πŸ’Ž On social proof being a helpful shortcut (best-seller lists)

So we use others as a helpful shortcut. A filter. If a book is on the best-seller list, we’re more likely to skim the description. If a song is already popular, we’re more likely to give it a listen. Following others saves us time and effort and (hopefully) leads us to something we’re more likely to enjoy.

Does that mean we’ll like all those books or songs ourselves? Not necessarily. But we’re more likely to check them out and give them a try. And given the thousands of competing options out there, this increased attention is enough to give those items a boost.

Knowing others liked something also encourages people to give it the benefit of the doubt. Appearing on the best-seller list provides an air of credibility.

Excerpt from: Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior by Jonah Berger

πŸ’Ž On selling something surprising (make it familiar). On selling something familiar (make it surprising)

But by using familiar form, TiVo mad people more comfortable adopting radical innovation, By hiding the technology in something that looked visually familiar, TiVo used similarity to make difference feel more palatable.

Many digital actions today visually evoke their analog ancestors. We click on the icon of a floppy disk to save documents and drag digital files to be thrown away in what looks like a waste bin. Visual similarity also shows up offline. High-end care often use fake wood grain on the dashboard and veggie burgers often have grill marks. All make the different seem more similar.

The opposite also holds. Design can be used to make incremental innovations feel more novel. When Apple introduced the iMac in 1998, it featured only minor technological improvements. But from a visual standpoint it was radically different. Rather than the same old black or grey box, the iMac was shaped like a gum drop and came in colors like tangerine or strawberry. The device was hugely successful, and design, rather than technology, created the needed sense of difference that encouraged people to purchase.

Excerpt from: Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior by Jonah Berger

πŸ’Ž On the McRib and the power of scarcity (bring back the McRib!)

1981… McRib launches. But then sales numbers came in. Unfortunately, they were lower than expected at launch. McDonald’s tried promotions and features, but not much worked. So after a few years it dropped the McRib, citing Americans’ lack of interest in pork.

A decade later, however, McDonald’s figured out a clever way to increase demand for the McRib. It didn’t spend more money on advertising. It didn’t change the price. It didn’t even change the ingredients.

It just made the product more scarce.

Sometimes it would bring the product back nationally for a limited time; in other cases it would offer it at certain locations but not others. One month it would be offered only at franchises in Kansas City, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. Two months later it would be offered only in Chicago, Dallas, and Tampa.

And its strategy worked. Consumers got excited about the sandwich. Facebook groups stated popping up asking the company to “bring back the McRib!”

Excerpt from: Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

πŸ’Ž On our preference for positional success over absolute success (comparing ourselves to others)

A few year ago, students at Harvard University were asked to make a seemingly straightforward choice: which would they prefer, a job where they made $50,000 a year (option A) or one where they made $100,000 a year (option B)?

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Everyone should take option B. But there was one catch. In option A, the students would get paid twice as much as others, who would only get $25,000. In option B, they would get paid half as much as others, who would get $200,000. So option B would make the students more money overall, but they would be doing worse than others around them.

What did the majority of people choose?

Option A. They preferred to do better than others, even if it meant getting less for themselves. They chose the option that was worse in absolute terms but better in relative terms.

Excerpt from: Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

πŸ’Ž On the importance of successes and failures (not case studies and anecdotes)

Other people conjecture based on case studies and anecdotes. Because so many of the most popular YouTube videos are either funny or cute — involving babies or kittens — you commonly hear that humor or cuteness is a key ingredient for virality.

But these “theories” ignore the fact that many funny or cute videos never take off. Sure, some cat clips get millions of views, but those are the outliers, not the norm. Most get less than a few dozen.

You may as well observe that Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and Bill Cosby are all famous and conclude that changing your name to Bill is the route to fame and fortune. Although the initial observation is correct, the conclusion is patently ludicrous. By merely looking at a handful of viral hits, people miss the fact that many of those features also exist in content that failed to attract any audience whatsoever. To fully understand what causes people to share things, you have to look at both successes and failures. And whether, more often than not, certain characteristics are linked to success.

Excerpt from: Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

πŸ’Ž On avoiding potentially negative celebrity association (of Jersey Shore)

And that is what Abercrombie & Fitch was worried about when it saw β€œThe Situation” wearing their clothes on Jersey Shore. Their press release stated:

We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image. We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans. We have therefore offered a substantial payment to Michael β€œThe Situation” Sorrentino and the producers of MTVs The Jersey Shore to have the character wear an alternate brand. We have also extended this offer to other members of the cast, and are urgently awaiting a response.

Companies are usually overjoyed when celebrities wear their clothes. But Abercrombie was worried about what would happen if the wrong celebrities started wearing the brand.

Excerpt from: Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior by Jonah Berger