How to build word of mouth in the digital age- The STEPPS Concept

Many digital marketers and brand owners trying to stand out are often thinking through the best methods and ways of creating contagious content. While, most times it’s hard to pin-point what will work and what won’t, research provides some great answers in this regard. In his exceptional and ground breaking work and a Content Marketing must-read book, Contagious, Professor John Berger shares a set of principles or the STEPPS concept, on why things catch on. Professor Berger’s has spent the last decade or so and studied different products, New York Times articles to ascertain why certain products get significant social buzz. In this book Contagious, he has used these insights to detailed the STEPPS concept sharing how to build word of mouth in the digital age.

How To Build Word Of Mouth In The Digital Age

How To Build Word Of Mouth In The Digital Age
The STEPPS Concept of Creating Contagious Content

1. Social Currency: When your consumers or any reader talk about your product or content, or share it, what does it make them look like? It’s human nature to want to be perceived as the best. Does sharing your content, make them feel so? We discussed this before, people have different sharing personalities or rationale as to why they should/could share. People need to visibly feel or see the effect of what they share. For instance, while sharing quiz results on Facebook, people rarely share results that makes them look weird (e.g. you deserve a low-salary job) but are very openly sharing things that make others take notice in a good way or make them feel socially accepted (e.g. your ideal travel destination is a tropical island). This is a question you need to ask yourself: what does your content make people feel?

2. Triggers: Building a brand is not a one time job. You need to constantly build recall and give people something to remind of your brand naturally. What comes to mind when you think of a brand? Brand associations can be built around usage, say when you’re looking for your missing glasses, your mind says, “Google it”. Sometimes associations are built around celebrity endorsements, you see Jennifer Aniston and you think Aveeno. They can also be built around occasions, think break, and think Kit-kat.

3. Emotion: Negative and positive emotions can both led to reactions and interest. Think of YouTube videos, we all watched the Gangnam style video over 2 billion times and even though it’s over two years old, we continue to watch it.  Because it is entertaining, and people have fun. Emotional content keeps people at the center. We sell less and engage more.

4. Public: Monkey see, monkey do. We react to products and content in the public sphere when we see others getting involved too. An interesting example is the Apple Mac book which has the Apple logo, not facing the owner, but the observer. This was not random but a carefully thought out strategy to invoke the observer effect. When we see people sharing a quiz, we share it further. The more people we see publicly sharing an article, the more we tend to believe that it’s good.

5. Practical Value: I have talked about it before, and it continues to be important. What utility does your content bring? Align content to what people are looking for. If you don’t know your community needs, ask and research.

6. Stories: We talked about the power of digital story this week. A story needs to incorporate your brand in such a way that it feels natural. That, the story is incomplete without the brand name. Like Google’s Parisian love. An emotional love story that does not exist without Google and yet, there’s no mention of products, features or anything else.

STEPPS concept does not indicate that your content must follow all the STEPPS principles, but if you have a couple, it surely does help! Focus and be the creators of contagious content!


Upasna Kakroo

Upasna co-founded Brandanew in 2014 for the sheer love of storytelling and authentic connections. She has been blogging and documenting digital stories since 2003.




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