Every day we are exposed to countless brand interactions and a seemingly endless stream of marketing messages. And we have an unprecedented range of products and services to choose from.
So, why do we buy what we buy? Why do we become engaged advocates for some brands and not others? Why do some products and services catch on while others fail?
The answers to these questions, according to bestselling author and Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger, can be found in the field of behavioral science. Specifically, Berger argues that winning brands design customer experiences that are engaging and memorable to spark word of mouth. And getting people to share and talk positively about your brand to their social networks is key to ensuring a lasting competitive advantage.
In his keynote presentation at the 2019 Digital Experience Summit in Chicago, entitled “The 6 Principles of a World Class Customer Experience,” Berger maintains that “designed the right way, customer experiences a powerful channel for generating new customers by turning existing customers into a marketing channel for our messages.”
The importance of getting people to talk and share
Central to Berger’s focus on the importance of crafting compelling customer experiences is their power to drive conversations and word of mouth advocacy. To underscore the importance of word of mouth, Berger points to the conclusion by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company that “word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of advertising.” Word of mouth is effective, he explains, because it is more persuasive. (People trust what others tell them much more than typical ads.) And it is more targeted. (People share stories and experiences with others who they think would be interested in the topic.)
So how do brands go about consistently designing customer experiences that turn existing customers into brand evangelists? Berger outlines six ingredients – or STEPPS (Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, Stories) – that are key psychological drivers of why people talk, why they share and what it takes for products and services to catch on:
Social Currency – “Appearances matter”
People typically care about how they are perceived by others. They want to come across as smart, cool and in-the-know and will therefore share experiences, ideas or topics that will make their lives appear more interesting to others.
To tap into this psychological driver, Berger insists that brands craft customer experiences that make their customers feel special in a way that will make them want to share the experience with their social contacts.
Experiences that confer status on people is especially effective in sparking word of mouth. As Berger states, “status is only good if other people know you have it. And the only way you is by sharing it with others.”
Triggers – “Top of mind, tip of tongue”
Triggers keep concepts, ideas and products fresh in our minds. Berger uses examples of successful brands associating themselves with something else (e.g., Corona and the beach, KitKat and coffee breaks, or Michelob and the weekend). These triggers would then remind people of the brand, even when the brand is not around.
To be truly effective, brands need to create triggers around things that align with familiar routines, experiences, or desires of their target audiences. It’s also important for brands to ensure that top of mind recall is triggered at the right time. Berger offers a great example where there is a mismatch between the timing of the trigger and the ability to act on it. The moment most of us are triggered to think about reusable grocery bags is at the checkout. Unfortunately, at that point it’s often too late to do anything about it.
Emotion – “When we care, we share”
Emotion, both positive and negative, is a powerful motivating force. We’ve probably all made an emotional purchase (or more) and then tried to rationalize it after the fact. Content and customer experiences that resonate with us emotionally are most likely to spark action. When designing experiences and messaging, brands need to focus more on how people think, feel and react, and less on information like features, functions and benefits.
Public – “Monkey see, monkey do”
The more public something is, the more people will imitate it. “Observability and public visibility,” Berger argues, “plays a huge role in what products and ideas catch on.” It follows, then, that brands should focus on producing tangible items that will carry their brand elements, such as logos, taglines and brand messaging into the public arena where they can be seen.
This is reportedly why the Apple logo on laptops doesn’t face the user when closed, but instead faces others in the vicinity. Steve Jobs realized that people seeing others do something makes them more likely to do it themselves. Berger refers to this as “social proof.” A product’s visible usage helps advertise it to others.
Practical Value – “News you can use”
People like helping and feeling useful to others. Practical value is all about sharing useful information that will help others save time, energy and resources. When there is a product, service, cause or article that provides practical applicability to someone we know, we are more likely to share it with them.
Brands need to highlight or package useful information in a way that stands out to others and can be easily shared. For example, posting the original price for a product or service next to the discounted price makes people think they are getting a good deal. Similarly, Berger advises that brands display discounts for products selling for $100 or less in percentage terms, because it will appear more impressive. For products selling for more than $100, he recommends posting the discount in dollar terms, because price reductions in dollar terms seem more impressive on higher cost items.
Stories – “Information travels within stories”
Stories are the most effective way to share ideas and information. Stories have a way of staying in our minds for a long time – more than any other kind of messaging. That’s why “…we are told bedtime stories, not bedtime facts. Stories are the currency of communication.”
Stories are carriers of messages and information that are often not explicitly stated, but implied. Berger refers to stories as Trojan Horses – narratives that people will want to share, but which “smuggle” brand messages along for the ride.
Berger advises that brands craft stories that are useful, engaging and drive value to help their products, services, causes and ideas catch on; drive word of mouth advocacy; and propel them to be the next big thing.
Interested in finding out how to keep people’s attention, once you have it? Please read my post on “How to make your content unforgettable in 4 simple steps.”