Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: Contagious

Contagious is a viral marketing handbook. Written by a professor of marketing at the Wharton business school, it promises to tell you how to make a sticky and effective marketing campaign by breaking down why and how certain videos/articles go viral while others languish in obscurity.

The author breaks down the five common denominators (plus an enabler) into 6 principles, providing a mnemonic STEPPS to hep you remember:

  1. Social Currency: the idea is that people share things that make themselves look good. This can be achieved through gamification, making a product rare, or some other means that ensures that people will rush to acquire your product or join your service.
  2. Triggers: the idea here is to attach your product to something that's encountered frequently, or failing that, to attach your product to an action or activity where buying your product is convenient. For instance, Rebecca Black's awful song, "Friday" gets triggered every time someone searches for Friday, whether or not they're looking for that song.
  3. Emotion. try to active high arousal emotions in viewers or the audience. Awe, Excitement, Amusement (seeing something funny), Anger and Anxiety are all far more effective than Contentment or Sadness.
  4. Public: make your product advertise its presence in as conspicuous a fashion as possible. Examples include Apple's white headphones, Macbook's Apple logos which glow every time a user opens it up, and of course, the bright-yellow Livestrong wrist-band.
  5. Practical: people love sharing practical tips, either big discounts or useful advice.
  6. Stories: this is the wrapper. What successful marketing campaigns achieve is to tie some (or all) of the above components together into a story in such a way that the product or brand is integral to the story.Without this last step your story/ad campaign might go viral, but your product will not benefit.
The biggest problem with books written by marketing people is that they're great at marketing themselves. For instance, Berger doesn't tell you which combination of the 6 principles work best together. They also use examples are have faded. For instance, FourSquare never did reach the kind of mainstream adoption that it's founders looked for. There's also nothing that tells you whether any of the successful campaigns used as part of the case studies are deliberately constructed that way, or just happen to be viral by accident. If it's the latter, you might actually not be able to replicated someone else's success.

What's most disappointing, then, is that there's no process detailed on how to achieve the results you want, and nor are effective ways for you to measure the success of a viral marketing campaign described and mentioned.

While this book was worth reading (it's very short and a quick read), I wonder how many people can actually effectively use this book.

Mildly recommended.
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