Every successful marketing campaign and “viral” video exhibits one or more of the six principles outlined in Stanford School of Business graduate and professor at the Wharton School of Business, Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On. In Contagious, Berger provides the mnemonic STEPPS which stands for Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories – together forming the six principles of a contagious viral idea. Berger’s use of narratives throughout the book to illustrate each of the principles in action is itself a use of “Stories” and is part of what makes the book such an enjoyable read. Below, I will draw connections between Berger’s STEPPS and formal marketing principles. I will also reflect on how reading Contagious affected our product launch promotions and my own personal goals.

In the realm of promotions, product placement is an easy to understand idea but its effects are less apparent. Take GAP for example, most of GAP’s clothing clearly branded with the letter’s “G”, “A”, and “P” on the front of the item. Further, when those letters appear on Jesse Eisenberg’s hoodie in Columbia Picture’s The Social Network in 2010, you know that GAP paid a pretty penny for that wardrobe choice. Product placement is an effort to employ that first “P” in STEPPS – publicity. When millions of people saw Mark Zuckerberg wearing a GAP hoodie perhaps they thought nothing of it. Zuckerberg isn’t known for his style, after all. The audience’s thoughts didn’t matter; all that mattered was that they saw it. GAP projected its brand name to millions of people on a Hollywood screen signaling to them that the brand exists and that it’s the brand of choice for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs or, at least, a college-aged Mark Zukerberg.

The main promotion strategy for our product, Juke! (a service package marketed to privately owned restaurants and bars that allows customers to choose what songs are played at the venue for a fee), was the Juke! Box tour. Every weekend for two months, the Juke! Team would travel to a new city and open a tab at a local bar. At the bar, Juke! Would be temporarily installed and customers who use Juke! would get a free drink billed to our tab. This guerrilla marketing strategy was partly inspired by two of the elements of Contagious.

The idea is to create social currency for those who choose to use Juke! at one of the Juke! Box events. Not only do you get to choose your favorite song and take control of the mood of the bar for three minutes, but you also get tons of high fives (from our Juke! team) and a free drink. This special treatment makes others want to join the club.

We know getting people to use Juke! when they are rewarded with a free drink is almost a guarantee. However, how will we ensure that the customer uses Juke! in the future? Triggers. Think of how often you think of a song that you want to share with others when you’re partying or staying late at the bar. Those are all extremely powerful triggers that are likely to incur a purchase. Furthermore, the idea of the Juke! Box is to create an extremely memorable night for hundreds of people, that way the next time they’re in their local bar, they’ll ask “Why haven’t you got a Juke! Box?”.

Lastly, I’ve begun applying the principles of story and emotion to my personal and professional life. As a logically minded student of mathematics and computer science, I am more often rewarded for very concise and straightforward thought patterns. I’ve come to find that this structured thinking tends to reveal itself most in my speech and writing. I’m learning to craft my everyday experiences into a story. This makes for more interesting small talk, which in turn, makes me more interesting.

For the last three years, I’ve really wanted to be an entrepreneur. I like to take control and lead others. I also get bored and/or disinterested very quickly. The challenge and diverse set of activities involved has been attractive to me. As such, I’ve been stewing over potential ideas to turn into my business. Each time I embark on a new software venture, I quickly discover that someone else is/has already tried it and is either succeeding or had already failed. This can be frustrating and demotivating to a fledgling entrepreneur.

In the software industry, it is difficult to use many of the principles of STEPPS. Software tends to market its features above all else. However, there are some excellent examples of software firms that used the other elements beautifully. Google’s How to Impress a French Girl beautifully employed emotion and story to illustrate the features of Google beyond Google Search. Contagious showed me that there is more to a product (like software) than its use alone. There is a narrative there waiting to be crafted and stowerd away in the mental recesses of millions of people. I believe through the work done in this class, I’ve gotten closer to crafting that narrative for a product of my own.

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