6 "STEPPS" to Creating Viral Content, Driving Customer Excitement
Whether it’s a new restaurant, toy or the Gangnam Style dance craze, everyone follows the crowd at one point or another. Certain ideas and products have the uncanny ability to become instantly popular, driven by powerful word-of-mouth and online viral effects. Capturing and leveraging this elusive "x factor" is the holy grail of many marketers, especially when they seek to exploit the reach of social media technologies. Fortunately, new research is available that helps them improve their odds. A new book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, was recently reviewed in the Knowledge@Wharton newsletter (published by the Wharton School). The book’s author, Jonah Berger, studied the idea of contagiousness and explores what companies can do to bottle it.
In our client work, we often come across managers who try to generate contagiousness through guerilla marketing or zany creative ideas. While both of these have the potential to trigger contagiousness, they may not be sufficient in their own right. Although creating viral content or products is an art, a little management discipline can go a long way.
Based on research, Berger identified six success principles – the STEPPS acronym – for why some things catch on and others don’t. Infectious content and products feature these social elements:
- Social currency – People tend to talk about things that make themselves look good, rather than bad.
- Triggers – Individuals more readily talk about ideas that are"top of mind and "tip of the tongue."
- Ease for emotion – We are inclined to share more of what we care about.
- Public – People tend to mimic what they see others doing.
- Practical value – We tend share useful information to help others.
- Stories – Content that is shared is usually wrapped up in a story or narrative.
According to Berger, managers that can incorporate STEPPS principles have a better chance of increasing brand awareness, relevance and word-of-mouth transmission of their content.
STEPPS in practice
Any company or person can insert contagiousness within their content, regardless of the product or brand. The key is to think about what elements about a product would make people want to talk about and share, and then build that into your creative execution or message. The story of Blendtec, a household appliance manufacturer, perfectly illustrates this approach.
This medium size firm builds high quality blenders. Their first video featured a CEO doing what he did on a regular basis: throwing items like golf balls or pens into a blender to test product quality and performance. The video was distributed to their customer mailing list, who in turn forwarded it to others. Soon, the videos went viral, generating more than 10 million views. Based on this success, the Company launched a series of videos called "Will it blend?" – where they stick all types of different things in a blender. This series has garnered over 150 million views. To be clear, this video series was not the outcome of a large marketing budget or effort. A new marketing person spent $50 on a white lab coat and safety glasses and he filmed his amicable boss torture-testing various products in a lab. Yet, the videos were based on a powerful but simple notion that people would enjoy seeing an appealing demonstrator use a familiar household product to destroy a wide variety of items.
Leveraging these insights
Be real – Firms need to recognize their core brand essence (every firm or product has one) and seek to authentically embed this in their marketing content and products. For Blendtec, it was about performance, approachability and inventiveness.
Make it social – Marketers should understand the psychology behind what makes people talk about, share and endorse things. For example, people are resistant to sharing content that overtly resembles an advertisement. The STEPPS framework is an effective tool to gauge the social appeal of new content.
Experiment – You cannot guarantee a Gangnam Style success every time. What you can do is improve your learning, test different creative ideas and boost interest by launching ‘quick and dirty’ experiments as well as being open to customer-generated content and creative ideas wherever they come from.
Mitchell Osak is managing director of Quanta Consulting Inc. Quanta has delivered a variety of winning strategy and organizational transformation consulting and educational solutions to global Fortune 1000 organizations. Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org