Last year I recommended Jonah Berger’s fantastic book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, which discusses how to generate word-of-mouth marketing for your product. It is a particularly valuable book for mobile game companies, where word of mouth is often credited with the success of a product (see Flappy Bird) but is a virtual black box, with most companies considering it a matter of luck. Rather than luck, Berger shows how you build a product or marketing campaign to generate word-of-mouth success.
Word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 percent to 50 percent of all buying decisions, according to Berger, and probably an even stronger force in games. Berger shows that while traditional advertising is still useful, word of mouth from everyday consumers is at least ten times more effective.
There are two key reasons that word of mouth is so much more effective than traditional advertising or user acquisition:
- It is more persuasive. People are much more likely to believe a product recommendation from a friend or associate than from an advertisement. Generally, people are very dismissive of the messages incorporated in advertising.
- It is more targeted. Word of mouth is only spread to people who are probably interested in the product and thus potential customers. Most people who would talk about a game or product (unless they are particularly narcissistic) will only discuss it with someone interested and thus a potential customer. Word of mouth is, by its nature, then targeted to potential customers (which even Facebook’s social graph cannot match).
According to Berger, when trying to generate word of mouth, many people forget one important detail. They focus so much on getting people to talk that they ignore the part that really matters: what people are talking about.
Also, they focus on the platform, not the message. As Berger states, Facebook and Twitter are technologies, not strategies. Word-of-mouth marketing is effective only if people actually talk.
Harnessing the power of word of mouth, online or offline, requires understanding why people talk and why some things get talked about and shared more than others.
With the importance of creating content (and even an underlying product) at the heart of generating word of mouth, Berger’s research (Berger is a Wharton professor) identified six cores to success, which he calls STEPPS.
S: Social currency
Social currency is how something makes others see us. How does it make people look to talk about a product or idea? Most people would rather look smart than dumb, rich than poor, and cool than geeky. Just like the clothes we wear and the cars we drive, what we talk about influences how others see us. It is social currency.
Triggers are reminders for people to talk about our product, game or ideas. Triggers are stimuli that prompt people to think about related things. Triggers are the foundation of word of mouth and contagiousness. For example, you may regularly show images of your game with coffee, so that people will think about and start discussing your product when they go to Starbucks.
As Berger says, when we care, we share. Just like inspiring things, or those that make us angry, funny content is shared because amusement is a high-arousal emotion. Low-arousal emotions, however, like sadness, decrease sharing. Contentment has the same effect. Contentment isn’t a bad feeling. Being content feels pretty good. But people are less likely to talk about or share things that make them content because contentment decreases arousal.
How many games have you tried because people on your airplane or in a coffee shop were playing them? I know that’s how I started playing Farmville and Candy Crush. The phrase “Monkey see, monkey do” captures more than just the human tendency to imitate. It also tells us that it’s hard to copy something you can’t see. Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular.
P: Practical value
If you create content that is useful it is more likely to be shared. People like to help their friends and colleagues, so create content the enables them to help others.
The hot buzzword right now is wrapping advertising in stories, such as native advertising, because people do not just share information, they tell stories. As Berger points out, you need to do more than just tell a great story. You need to make virality valuable. You need to make your message, the one about your product, so integral to the narrative that people cannot tell the story without it.
Think of word of mouth from day one
Simply hiring a growth hacker and handing him the STEPPS principles is not the way to create a viral success. To generate a product that will grow exponentially due to word of mouth, you need to consider the six STEPPS above when initially conceptualizing the product, as you build out its features AND then in the marketing and growth phase of the product. If you build a product that includes triggers and lends itself to social content, you will enable your growth team to create a true success. Word of mouth is not something a marketer can do from his PC; the whole product team must understand it and build to it.
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