Is your marketing message contagious?


There have been a number of marketing best-sellers that look to explain the social phenomenon of popular culture. What makes some ideas spread and be remembered by millions, while others die away unnoticed by even loyal fans?

First, it helps to understand what part “The Curse of Knowledge,” plays in your creating your message. Famously relayed here by Chip and Dan Heath, the curse of knowledge asserts that the knowledge you have of your brand, product, or service, creates an inherent problem for you as the marketer. You know what your audience does not, and as such must understand that they begin from a different starting point than anyone in your company. This is particularly important for SMBs because the passion and commitment to your company can often influence your understanding of what information will be important to share with potential customers.
In the article above, and also referenced in Made to Stick, Chip and Dan explain an experiment where one person is told a song (such as Happy Birthday), and asked to tap out that song to another person who does not know what the song is. The second person, the listener is then asked to guess what song the “tappers” are tapping.

Their assessment of this (Stanford University) study includes two key points:

When a tapper taps, it is impossible for her to avoid hearing the tune playing along to her taps. Meanwhile, all the listener can hear is a kind of bizarre Morse code. Yet the tappers were flabbergasted by how hard the listeners had to work to pick up the tune.
The problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.
This, friends, is our daily dilema as marketers.
How can one get that melody, or knowledge about our product, out of our head and place ourselves in a closer state of mind to that of our audience?

Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious, published in 2013 attempts to help us understand how to better get into the state of mind of our audience, in fact- any audience. He says that six elements are seen across popular and viral messages/stories that are shared with contagious ferver: (Note that all six are not always present, however getting multiple into one message would elevate the sharability).

1. Social currency (making people feel that they have inside information that gives them clout)
2. Triggers (associate your product to something people use, do or think everyday or frequently)
3. Emotional resonance (making people want to share the experience with friends)
4. Observability (a highly visible item advertises itself)
5. Usefulness (people want to share because the information is useful and or practical, or surprising, it places them in a position as being helpful by sharing)
6. Storytelling (tell a story, and weave the product into the story)

Though it’s not easy to create a viral campaign, with thoughtful planning marketers can work to create messages that want to be shared. Try the tapping experiment with your marketing team, or someone you traditionally bounce your marketing ideas off. It’s surprising how true that knowledge curse is, and how simply recognizing it can help you reset and begin looking at the six steps above with renewed creativity.