Dynamic Marketing Communiqué

Luck and cat memes? Nah. Here are the REAL reasons why “things catch on” offline and online! [Monday: Marketing Marvels]

March 27, 2023

Miles Everson’s Business Builder Daily speaks to the heart of what great marketers, business leaders, and other professionals need to succeed in advertising, communications, managing their investments, career strategy, and more. 

A Note from Miles Everson:

Hi, everyone! 

We hope you all had an amazing weekend. 

Let’s start the work week with our “Marketing Marvels.” Every Monday, we talk about exceptional individuals in business and marketing, and highlight their industry-related experiences, contributions, and insights. 

In this article, we’ll feature a bestselling author who’s published several books on the topics of change, influence, word of mouth, natural language processing, and consumer behavior.

Continue reading to know more about this “Marvel” and his 6 key steps to create viral, attention-grabbing content.

Miles Everson
CEO, MBO Partners
Chairman of the Advisory Board, The I Institute

Marketing Marvels 

What comes to your mind when you hear the words, “viral content?” 


Viewership rates? 

Funny videos? 

For some, the first things that come to their minds are memes and cat videos

By definition, viral content is any content that has gained popularity through social sharing. It can be in the form of visual content, how-to videos, informational articles, etc. 

You might be wondering: 

“What makes a particular content viral? Is it luck or is it something that can be created?” 

In this article, we’ll explain the reasons behind viral content using the perspective of this “Marketing Marvel.” 

The Guru on Social Influence 

Photo from LinkedIn

Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and a bestselling author on the topics of change, influence, word of mouth, and consumer behavior. 

He has published over 50 articles in top-tier academic journals, teaches Wharton’s highest-rated online course, and is often featured in articles published by The New York Times and Harvard Business Review

He has also become a keynote speaker for hundreds of events, and has been a consultant for some global companies like Google, Apple, Nike, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Berger was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He attended the magnet program at Montgomery Blair High School. 

[Magnet Program: In the U.S. education system, this refers to public schools with specialized courses or curricula.] 

During his college years, Berger attended Stanford University and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Judgment and Decision Making in 2002. After 5 years, he earned his Ph.D. in Marketing from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. 

Today, Berger writes about psychology, marketing, social influence, and virality as a LinkedIn influencer. Some of his published works include: 

  • The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind
  • Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior
  • Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Creating Viral Content: The 6 “STEPPS” to Success 

If you have watched and/or shared PSY’s “Gangnam Style” video or ate at a restaurant because it’s popular, then you probably have an idea of what makes things go viral. 

In his book, “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” Berger shares 6 principles that cause people to talk about and share an idea or product: 

The STEPPS Marketing Strategy 

Photo from Impact

According to Berger, the driving force behind products and ideas catching on—or in his words, becoming “contagious”—is social transmission. He says things catch on when lots of people talk about them. 

So, how can you generate word of mouth around your offerings? Berger says the key is to make your product or idea compelling. It or its marketing campaign has to be interesting enough to get people talking. 

Below are the 6 attributes or STEPPS that Berger believes contribute to the virality of content: 

  1. Social Currency

This pertains to the trends that are happening in your target market’s environment, and is based on the idea that everything you talk about affects how consumers see your brand’s social influence. 

For example: If you only talk about boring things, people will think you and your offerings are boring in general. On the other hand, if you talk about interesting things, people will think you’re fun to be around and will want to know more about you and your business. 

That’s why if you want information about your offering to spread through word of mouth, make sure talking about it gives people the social currency they need. 

  1. Triggers

A trigger is a stimulus that reminds consumers of something. This helps generate word of mouth because people tend to talk about whatever’s on their minds at a given moment. 

For instance: You’re launching a new ice cream product and in your marketing, you decide to associate eating ice cream with sunny weather. From that point on, your target market will be triggered to think about your product whenever it’s sunny. 

  1. Emotion

Contagious products and ideas generate an emotional response. When people experience strong emotions, they often talk to others about how they’re feeling. 

Example: Someone who’s had a bad day at work will want to go home and vent his or her anger to a trusted friend or family member. Someone who’s just gotten promoted will want to share his or her excitement with loved ones. 

When people do this, they share details about what makes them emotional in the first place. So, if you can generate an emotional response in your target market, it will get them talking not only about their feelings but also about your business.

  1. Public

Berger uses the phrase, “built to show, built to grow” to describe the 4th element in his STEPPS framework. According to him, consumers will never talk about your product if they don’t see it in the first place. 

So, to generate as much word of mouth about your offering as possible, make it easy to observe and notice. People need to see that product often… or if that’s not possible, it needs to be striking enough that when they see or encounter it once, they will remember it for a long time. 

  1. Practical Value

The 5th attribute of contagious products or ideas is they provide practical value. This is important because people love gathering information that will make their lives easier. Additionally, people love sharing this information with others. They do so because they want to help those they care about. 

Therefore, if you make your product or service a source of practical value, people will talk about it not only because it’s interesting but also because they want to share its value with others… and through that, you’ll generate word of mouth.

  1. Stories

Great storytelling is a key to great content marketing. According to Berger, coming up with awesome branded content ideas is one of the best ways to deliver a message. 

For example: You could embed factual information about your product into a heartwarming story that tackles how using your offering changed someone’s life for the better. 

If your story is interesting or exciting enough, people will share it with their friends and family, AND pass on information about your product or idea in the process.

People share interesting stories about products or ideas for 2 reasons: First, they know telling someone an interesting story will give them social currency. Second, sharing a story about a product or idea is much more socially acceptable than simply spouting facts about it. 

Luck and cats

According to Berger, these are the 2 most popular misconceptions about what makes a content viral. When a content generates a huge amount of buzz, it may seem like luck or a funny video about a cat. 

However, the reality is different. 

When a content goes viral, that doesn’t mean it’s the brand or marketer’s lucky day or whatsoever. There’s a science behind these social epidemics, and that’s what Berger explains in his STEPPS framework. 

We hope you learned a lot from Berger’s 6-principle marketing model, especially the reasons why things catch on! 

Remember: Creating content that your target market genuinely wants to share is a complex and challenging task. By implementing STEPPS, you’ll increase the shareability of your business’ marketing collaterals. 

Apply Berger’s framework in your next ads! 

Who knows? You just might have the next viral marketing campaign on your hands. 

(This article is from The Business Builder Daily, a newsletter by The I Institute in collaboration with MBO Partners.) 

About The Dynamic Marketing Communiqué’s
“Monday Marketing Marvels”

Too often, industry experts and the marketing press sing the praises of some brand or company’s marketing strategy. 

… only for the audience to later find out that its product was a flop, or worse, that the brand or company went bankrupt.

The true ROI in marketing can’t be separated from the business as a whole. 

What good is a marketing case study if one can’t prove that the company’s efforts actually paid off?

At the end of the day, either the entire business is successful or it isn’t. And the roles of marketing and communication are always paramount to that success. 

Every Monday, we publish a case study that highlights the world’s greatest marketing strategies, marketers, and communicators. 

However, the difference between our articles and the numerous ones out there is that we will always make certain that the firm really did generate and demonstrate earning power worthy of study in the first place (compliments of Valens Research’s finance group) in keeping with a person’s leadership skills in the area of marketing and/or communication.

We’ll also study the greatest marketing fails and analyze what they did wrong, or what they needed to improve. We all make our mistakes, but better we learn from others’ mistakes—and earlier, rather than later.

Hope you found this week’s marketing marvel interesting and helpful. 

Stay tuned for next week’s Monday Marketing Marvels!


Kyle Yu 

Head of Marketing 
Valens Dynamic Marketing Capabilities 
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