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Crafting Contagious Content Marketing: Jonah Berger's ASPECTS

Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Aug 10, 2011 9:25:00 AM

This is a 5 minute read.

Jonah Berger at UnitedInsight's Contagious Marketing Event 2011Better to craft contagious talkable content than focus on influentials says Jonah Berger, assistant professor of marketing at Wharton, who studies what makes products and ideas viral or talk-worthy in the consumer marketplace. Using the acrostic ASPECTS, Berger explained how to engineer content to make it more talkable during the June 30th, 2011 UnitedInsight Contagious Marketing event in New York City.

ASPECTS and Contagious Content

Jonah Berger's seven ASPECTS, based on his research on viral word-of-mouth marketing, include:

Advertise Themselves - products that make consumption of themselves observable are talkworthy. They create 'behavioral residue' that generates a public signal [e.g., think Apple logo placed upside down on the Mac clamshell so others can observe it; the iconic white iPod headphones; Intel Inside logo; Windows startup sound; the blue Tiffany bag]. Publicly visible products get 8% more word-of-mouth.

Social Currency - people care about what others think about them. Give them something to talk about! The Please Don't Tell Bar in NYC counts on patrons wanting to share the secret of its existence. Other examples include "Will It Blend?" with surprising content,  In/Out Burger's "secret" menu.  Applying this means making  people feel like insiders [e.g., soft openings]; when they share news, they feel in the know. This piggy-backs on the motivation we feel for self display [E.g., Tom's Shoes and Burberry's Art of the Trench.

Practical Value - Did you know that the New York Times' most viral sections are dining, technology and education? This because of the utility and practicality of the content.  Other examples: KFC coupon fiasco, IKEA's brilliant use of Facebook photo tagging for a new store launch. To apply this concept: offer people value [i.e., save money and be useful] they can share. Create value if there isn't any already. 

Jonah Berger, ASPECTS for contagious content marketingEmotion - Make people feel something so they pass it around. Be aware that positive stories get shared more often than negative ones do. [Ed. note: Facebook epitomizes this!] An exception is how viral Dave Carroll's United Breaks Guitars became. Sharing requires aroused emotion; sadness isn't shareable.

To apply: when people care, they share. Figure out what the emotional core of your idea is. [E.g., think how Google showcased intense emotion via Google Search Stories. You can explore a wide range of Google Search Stories, and even create your own!]

Common Ground - Think how important it is to have common ground to speak with and connect with other people: the weather, sports, celebrities, food. It's critical to connect an idea with something everyone knows.

Triggered - What prevalent cues or triggers exist to remind people of the product? What is top of mind now?  Stimuli in the environment can change what is accessible in your mind [e.g., orange and Halloween; Cheerios in the morning at breakfast time].

Strong, positive emotions are most talkableUsing a product makes it top of mind as well as related cues [e.g., peanut butter and jelly].

Triggers lead to talking. Products triggered more frequently get 15% more word-of-mouth.

What triggers people to think about your product? Can you increase the 'habitat' and create new triggers [e.g., Boston Market at dinner, KitKat and coffee]?

Stories - What broader narrative can you link with your product? What's the story behind serving a $100 cheese steak? You don't want to sound like an advertisement; you want to capture people's interest and get them to talk about you.  You want them to tell your story!  Figure out what your story is [and how your product saves the day] and build a narrative that carries your idea. Information travels under idle chatter. 

Berger's conclusion: word-of-mouth marketing increases sales. Understand what makes people talk. Craft your content to make it contagious!

Additional Contagious Content [i.e., Word-of-Mouth marketing] Resources:

What's your reaction to ASPECTS? How would you apply it? Have you come across examples of contagious content and talkable marketing? Let me know in the comments.

3/24/13: Here's an interview with Jonah Berger titled 'Contagious': Jonah Berger on Why Things Catch On


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Photo Credit: Contagious Marketing Conference Photography which also includes videos from the event.

Topics: customer experience, managing online reputation

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