February 26, 2014

ContentTECH Speaker: How to Make Your Custom Content Word-of-Mouth-Worthy

When we see that a specific piece of custom content has gone viral across the web we are left with one overarching question as marketers: why did this piece of content go viral over others? Such was the very question that Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at the Wharton School, explored today during Content Marketing Institute’s online virtual event ContentTECH.

Take for example three products the general public is fairly familiar with—Disney World, Honey Nut Cheerios and Scrubbing Bubbles.

“Which do you think gets most word of mouth?,” Berger asked during his session titled “Crafting Contagious Content.” “I’ve asked the same question to thousands of executives and everyone tends to pick Disney World. But the answer will surprise you because Cheerios actually gets more word of mouth.”

“This brings about two points: the first is that if we don’t understand why people talk and share it’s hard to get them to talk and share our stuff and the second is that our intuition about word of mouth may be wrong,” he added.

While we may be off in our understanding as to what types of custom content drive word of mouth, as marketers it’s imperative that we figure it out… and fast. After all, word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising across all categories, according to market research from McKinsey Quarterly, and consumers increasingly don’t trust advertisements. Conversely, they believe what their friends say.

So how do you secure word of mouth with your custom content? By following what Berger refers to as the STEPPS to word of mouth (misspelling intentional). STEPPS stands for: social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value and stories. According to Berger, it’s not the Internet that makes custom content go round; it’s science. And at the end of the day there’s a science—and six principles—behind why people talk and share. Let’s take a look at some of the principles Berger zeroed in on during today’s presentation:

Social Currency:

To illustrate the power of social currency, Berger shared the example of how Beyonce did not release her latest album by doing a massive marketing push; rather, she put a picture of her album up on Instagram and her fans instantly geared up to be the first to spread the news about her album. Simply put, social currency is just that—it’s getting people to talk by giving them news to share that makes them feel like an insider.

To make your target audience feel like an insider, think about how to make them feel special. This can be accomplished by releasing certain news to a small number of your subscribers first or by making your product so remarkable that your consumers can’t wait to tell their friends. Does “Will it Blend” come to mind for anyone, Berger said?


At the end of the day if people are not thinking about your brand then they won’t buy your product, contends Berger. Therefore, how do you make your products more top of mind? To begin, determine what is around you that will make people think about your brand when you are not even there. Take the relationship of peanut butter and jelly as an example.

“Peanut butter is like a little advertisement for jelly, because if peanut butter is around jelly doesn’t have to advertise,” Berger said. “The idea is simple. Find something that is around so you don’t have to advertise… What is your peanut butter?”


Creating stellar custom content is all about telling a story. An example of a compelling branding story is that of Subway and Jared Fogle, affectionately known as the Subway Guy. Jared was a morbidly obese gentleman who discovered a Subway diet in which he opted for healthy sub options offered by Subway for both lunch and dinner every day for 11 months. He ended up losing 245 pounds in just a year. As Berger explained, people love sharing this story and being the first to let their friends know about Jared. And that story is a whole lot more impactful than someone coming up to you at a party and telling you, “Did you know Subway offers five subs, all of which are under five grams of fat?”

 “Good stories are like that,” he added. “Good stories carry your brand along for the ride.”

For more on ContentTECH and the sessions that were held, click here

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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