Mini Book Review: Contagious

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

Why do some ideas seemingly spread overnight, while others disappear? is one of the questions asked on the cover of Contagious. It's questions like this that Jonah Berger explores in this book.

If this sounds familiar then you may have read Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, who explored similar territory. It isn't a coincidence either, since Chip Heath is author Jonah Berger's mentor.

So is this a rehash of Made to Stick? There are similarities, yes, but it's more of a sequel that heads into a slightly different direction.

Like the Heath Brothers and their SUCCESs principles, Berger also comes up with an awkward acronym to summarise his findings: STEPPS. This stands for:

  • Social Currency
  • Triggers
  • Emotion
  • Public
  • Practical Value
  • Stories

Emotion and Stories are the E and S at the end of SUCCESs, so these parts should be familiar. But Berger does add his own spin with the other aspects.

I especially liked the Social Currency angle: People share things (stories, recommendations for products or places, etc.) to improve their social status. This sounds like a more honest explanation than that of the altruistic early adopter who shares things just because he wants to help others, as e.g. propagated by Malcolm Gladwell. We may not want to admit it, but if we find something that others don't know about, it makes us look "cool" and "in the know" when we share it.

The chapters on Triggers and Public explain why it's important to ensure that people keep getting reminded (consciously and subconsciously) of the product or message you want to spread. It should be obvious that something that has Practical Value will spread more easily, especially if it has a surprise element in it (something that makes you exclaim I didn't know that!).

To summarise: The difference between Contagious and Made to Stick is that Jonah Berger is mainly looking at what makes messages spread whereas the Heath Brothers looked into what makes them stick, i.e. remembered.

You'll often need a bit of both. Since there are a lot of similarities, it should be possible to combine the two. STEPPS to SUCCESs, if you will.

Creative Commons Licence "Mini Book Review: Contagious" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.


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