Contagious Book Reflection
Jonah Berger is a best-selling author credited for writing the book Contagious, a book that explains why products catch on. Besides his book, Jonah teaches at the Wharton school of business at the University of Pennsylvania and is an expert in the field of advertising. Through intriguing anecdotes and astounding research studies, Berger manages to explain to us the six key points to making a product/brand a viral success. The six steps are Social Currency, Triggers, Emotions, Public, Practical Value and Stories.
The main points that Jonah touches in his book are the six concepts mentioned beforehand that in essence boost word of mouth, he refers to them with the acronym STEPPS.
People share what makes them look good. There are three important factors that yield social currency: finding the product’s inner remarkability, leveraging game mechanics and making the consumers feel like insiders. A memorable example he used to explain this idea was the anecdote of "please don't tell". This was the name of a secret bar hidden inside a hot dog restaurant that displayed remarkability and made tellers seem 'cool.' The owners purposefully found a way to add revenue by making something worth sharing with others, and the fact that the name told them not to only made the numbers go even higher.
“So to get people talking, companies and organizations need to mint social currency. Give people a way to make themselves look good while promoting their products and ideas along the way.”
"Top of mind means tip of the tongue." Associating your product to the right triggers can increase the immediate and long-term word of mouth your product receives. It is not so much the remarkability, but whether or not your product is easily accessible through thought. I found that the story that best described this aspect was the association the KitKat brand found by joining its products to coffee. The company found a clever way to spice up the chocolate bars by using fun alliteration (Kitkat coffee) and bringing attention by pairing the product to something we see commonly. Now every time you drink coffee you will think Kitkat.
“Accessible thoughts and ideas lead to action.”
"When we care, we share!" Highly arousing emotions (positive or negative) lead to virality when it comes to marketing. Activating emotion is they key to transmission. One example of arousing emotions was conveyed with Susan Boyle's audition, whose talent was underestimated in Britain’s got Talent by being judged solely for her appearance. The 47-year old woman wowed the crowd with her astonishing voice, making the video go viral in a matter of days. It was unexpected, remarkable and inspiring, making for millions of spectators across the globe.
“excite people or inspire them by showing them how they can make a difference. On the negative side, make people mad, not sad. Make sure the polar bear story gets them fired up.”
"Built to show, built to grow." when people see, they imitate. Observability is key to making your product contagious. Social proof is something crucial, but if must be used purposefully or else it could advertise the wrong thing. For this concept, I found the Apple logo issue to be the most meaningful. Mac had a dilemma where they didn't know which way to make the apple logo face, either the owner or the viewers, and decided on viewers to increase observability. Observability increases publicity in the means that it advertises things that otherwise would remain unseen; when you wear shirts with brands or accessories, you are reminding people of the brand that in essence is being promoted.
“Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular.”
What matters is the news you can use. Practical value accounts for a big part of virality; people like to help others out, and by sharing useful news they are strengthening their bonds and relationships. To do this, ensure that the message you are spreading is the truth, is easy to see, properly framed and accessible. Make sure that the message is not too accessible, because exclusivity in deals may boost sales. Taking, for example, the corn shucking video. Where Ken Craig, an average 86-year old man explained viewers how to easily shuck corn; this video was found very useful by viewers, making it go viral very quickly. This comes to show how useful things account for word of mouth due to useful information that got passed on.
“Our desire to share helpful things is so powerful that it can make even false ideas succeed. Sometimes the drive to help takes a wrong turn.”
In this chapter, Jonah uses the example of the Trojan horse, a metaphor for an interesting and memorable story that is worth re-telling. When trying to make or tell a brand’s story, it is important to make it integral and valuable. This way as the story is retold, the company name doesn’t get lost in the anecdotal part. A great example for this is the golden palace marketing stunt that resulted in failure. Where a guy infiltrated the Olympics and belly flopped in a tutu making for a pretty remarkable story. Even though this anecdote was of high emotional impact, it had very little to do with the brand itself. This caused the story to be re-told, but the brand to get lost in the explanation.
“People don't think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.”
Problem, or reality?
In Puno, Perú, a farmer sells his harvest of quinoa for under 3 soles the kg while a citizen in Lima will buy that same bag in Wong for 11 soles, almost quadrupling its original value. Everybody knows that in agriculture, the producer is always the one who earns the least, but have you ever wondered why? There are a lot of steps that need to be taken before the food you eat reaches your mouth, and on every step, the price goes up significantly. Farmers, distributors, and retailers all form part of the farming supply chain, a universal process that deals with the movement of raw and processed material from producer to consumer (Investopedia). While not very lucrative to the farmers themselves, there are reasons why this method remains the backbone of today’s agriculture industry.
Supply chains vary amongst different industries, but the chain of agricultural products begins with the harvest and all of the efforts put into the land before the crop reaches a healthy state. Farmers purchase the input supply of seeds, fertilisers, and farming material before the planting season has begun. At this stage, farmers who lack resources are left with a hard task to complete. Having to deal with much uncertainty in their daily lives, they have to play the 'guessing game' when it comes to investing in a certain crop. This job becomes complicated because they are unaware of the situations they might encounter months in advance. Whether it's market, weather, health or biological risks, many factors make the price of agricultural produce fluctuate spontaneously. An unprecedented change in temperature or the strike of a pest could potentially lead to lower yields or loss of income, two things that can be fatal to humble farmers.
This same problem is also the reason why third parties become the gateway from farmers to supermarkets. Large retailers cannot afford the uncertainty that pertains to farmers, which is why they confide in distributors to guarantee a stable amount of goods. This model works well, but it also means that the price must rise to pay the merchants what they deserve. It is easy to dislike the third parties, but in reality, a lot of work is put into the purchasing and delivery of these products. Merchants must allocate the best produce from several different farmers to ensure that their quality and quantity is always on point. They also have to provide transportation from the land to the market and pay the cost of storage. All of the logistics that go into the distribution of agricultural products is, in reality, an elaborate process, and one that farmers might not be equipt to handle.
If the agricultural industry were more fruitful to humble farmers, then maybe they could afford to eliminate the distributor; however, that is not the case. In consequence, most farmers are caught in a vicious cycle which they cannot escape. They don't have the resources needed to take their product to supermarkets directly and thus, must sell them at a much lower price. The high supply of agro-produce in Perú has led to distributors pushing for lower prices, which is why rural poverty prevails. One might think that it is about money distribution, but in reality, there will never be a win-win scenario. While farmers might spend days and nights working the land, distributors and retailers also put a lot of effort into their work.
Third parties exist because of the complexity of the supply chain; if you were to remove them the whole process would collapse. For example, ould you buy from a supermarket where you are unsure if the product of today will be there tomorrow? Consumers like certainty and stability, which is why the supply chain model is constantly followed. If retailers and supermarket chains were to buy directly from farmers, sure, the income of farmers might increase, but at what cost? With an ever-changing supply, the prices would rise and fall quickly, and the consumer would probably seek to buy their products elsewhere. Although inconvenient to the farmer, the increase of prices as you go up the supply chain is a bitter-sweet reality.
When Ariana and I went out to the field to conduct our interviews, we had a fixed mindset about what was going on. We thought that merchants were earning the money that pertained to farmers, but in the end, we found that this wasn't the case. Although farmers spend days working the land, third parties are also engaging in arduous work. While it is easy to blame the distributors, in reality, they are not the bad guys at all. If we eliminated the third parties, not only would farmers lose their link with supermarkets, but the stability of supermarkets would be damaged. Large retailers promise the buyer consistency in products, and with no third parties, the big companies like Wong and Vivanda would not have the guarantee of a stable amount of goods. If this were to happen, a supermarket may have quinoa one week, and the next week, none at all. After realizing this, we saw that we were pushing our documentary in a direction that it wasn't supposed to go, so we decided to change it completely. Although as of now, our film does not speak about the supply chain, I have to say that it was my greatest learning throughout the project when it comes to economic concepts. Don't get me wrong, there is a problem with the price of quinoa in the highlands of Peru, but it isn't related to the supply chain at all.
“The earth has music for those who listen.”