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Pandabook Club #3: Contagious

By Petra Gönczi | April 2021

The Pandabook Club’s third book was Jonah Berger’s Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age. The book looks at how, not just by word of mouth, but how and why certain thoughts, ideas and campaigns can go viral, whilst others don’t. We’re not sure if it's just us, but we kind of missed the enlightenment on this occasion and figured we’d love to see a pandemic edition.

At Pandable, we love transparency, so we’ll be honest about this too: this book was nothing to write home about, and more of a one-time read. Sorry, Jonah. We had such high hopes for understanding the real crux behind what makes things go viral, but it certainly didn’t highlight anything new or out of this world. We wondered whether this was due to the fact that we work in online marketing, and therefore the main messages of the book were a little lost on us, as they didn’t deliver any magical moments for us that we could put into practice. Nevertheless, we discussed it in our monthly virtual book club, and before we start sounding too much like a bunch of Debbie Downers, let’s take a look at some ideas that we felt compounded our existing thoughts, and were decent takeaways from the book:

🎯 Word of mouth (WOM) is always targeted

We choose people who we think would find the information most relevant and share it with them. This happens mostly unconsciously, so we don’t necessarily notice that we’re doing it, but it is indeed a form of targeted word of mouth in that sense. It might be worth conducting some self-observation next time something is shared with you, or you share something.

🦜 Only 7% of WOM happens online

People spend more than 8 times as much time offline than they do online. Due to the nature of our work at Pandable, we spend a lot more time online, we would have guessed that online WOM was bigger than offline. Don’t let your bubble block your vision.

👀 We talk a lot about brands, we just don’t notice

The amount we talk to each other might be a little off the chart. American consumers mention specific brands more than 3 billion times a day, and they engage in more than 16 WOM conversations where they say something positive or negative about a brand, a product, a service or an organisation.

The data refers to American consumers only so we wonder: since we are an international bunch at Pandable, what would the data say about us? Would you say we get close to that average?

🔗 Triggers for life

Triggers (sights, smells, sounds that trigger related thoughts and ideas), as for everything really, are important for WOM. Especially their frequency (1), the strength of the link between the trigger and the idea, the product or service (2), and their context (3), as the trigger should happen near where the desired action should take place. If you’re doing all three well, you’ll create a long-term WOM effect that provides a strong trigger for consumers to do a certain action and in the exact situation where you want them to do it. That is what Berger calls: top of mind, tip of tongue.

💭 Behaviour is public, thoughts are private

In the book, Berger uses the example of one of the first big anti-drug campaigns in the US, and how it actually managed to achieve the opposite of what was desired. In the campaign, they showed teenagers publicly using drugs (without restrictions), and the punchline was centred around saying no to drugs when they’re offered to you. Unfortunately, after this campaign was released, there was a significant uptick of drug use amongst teenagers. The message in this is that imitation and social influence are connected: people can and will imitate only what they can see others doing. Show them something wrong and you’ve got yourself a problem.

😷 COVID for thoughts?

Reading this book, we wondered if the author could add any new and updated information to this topic based on fresh Covid or post-Covid research, such as:

  • How much of that all-important WOM happens online now? Especially during this new world where lockdowns are potentially likely to become the norm?
  • Are we still talking about brands as much as we used to when there are so many more important events taking place in the world?
  • What about the power of public behaviour versus inner, personal thoughts?
  • When it comes to imitating others, such as wearing (or not wearing) masks for protection, how does this compare to the US anti-drug campaign?
  • What about that primary message during the first wave of the pandemic about staying at home? Are we still being driven by external factors? Or are we finally allowing ourselves to follow our inner voice after such unprecedented and uncertain times?

Jonah Berger, we are here for any new additions to the book. Let us know.

Next up:

Our Pandabook for April: Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain