Contagious Book Summary: Why Things Catch On

by Accessory To Success December 23, 2020

Contagious Book Summary: Why Things Catch On

Table of Contents app: Jump Links

Main Takeaway

We are currently living in the internet era. Words like views, likes, shares, viral, online, offline, etc. in relation to social media, are well known. It is the dream of an entrepreneur and a digital marketer, to have their brand, product, idea, ad, or any other creative, go viral and garner millions of views.

Jonah Berger, tells you the strategy or trick to achieving just that - how to virally spread your message, get people to talk about it and share it within their social circle – or in one word, how to make your brand Contagious.

What You Will Learn

  • How to make your brand generate immense word of mouth publicity
  • How to create an impact
  • Grab consumer interest
  • Get people eager to share your content with their contacts – Social influence
  • Eagerly imitate your content
  • Desperately want to become a part of your brand
  • STEPPS or the 6 elements to make your brand contagious

The Book Summary

An entrepreneur or marketing person always has this one thing that drives their every professional action – how to grab the attention of the consumer with regards to their product or service offering.

Big budgets are allocated and spent on marketing just to grab customer eyeballs. Sadly, most marketing campaigns falter and rarely manage to create the right kind of buzz around their products, services, causes and ideas.

They spend millions of dollars on hit or miss marketing, to attain this goal. Berger’s well researched book, Contagious, is a fantastic marketing book to this very purpose. It gives clarity on why some products, ideas, services, videos, songs, etc become a rage and a talking point while others fail to make even a minimum flutter.

Contagious Book Summary Why Things Catch On Quote 1

Would you purchase a high-end product like a car, television or mobile, solely based on its pricing or advertising? Or are you more likely to make your purchase on the recommendation of a good friend who personally vouches for the quality of the product?

Exactly. We are all more likely to make the purchase based on the recommendation of our friend as we trust our friend more than a clever ad.

Berger explains why social influence and word of mouth is more effective, persuasive, targeted and likely to convert.

One of the pertinent things in the book is a statistical question - "What percentage of people or what percentage of word of mouth marketing happens online?"

This question is very relevant because of the widespread prevalence of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. People often share their thoughts, ideas and opinions with their friends and colleagues on social media. Most people answering this question guessed 50% or upwards.

Contagious Book Summary Why Things Catch On Quote 2

Jonah goes on to explain how 50% is wrong. Surprisingly, only 7% is the number of people that actually end up communicating with word-of-mouth on social media.

The idea here is that people spend most of their time offline. They communicate with other people at work, with family, friends, etc. Those are the times when ideas get passed from one person to another.

This idea is so interesting because it is the opposite of what one would normally think or assume in these digital times and given the wide and global reach of social media.

The book goes on to talk about what makes something contagious. He gives some good examples about what it takes to get people to actually decide to share your product. This has a lot to do with not just the products itself and what they are, but mostly about how they are advertised.

Contagious Book Summary Why Things Catch On Quote 3

It is interesting to think about the difference between something that you will easily share with your friends and something you will not share with your friends.

The psychology that goes behind something interesting enough to share is if it is going to make the sharer look good. He calls this Social Currency. Contagious talks about the fine distinction about being the life of the party without ruining the party.

It is just a different way to articulate what we bring to advertising ourselves, product, or service on a daily basis and try and learn to get better at. It is a way to put something in someone's brain that makes them think about your product in a specific light and talk to somebody else about the product. For more on this read either the book Competing Against Luck or the book Hey Whipple Squeeze This.

Contagious Book Summary Why Things Catch On Quote 4

Berger walks through 6 necessary elements, which will make things catch on or become contagious, called STEPPS:

  1. Social Currency: Why we share what we share. We will share what we think makes us looks good, cool, smart, funny, knowledgeable, fascinating and interesting. For more on this you can read the book Chasing Cool.
  2. Triggers: There are some visuals, words or content which act as a stimulus to link thoughts, ideas or products in people’s minds. For example, for a snack we tend to pair milk and cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, etc. Roses are usually associated with the color red.
  3. Emotion: Arouse emotions, positive or negative, to go viral.
  4. Public: Human beings imitate and look for ‘Social Proof’. When you see others doing or using something, you tend to follow the trend.
  5. Practical Value: Humans are instinctively helpful beings. They are more likely to share useful content or refer products and services which add value to their functioning.
  6. Stories: Compelling stories, emotional stories, if told well are most likely to be shared. The narrative should strike a chord.

Individuals, businesses and brands would do well to follow these 6 steps and leverage the concepts to make their brands contagious.

This book triggers ideas and gets you to think about your business in a different way. Another book about things hitting a turning point is The Tipping Point.

About The Author

At 7 years old Jonah Berger’s IQ was genius level. He excelled at math and science. One summer vacation his grandmother introduced him to the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. That was it!! Young Berger got hooked on social psychology, sociology, and marketing. He was fascinated by all aspects of human behavior and how decisions influence individual behavior. From thereon, began his brilliant journey.


Jonah Berger is Marketing Professor at The Wharton School of Business. He shares his many years of research in Contagiouswhich is a New York Times bestseller and was named Best Marketing Book of 2014 by the American Marketing Association.

He is a much sought after, world-renowned expert on consumer behavior. He has been published in top‐tier academic journals, teaches Wharton’s highest rated online course, and keynoted hundreds of events.

Berger has helped hundreds of companies like Apple, Google, Nike, and GE get their products, services, and ideas to catch on. He’s helped Facebook launch new hardware, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sharpen messaging, and small start-ups, political campaigns, and non-profit organizations change minds and drive action.

His most recent work uses automated textual analysis and natural language processing to pull behavioral insights from text data (e.g., predicting song success from lyrics, movie success from scripts, and customer satisfaction from service calls).
Accessory To Success
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