Your Business

Going viral

Marking word of mouth work for you

When you hear that something has ‘gone viral’, do you immediately think of Grumpy cats, that wacky ‘Gangnam style’ music video or the Old Spice guy on a horse? 

All those things that fill our inbox and takeover the screens of our various devices. That’s viral, right?

In fact, ‘going viral’ is not a new concept – it pre-dates inboxes and devices! Ideas have been spread (gone viral) since the beginnings of civilisation. Sure, the methods may have evolved but the essence remains.

Going viral. Word of mouth. Call it what you like. People have always liked to share things. And just like viruses, some of those things are more contagious than others.

But what makes something more likely to be shared?


In his book ‘Contagious’, Jonah Berger, marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, explores the concept of word of mouth and, in particular, what makes some ideas catch on above others. Using an engaging mix of science, research and real-life examples Berger attempts to explain the phenomenon and provide the reader with tips for their own ideas.

He believes word of mouth is more effective than traditional advertising because its personal nature makes it more persuasive and more targeted. Ideas shared by someone known are more credible and relevant to the recipient. And what’s more, word of mouth is free and accessible to everyone.  

STEPPS – The six principles of contagiousness

Berger states there are six principles (STEPPS) to contagiousness – basic factors which have repeatedly been shown to increase the spread of an idea. The good news is, the principles are not restricted to Silicon Valley inhabitants – they can be applied to everyday ideas, products and services.

Social currency

People are more inclined to share something that makes them look important or leaves a good impression. It could be a secret that makes them look like ‘insiders’ or something so remarkable they have to share it.


If something more readily come to mind, it’s more likely people will share it. When an idea is naturally associated with triggers people encounter frequently (events, occurrences) there’s more chance that it will prompt sharing.


Things that evoke arousal in someone are more likely to be shared. It doesn’t necessarily need to be positive – an idea which evokes anxiety or anger works just as well as one which inspires or evokes awe.


Things that are highly visible tend to be talked about or imitated more. The old adage of ‘monkey see, monkey do’ holds strong. Especially in a competitive market, you need something that cuts through the clutter to standout.

Practical value

People like to share information that provides practical help for others. They’re even more likely to pass it on if it’s packaged in a way that’s easy to share.


Perhaps the oldest form of viral content, stories have been used for thousands of years to pass on ideas, news or traditions.

Take your first STEPPS

While much of what Berger outlines is common sense, it’s one thing to nod your head in agreement but another to put it into practice. Don’t worry – generating word of mouth doesn’t require massive budgets.

Your business is one built on relationships, trust and understanding. In effect, it is you and the service you provide that you want to go viral.

So have a think about which of the STEPPS you can apply…

Claims testimonials are powerful stories that can demonstrate the importance of how you look after your clients and can evoke great emotion. Have you got a regular email or blog where you can share research, insights or information that has practical value or makes your client feel like an ‘insider’? Or perhaps it’s branded merchandise that gets your brand in their mind whenever they’re making financial decisions.

Whatever it is, get it right and you too could ‘go viral’!

February 2016