging value for money and consistency. In all cases, these teams are hoping to appoint 3+ suppliers and each area will have sub-categories to ensure a range of suppliers are appointed.

If you would like more information on the tendering process, or would be interested in putting your business forward as a potential supplier, contact Clare Riding, Head of Marketing, here.

Lancaster wins StudentshIP Enterprise Award for Game Development

Lancaster University’s Enterprise Team has won £44,560 to develop an Intellectual Property Game


The prize was awarded on Thursday 5th March by the UK Intellectual Property Office for the Team’s innovative response to a call for ideas to increase the number of IP savvy graduates leaving Higher Education.  

Simon Harrison, who co-wrote* the application explains, “We wanted to put forward a proposal that would stand out from the competition.  IP is typically delivered in quite a dry way; learning through playing games is much more engaging on many levels.  In this case, we’ll be inviting teams of students with an interest in gaming to not only to design and test it but also to produce a first run and take it to market.  In doing so they’ll be creating their own IP and learning first-hand how it works.”

The format of the game is still to be determined as the Team was keen that the students designing it were free to explore all types of games – computer and table-top, collaborative or competitive, solo or team, indoor or outdoor – in order to determine the most effective way of ensuring both fun and learning for players.

The prize was one of ten awarded to university teams by the UK IPO from a total pot of £450,000.  It will enable the recruitment of a temporary project co-ordinator, as well as the costs associated with co-designing and prototyping, manufacturing, marketing and distribution.  The final product immediately has the potential to find customers in other educational institutions, but may also find a wider market amongst game lovers.  The project will be delivered between August 2015 and March 2016.

If you’d like to stay in the loop on further developments, please register your interest via the Enterprise Team mailing list.

To read the official government press release, click here.

*Proposal written by:

  • Gavin Smith – IP Development Manager
  • Jon Powell – Enterprise Team Manager
  • Simon Harrison – Enterprise Champion Project Manager

Pitch Up and Be Heard

Pitch Up and Be Heard- Marketing your idea and yourself

pitching - Image © Kagan McLeod

Image @ Kagan McLeod:

Pitch Up and Be Heard- Marketing your idea and yourself: George Fox LT3, Wednesday 11th March, 11am to 12pm

Have you got an idea and want some tips on how to pitch it? Or maybe you’re just looking to get some practice selling yourself and your skills? Marketing consultant and Managing Director of Voodoo Agency, Simon Cocker, will be passing on his years of experience and knowledge in what employers, businesses and investors and looking for and how you can make an impact.

You’ll also have a chance to pitch your idea (any idea!) in 60 seconds and receive valuable feedback- a great opportunity particularly if you’re planning on entering the 60 Second Pitch challenge by Santander.

Registration for this event is now open on TARGETconnectplaces are limited so book now!

For further information contact Josh Dean (

Launching your own creative practice?

Who do you need to help you launch your own creative practice?


6-8pm, Tuesday 31st March, Campus in the City (5 Cheapside, Lancaster)

Every creative practice needs to collaborate to make all the steps in their projects or businesses happen.  This session, aimed at emerging and early career creative freelancers and business owners, will help you to create a blueprint for your practice or business and work out who needs to be involved to help you produce your work and reach your customers, clients or audiences.  There will be the opportunity on the day to learn from established practices and to form collaborations with other freelancers.

To reserve a free place, visit Target Connect.