KONTAGIOUS / How can you use Word of Mouth Marketing to stand out?

“We are storytelling creatures” – Max Richter

So you want to know the secret recipe of word of mouth marketing? You are at the right place. Whatever the industry you’re in… Companies, startups, digital agencies, restaurants, barber shops… All face the same challenges: getting known, being seen, being talked about… Regardless of your business, having a great product is just not enough. Based on the book “Contagious”, this article gives you a method to generate Word of mouth. But first let me tell you the story of why I came to spell KONTAGIOUS with a K.  Let me tell you about the origin of the word “Kangaroo”…

A contagious story

Last Saturday I watched the movie “The Arrival” (This movie will blow your mind by the way). Throughout the plot, the heroin, a linguistics expert, explains the origin of the word kangaroo. Most know the story of James cook who, arriving in Australia, first made contact with the Australian Aboriginal inhabitants. “Hello, I am James Coo” the explorer must have said.

Without letting them the time to answer in their own language, Cook’s heart skipped a beat when he suddenly saw the very strange animal jumping around on its two feet. “What is this? How do you call that?” he asked, pointing at that savage animal. The story goes on and says the Aborigines supposedly answered “kangaroo”. It’s only many years later, upon deciphering the Aboriginal language and translating its words, linguists discovered “Kangaroo” actually means “I don’t understand”.

This story is remarkable isn’t it? The very next day, I couldn’t help telling everyone about it.

Have you ever heard a story you won’t stop sharing? Or seen a video, a product, discovered a place you went to dine?

What makes some stories or videos go viral?

“Contagious”  by Jonah Berger about word of mouth marketing gives you a recipe for going viral and standing out. With 6 elements à la carte. And Berger made it even easier to remember; he calls them the 6 S.T.E.P.P.S., one letter serving for each ingredient.

1. SOCIAL CURRENCY: Find something your audience will find remarkable

If you’ve been to New York, you know how flushed the place is with bars and hot dogs spots. If you head near Tompkins Square Park, there’s this common-looking restaurant of which you couldn’t guess the secret by just staring at its showcase… unless you’ve heard about it through a friend…

Because only then, you would know there’s a wooden phone booth at the back of the place… and with an actual phone in it. and If you’d dial the right number, a secret door would open, revealing the way to a bar. Now, guess the name of the bar? “Please don’t tell“.

Of course the place went viral, and as soon as people heard of it, they wouldn’t resist bragging about it. Because, at the end of the day, they did find this story remarkable.

So the first ingredient of getting contagious is called Social Currency: or how people will look and think of themselves while they share your story.

You need to craft your message to generate that desired feeling among people: “I want to look good in front of others”. How can you do that? Define the core characteristic of your product.

2. TRIGGERS: Use an element of your audience’s context to trigger your message

Few years ago, I was driving with a friend to a confidential destination. Listening to the radio, the news started telling the story about some robot’s successful landing on Mars.

5 minutes later, we both wanted to grab a snack so we pulled over at a gas station. Have you guessed what we both bought? Yes you got it. When we got back in the car, we both had a mars chocolate bar in our hand. It was irresistible. The Mars announcement triggered the mars bars craving inside our heads.

There’s also this story about an experiment made inside a winery where one could buy German and French products. The owner wanted to find out how a musical stimulus can influenceconsumer’s behavior. So, one day they put on some French music and the other day some German tracks.

By having people think of a country, they noticed music could influence their choice of wine. When French music was on, they would buy French wine, and rather German wine when it was German music.

The second ingredient to generate word of mouth marketing is considering the context of your audience. What cues make people think about your product or idea?

One of the conclusion that the author went to is that a catchy message is not enough. Try to connect your message with your audience’s environment, and trigger something they want to talk about. Your goal is to remind your audience that your product or your idea exists.

3. Emotions: Generate powerful emotions

If I tell you about 2 guys and 1 girl who got lost in a haunted forest in the United States… They went there to shoot a documentary about some witch living there… The last track of them was a tape Police found, abandoned as it seemed.

By now, you may have guessed that I’m actually talking about the movie “The Blair Witch Project“. Did you know this movie costed only $35 000 and grossed more than $248 millions worldwide… How is that even possible?

Before the movie came out, the producers launched rumors saying the movie was based on true events. They even created a website… The consequence was that people couldn’t tell the difference between reality and the movie… Is it an actual documentary? Did those people meet the witch in a forest and never made it back?

When we care, we share” that’s how the author talks about the third ingredient of word of mouth marketing: “Emotions”. You should focus on the emotions your story can generate. Does talking about your product or idea generate emotions? Ask yourself how you can kindle the fire?

4. Public: to get word of mouth working for you, make your product public

So it’s November, the weather’s getting cold… You decide to go to your favorite supermarket. As you’re walking around the shop, you notice that guy with a bold moustache neatly curled on the tips. “How funny is that” you think to yourself.

Then you see another one, and a third one… you look at yourself in the first mirror you find to check if it’s real or not. Is this some sort of special holiday? Like a tribute to Freddy Mercury?

Then you get it, it’s Movember! An initiative launched to raise awareness for men’s cancer. As you may already know, prostate cancer claims every year the life of 5 million of men around the world.

This is a great way to gain visibility, to turn every single man on the planet in a walking (sometimes smiling) advertisement. Apple made a similar move using their white earplugs.

Making your product public involves Social proofing. Or put it that away “people assume that the longer the line, the better the food” . Raising awareeness about your product involves the imitation psychology  or “monkey see ,monkey do“.

Ask yourself, how can you make your products and ideas more visible? Does your product or idea advertise itself well? Can people see when others are using it? If not, how can you make the private use public? Can you create behavioral residue?

5. Practical Value: Highlight the practical value of your product

If you actually decide to buy the book “Contagious” this article is based on, you will find out it’s about 250 pages. How much time do you think you will need to read the book through and through? 3 days? 3 weeks? A whole vacation time?

If I told you I know an amazing method to read a book in 3 hours instead of 3 weeks, wouldn’t you find that remarkable and very useful? Well that’s what the author calls “practical value”.

People want to help each other and are more than happy to share a very useful tip. Think about it: when was the last time you shared a useful video or a business article to boost your visibility online or simply a newsletter you think your colleagues should immediately be subscribing to.

If you highlight the practical value of your product, they will share the article with people they know. To generate Word of Mouth Marketing, that’s probably the easiest part.

6. Story: wrap your message inside a story

Stories are the best vessel to convey both the information and your message. Think about that kangaroo story, its message. Is your product/idea embedded in a broader narrative that people would want to share?

Eventually, if you want to tell the “kangaroo” story to a friend, I advise you to first watch “The Arrival” to double check whether if it’s true or not. Maybe it was a scam… Always bear in mind viral stories are like rumors, they are not always true…

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