Are You Contagious? If Not, Follow these Six Steps

Download as a PDF or PowerPoint presentation.

Achoo!  Under the right conditions, a sneeze or cough can spread sickness far and wide.  All it takes is for one infected person on a plane or in a crowded room to pass the condition to dozens, maybe hundreds more.

Most of us understand how a virus spreads and epidemics begin.  But few use that knowledge when communicating to reach a larger audience. By making your communications more contagious, or “sticky,” you can increase their impact, longevity and spread.

Epidemics

The 1918 Influenza epidemic was the deadliest plague in history.  It killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS killed in 24 years, more in a year than the Black Plague in a century.

According to The Great Influenza by John Barry, the virus had humble beginnings.  It started in isolated Haskell County, Kansas.  Soldiers on leave caught and brought it to the 60,000 men at nearby Fort Pierce. Aided troop movements, it circled the globe and killed 50-100 million people in 18 months.

Information moves even faster than disease.  Within minutes the entire world knew about the 9/11 attacks. Media helped initially, but word-of-mouth spread it around the globe in minutes.  That’s because 9/11 was the ultimate sticky message, one quickly shared by friends, family and coworkers.

Going Viral

Viral videos also show how quickly information spreads.  Unfortunately, the odds of creating a successful viral video are miniscule.  In fact, Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield recommends you don’t even bother trying.

“Fishing for rainbow trout?  If you catch one,” he writes by way of analogy, “it’ll probably weigh 2 pounds. You will not catch a 42-pound rainbow trout.  Oh, it’s been done…and it’s conceivable somebody will hook another one. But it won’t be you. “

Fortunately, you don’t need a viral video or 9/11 to make sticky messages.  With a few simple tips, your media releases, direct mail and website will be more likely to cling.

Money magazine provides an opportunity to compare the stickiness of different messages. Five health nonprofits placed ads the magazine.  None were outrageous or “went viral.”

But the Alzheimer’s Association’s ad was better and incorporated elements of all six criteria needed to create a sticky and more memorable message.

Six Steps to Stickiness

How do you get “sticky?” Authors Chip and Dan Health offer six recommendations in Made to Stick. Elements of each can be seen in the Alzheimer’s Association ad above.

  • Simplicity – Strip your ideas to their core elements.
  • Unexpectedness – Being different captures and holds someone’s attention.
  • Concreteness – Specificity makes your message easier to process and remember.
  • Credibility – Are your spokespersons believable?
  • Emotion – Connect beyond facts and figures.
  • Stories – Are memorable and effective teaching tools.

While no guarantee (not all seven-footers play in the NBA), incorporating these elements will make your messages more contagious.  Like sneezing on a crowded airplane.

Popcorn Problem

The Center for Science in the Public Interest had a problem: How to convince the media and public about the unhealthiness of movie popcorn (37 grams of saturated fat per serving).

That’s a tall order.  Americans are inundated with messages on healthy eating.  How could CSPI break through the noise, and get noticed, with nothing more than dry fact (37 grams of fat)?

They called a called a press conference with the following message: A medium-sized movie popcorn contains more saturated fat than a bacon and egg breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and steak dinner with all the trimmings.

And just in case the reporters missed the message, each item was carefully laid out on a table for comparison.

The story contained nearly every element of stickiness.  The result? CSPI generated national media coverage and public awareness.  More importantly, their sticky message mobilized the public to demand healthier popcorn options at the movies.

Conclusion

Information spreads like a virus.  The stickier your message, the more likely you’ll create an information epidemic.

Creating “sticky” communications is not difficult. It starts with knowing your audience, what you want them to do (“call to action”) and what motivates them to act.

Then, following the Six Steps to Stickiness, you can generate communications that people will read, respond to, and pass along to their friends, co-workers and loved ones and others.

A barrier to creating stickiness is often an unwillingness to be “unexpected.”  The good news is that you don’t have to be outrageous to get noticed.

New GE Study: Word-of-Mouth Referrals Improve Traditional Marketing Efforts

Marketers have long assumed content shared by friends or other influencers carries more weight than paid placements.  Someone is more likely to visit a restaurant when referred by a friend, the thinking goes, than from a television or radio ad.

Now General Electric has some proof.

In late 2011, the company compared the effectiveness of a paid advertising campaign and paid advertising campaign coupled with online-sharing.   Overall, consumers who saw the ad and received a referral from a friend were 138% more likely to view GE favorably than those who saw the ad alone.

The results of the test were originally published in the January 25th edition of Advertising Age.

“Personal referrals are far and away the most influential form of communications,” said Sparklight Communications President Joseph LaMountain.  “Yet many companies and causes fail to incorporate word-of-mouth into their marketing and communications campaigns.”

For example, organizations can raise significant levels of awareness, or funding, for an issue by asking its supporters to share  information to friends, neighbors and work colleagues.  Yet too often this valuable “human capital” is not effectively mobilized.

Should your intern run your social media? Maybe not.

When I was in Austin at the SXSW conference, I heard the fabulous communications expert, Peter Kim. In addition to other social media stories of a “fail,” this one was his best.  So when I saw this on his blog today, I had to replay here. It’s just too good to miss. You can follow him on Twitter, @peterkim.

Here’s what “fail fast” looks like

Earlier this year, Chrysler made a bold statement to the world, airing the Imported From Detroit commercial during Super Bowl XLV in February 2011. The ad created buzz in the ad world, political circles, and the entertainment industry, while helping drive a 191% increase in month-over-month sales of the Chrysler 200, the car featured in the ad. Unless you hate America, it’s hard not to feel proud of the United States and one of its core but beaten down industries after watching the full two-minute spot.

A month later, this tweet publishes one morning from Chrysler’s official Twitter account:

@ChryslerAutos errant tweet

Auto blog Jalopnik broke the story and here’s what transpired in rapid succession:

  • @ChryslerAuto tweets “Our apologies – our account was compromised earlier today. We are taking steps to resolve it.”
  • post to the corporate blog clarifies that an agency was responsible for the tweet and the employee responsible for the action was terminated.
  • News breaks that Chrysler fires their social agency of record.

The root cause here might have been technology failure, user error, lack of process (publishing) control, and/or temporary lapse of cultural connection.

Within the 48 hours, an iconic brand gets a black eye, an agency loses a major account, and a person gets fired: nothing good for those directly involved. So where’s all the praise for failing fast? 

The answer is there is none. This mistake could happen to anyone, but most likely to someone who much younger, and a little less experienced with your brand, your audience and your goals and objectives for your mission. So I ask you, would you let your intern run your social media campaign? Maybe not.


A Word About those Clipboard Wielding Hippies

In today’s AdAge, Peter Madden decries the use of “clipboard wielding hippies” for canvassing supporters on the streets of Philadelphia.  The title of his editorial pretty much says it all: “Anti-Social Marketing Makes Me Dislike Your Charity.”

Everyone’s focusing on social media these days.  And in many ways, social media is great because it reduces the barriers to interpersonal communications.  But it doesn’t eliminate them.  And with the high volume of electronic communications being generated today, how else can an organization reach its target audience?

We can all agree that being approached on the street for a donation or petition signature is annoying.  But the simple fact is, these tactics work.  There’s a reason why the Church of Latter Day Saints, with its millions of missionaries, is one of the fastest growing religions in the world.   And why successful politicians spend much of their energy canvassing door-to-door and making thousands of phone calls to potential voters.

The very word evangelism (as in brand evangelist) comes from the early Christian church and their tactic of “going out into the world and spreading the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

The challenge?  These tactics are hard to organize because people are reluctant to volunteer for them.  Believe me, we had a heck of a time recruiting volunteers to participate in Friends of Mimi Carter phone banks in 2008.  But for groups that can pull this off, and make it part of their integrated marketing campaigns, the payoffs can be substantial.

10 Tips for Bonding with Customers, Clients and Members

Over the last year, I’ve become more interested in the psychology of decision-making.  In other words, (a) how do our basic psychological needs influence the decisions we make and (b) are there ways to adjust our communications and marketing strategies to take advantage of these needs.

The best book I’ve read on this subject is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.  In it, he identifies six “weapons of influence” that can be used to increase compliance with your requests.

These are extremely valuable weapons whether you are trying to convince someone to purchase your product or an convince an advocate to take action in support of your cause.

Brian Martin, the Founder and CEO of Brand Communications, expands that list to 10 in a recent issue of Advertising Age.  “Fortunately,” he writes, “when it comes to identifying what people want, we aren’t particularly complex. Direct your actions toward meeting as many as possible, and your brand will grow exponentially.”

%d bloggers like this: