Many digital marketers and brand owners trying to stand out are often thinking through the best methods and ways of creating contagious content.

While most times it’s hard to pin-point what will work and what won’t, research provides some great answers in this regard. In his exceptional and ground breaking work and a Content Marketing must-read book, Contagious, Professor John Berger shares a set of principles, – or the STEPPS concept – on why things catch on.

Professor Berger has spent the last decade studying numerous products, New York Times articles to identify why particular products get significant social buzz. In his book, he describes the STEPPS concept which explains what common characteristics of viral products are and how to create your word of mouth in the digital age.

1. Social Currency: When your consumers or any reader talk about your product or content, or share it, what does it make them look like? It’s human nature to want to be perceived as the best. Does sharing your content make them feel so? According to the research of Brandanew, people have different sharing personalities or rationale as to why they should or could share. People need to visibly feel or see the effect of what they share. For instance, while sharing quiz results on Facebook, people rarely share results that make them look weird (e.g. you deserve a low-salary job) but are very openly sharing things that make others take notice in a good way or make them feel socially accepted (e.g. your ideal travel destination is a tropical island). This is a question you need to ask yourself: how does your content make people feel?

2. Triggers: Building a brand is not a one-time job. You need to constantly build recall and give people something to remind of your brand naturally. What comes to mind when you think of a brand? Brand associations can be built around usage; say when you’re looking for your missing glasses, your mind says, “Google it”. Sometimes associations are built around celebrity endorsements: you see Jennifer Aniston and you think: “Aveeno”. They can also be built around occasions: think break – think Kit Kat.

3. Emotion: Negative and positive emotions can both lead to reactions and interest. Think of YouTube videos: we all watched the Gangnam style video over 2 billion times and even though it’s over two years old, we continue to watch it.  Because it is entertaining, and people like to have fun. Emotional content keeps people at the center. We sell less and engage more.

4. Public: Monkey see, monkey do. We react to products and content in the public sphere when we see others getting involved, too. An interesting example is the Apple Mac book which has the Apple logo, not facing the owner, but the observer. This was not random but a carefully thought out strategy to invoke the observer effect. When we see people sharing a quiz, we share it further. The more people we see publicly sharing an article, the more we tend to believe that it’s good.

5. Practical Value: I have talked about it before, and it continues to be important. What utility does your content bring? Align content to what people are looking for. If you don’t know what your community needs are, ask and research.

6. Stories: Digital stories are powerful. A story needs to incorporate your brand in such a way that it feels natural. However, the story is incomplete without the brand name. Like Google’s Parisian love: an emotional love story that does not exist without Google and yet, there’s no mention of products, features or anything else.

The STEPPS concept does not suggest that your content must follow all of the principles, but if you have at least a few of them, that will surely make your content memorable.
Focus on these STEPPS and start creating viral content today.

Originally appeared at


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