Our Marketing Executive, Dominic Moore comes into 2021 with an on-topic book for his latest review – How to Build Word Of Mouth In The Digital Age written by Jonah Berger

"Digital Age Must"

About Jonah Berger

University of Pennsylvania Marketing Professor, Jonah Berger, is the author of the bestselling book Contagious: Why Things Catch On  Dr Berger spent 15 years studying social influence – understanding how it works, and why products and ideas catch on. Jonah publishes highly esteemed articles in top tier academic journals, consulting with various Fortune 500 companies, including Google, Cocoa Cola, Cisco, LinkedIn and many more. His research was included in the New York Times Magazine’s “Years In Ideas”, which you can read more about on his website.

Outline of the book

What makes things popular and why does a piece of online content go viral? Why is it that people talk about certain products and ideas over others? How can some stories and rumours be more infectious? This book targets the relevant issues that brands have discovered during 2020, moving more into the digital age than most ever expected.  It tells you how to interpret what you have and how to strengthen your brand to fit the mould being created.

The target reader for the book is definitely marketers, although I feel brand owners could also glean plenty of lessons from his insight.

Key points

There are 3 points that are pointed out in this book that I think is extremely important to marketers to understand – some of it is basic knowledge that people may have, but don’t understand the reasoning as to why it happens or why it works so well, so I have explained the points raised by the author to share why it’s the case.

The audience in which share through word of mouth

It may sound obvious, but Jonah Berger writes that word of mouth tends to be directed towards parties who are naturally interested. He explains that people you have a relationship with, whether it be through work or friends and family, are more likely to tell you things straight.  For this reason, what they say is more persuasive. Advertisements can only tell you so much about how great a product or service is

Take this example: imagine you see an advert stating that 9/10 people recommend the product and someone you know tells you that they used it and like it. Which bit of information would you find most persuasive? You listen to the word of mouth from your trusted source – why? Trust. Because our friends and colleagues are likely to be more honest with their opinion, we are more likely to trust and listen to their recommendations. I mean how many of you have been to a food restaurant after someone from work has recommended it to you? I know I have, and I now have a favourite chicken restaurant Pattersons – and I’ll always choose it over others.

The point I’m making is, advertisements are great at getting recognition – hearing a brand’s name is part of the process of getting new customers. And if you create an advert correctly,      you can generate new leads and expand your customers.  But word of mouth will always be the top trump in terms of new business. It’s why brands try and explore this by using ‘refer a friend’ codes or giving them a discount for their first visit or service – it’s because they want you to recommend their business. You’re unlikely to refer a friend to a product or service that you know they don’t like (unless you’re mean) because you know it has no relevance to them and isn’t worthwhile.

Social Currency can be as strong as the real thing

We live in a world that is full of influencers.  People are paid to recommend products and are paid extraordinary amounts of money for their time. Brands see their high number of followers and, knowing that these followers already “trust” in the influencer enough to follow them on social media, see it as a good way to get their product or service out there.

But, what if you’re in a position where you can’t afford to pay an influencer? That’s where Social Currency can come into play. When people are paid to do something, their endorsement can feel less meaningful. You just have to look through your own timelines and see that millions of people share their thoughts about companies and products they like all of the time, and they do it for free, without prompting.

When a customer decides to share your brand (without being incentivised) based on the amount they like what you’re offering. If you pay someone to do this then they’ll likely never share it again off their own back, and the buzz you receive will be in parallel to the amount they receive.

Social incentives play on the rising generations who feel the need to share their life and what they do at almost any time in the day, whether it be a simple cup of coffee or a meal they’ve gone for, or a country they’ve visited – people have a need to share and effectively “brag” about what they have and what they’re doing; who wins in that scenario? The brand receiving the free advertisement of course. Why? Because not only do people feel this need to share, people have the need to see what others are doing. They consume this content and may even make a decision based on what they’ve seen from people they know, many then may make the decision to go out and buy that product because someone else has it and they like what they’ve done with it or how it looks.  Just look at how many home interior or foodie accounts have popped up on Instagram – shoppers who share a picture of what they’ve bought or how they’ve decorated and people are then driven towards the product because they’ve seen it used creatively. By pushing the people’s desire to look good to others, customers share your brand for free, and in turn leave the door open to doing it in the future, because they’re not receiving an incentive to do so and it’s their decision. Brands play on this by the ability to leverage game mechanics things like scarcity and exclusivity make people feel like they’re insiders. Geographical and environmental factors make people stick to shopping from their local area, Similarly, a business that is helping the world with the materials and message they portray develop a strong following of like-minded followers keen to follow suit. All of this adds to the need and want for people to share, creating this social currency.

What 6 letters pneumonic you should think of for word of mouth

The 6 words are Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value and Stories – spelling STEPPS. The basic ideas are explained through the use of illustrations, stories and examples. In the end, Jonah shares the idea of the 6 STEPPS and even gives ideas and tips for creating your own content which is definitely useful for anyone who reads it! But I am going to share the overall thoughts of the epilogue in my eyes to highlight why you should think about these 6 before you act, and it’s a nice summary of the message of the whole book.

Social Currency: does it get people to talk about your product and does it make people look good doing so? Does it play on bringing people in as insiders and play on game mechanics? Is it shareable?

Triggers: consider the context in which it is used and what cues you have that make people think about the product or service. How can you grow that trigger and persuade people’s mind to think about it more often?

Emotion: a key driving factor in people’s decision making – so does your product spark any emotion? Can it generate it more than once? How can it drive home more than one emotion at once?

Public: The ability for your product to advertise itself; are you able to see it when others use it, if not how do you make it go from private to public? If someone uses it, can you make it memorable in their mind?

Practical Value: if people were to talk about your product, does it help others and does it highlight the way you’ve packaged it towards potential customers?

Stories: the overarching point of the book, if someone shares the story, is it not only viral but valuable to those who listen?


It would be silly of me not to recommend this book – it’s just so interesting and I’ve learnt so much; Yes, I definitely recommend it – go and buy it now! (you see? Social currency in play – I’m telling you how good the book is without being paid, it really does work!).

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