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Catch 'Contagious' and spread infectious ideas

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Your office is like a petri dish.

Someone lets loose with a minor sniffle and — boom! — you've all got colds. A little runny nose and everybody's fighting the latest bug, the community hand-sanitizer bottle becomes the new hang-out spot, and the workplace is a real barrel of fun.

Wouldn't it be great if your business caught on and spread as quickly as the latest ailment? It might, with the help of "Contagious: Why Things Catch On" by Jonah Berger.

A hot new lunch spot. A yellow rubber band worn around the wrist. That cute new car that everybody wants. Those are examples of social contagion, and while it might seem that those things enjoyed instant popularity upon release, it's actually very hard to get products to catch on.

The best (and arguably most cost-effective) way for marketing contagion to happen is by word of mouth. People love to share, show off and talk about the hottest product or place. The thing to remember is that you have to know how to harness buzz correctly — and the right way, says Berger, is by STEPPS.

Present your product as Social Currency. People want to look cool by impressing others with that which is unique. Do something no one expects, make people feel like insiders, be remarkable, and they'll talk about you because it makes them look remarkable, too.

Tie your business to a Trigger. Learn to position yourself to be top-of-mind by taking advantage of environmental cues that already surround your potential customers.

Harness Emotion. There's a reason that heart-tugging videos and tick-you-off posts go viral. Happiness is good, but anger can work, too.

"Monkey see, monkey do" isn't just a saying. Do what you do in Public and don't be afraid to go big; the easier something is to see, the more people will buzz about it.

Imbue your product with Practical Value. Harness the power of coupons, promotional offers and free advice, but be careful: having too many sales or giving away too many products can sharply backfire.

Finally, tell Stories. Use all of the above methods and slip your story inside. Then make sure it's so embedded in your business that people can't talk about you without telling your tale, too.

In every office, it seems, there's a joke, email forward, video or meme that's caught the fancy of everyone. "Contagious" explains how that happened and how you can snag that power to make your business into the same kind of sensation.

True to his methods, Berger uses stories to illustrate how others have utilized word of mouth as a successful marketing tool, but he also shares tales of buzz gone bad. Those examples fill this book with useful ideas that are also interesting to read and to check out online, so keep your laptop or smartphone handy.

Marketers will be glad to know that this book's practicality isn't limited by business size. Managers will love its infectious nature. So if you're ready to see your product spread around the world, then "Contagious" is a book you should catch.

Contact book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer at

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