Jonah Berger: Brilliant Mind. Contagious: Why Things Catch On

First of all, Jonah Berger, thank you so much for providing us with this opportunity!! When I watched his video on Youtube for the first time, it just changed my perception of what is "being contagious." Do you know how much word-of-mouth is online? According to him, only 7% of word-of-mouth is online. I assume your guess was far from the number.

Jonah Berger is the author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, NYT and WST bestseller, and a marketing professor of Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is known as an expert of viral marketing and social contagion: why things catch on. Today, we learn about his unique way of thinking directly from him.

-----For those who are not familiar with you, please let us know the essence/core concept of your theory.

Whether you’re selling a product, pitching a service, or just trying to get people to adopt your ideas within your organization, we all want our stuff to catch on. But how can we do that? We’ve analyzed at thousands of pieces of online content, tens of thousands of brands, and millions of purchases and again and again we see the same patterns. As I talk about inContagious: Why Things Catch On it’s not random or luck. There’s a science behind why things catch on. Six key factors that drive all sorts of products and ideas to become popular.

-----Why it is important to increase the chance that people talk about and share your idea?

People look to others to decide what to do. We don’t trust ads, but we trust our peers. If someone says they like a product, we’re much more likely to purchase it. And if someone else vouches for our idea, the company is much more likely to adopt it. Word of mouth is over 10 times as effective as traditional advertising. But to make word of mouth work for you, you have to understand why people talk and share. Why people pass along some things rather than others.

-----How did you get interested in the human behavior? Are you genetically disposed to analyze things surrounding you or did you have a specific moment to get interested in it?

I’ve always been interested in why people do what they do. Why we buy some things, make certain decisions, or pass certain things along. But this interest really crystallized in college. I realized that we didn’t just have to guess, we could use rigorous science and experimentation to gain insight into human behavior.

-----Why do you empower people through teaching at universities, giving speeches, and writing books and articles? For example, why did you accept this interview offer even though it is not as big as the media you normally show up?

Doing academic research is interesting, but it’s much more fulfilling if you know that research is helping people. And that’s why I wrote Contagious. There’s lots of hype out there around social media, but much less actual data to help separate right and wrong. I wrote the book to share all the great academic research with people so that they could use it to help their own lives

-----The majority of people tend to follow the common sense regardless of the fact indicated by the data. When you convince people to apply your method, what are important factors to make people open their eyes and experience a paradigm shift in their way of thinking?

We all think we know more than we do. So to change people’s minds, to convince to learn something new, it’s important to show them, not just tell them. To open up a curiosity gap or highlight gaps in their knowledge. Take word of mouth. When we think about word of mouth, most people think of social media. Facebook, Twitter, etc. But if you had to guess, what percent of all word of mouth would you guess is online? Is on things like social media, blogs, etc.? Most people would say 50% even 60%. But the answer is only 7%. Only 7% of all word of mouth is online. Most people are really surprised the number is so low. But that encourages them to pay more attention. If I was wrong about that, what else might I be wrong about?

-----For most of people, it is extremely difficult to find connections and meanings out of an enormous amount of information. Can you verbalize what happens in your mind/thought when you analyze the data and experience epiphany?

Few things are more exciting than glimpsing a solution to something you’ve been working on for a while. When everything suddenly clicks, it seems so simple, but that simplicity is part of the beauty. Good answers are often simple once you understand them, but difficult to guess in advance.

-----You have a unique life style. You look truly energized. For you, what is the meaning of your work and life?

Doing what you love and loving what you do. If you like what you do, work isn’t just a means to an end, you enjoy doing it for your own sake. There are so many interesting puzzles out there, it’s exciting to be able to try to understand them.

-----If you can make a call to 20-year-old Jonah Berger, what kind of advices you would give to him?

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

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