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Jonah Berger on marketing and why things catch on

Berger_Jonah_Hi res.jpg You will not want to miss the featured keynote for the last day of the JMP Discovery Summit: Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, expert on viral marketing, and author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On. The book is an excellent read for anyone interested in learning why some ideas spread like crazy and others don’t. Jonah took the time to answer a few questions about his book and his research.

In your book, you mention that you forwarded a useful email from a financial services company. Do you think email is still and will continue to be an effective way to market?

Jonah: Email is certainly one effective marketing channel. But just like regular advertisements, people are more likely to trust their friends and colleagues than they are communication from companies. Word of mouth is over 10 times as effective as traditional advertising.

Your book describes some of your own research. What research are you working on now?

Jonah: I'm working on over a dozen projects related to word of mouth and consumer behavior. We just published papers on how sharing things online versus offline changes what people pass on and how talking to one person rather than many changes what people share. Another project we’re working on is how characteristics of content impact whether people read it or not. People often point to views as a valuable metric, but just because someone clicked on something doesn’t mean they actually read it. We’re looking at what leads people to keep reading online content vs. click but not read.

Your research is highly collaborative. Who would you love to work with on a research project, and why?

Jonah: My favorite collaborators are people who have very different skills than I do. It’s great to work with someone who approaches problems differently and lots of insight gets generated in filling in the gaps.

What’s your favorite story from among the ones you shared in your book, and why?

Jonah: The book starts with a great story about a $100 cheesesteak. Most cheesesteaks are $5 or $6 at the local sandwich spot, but this one costs around 20 times as much. It’s made of Kobe beef, lobster and truffles, and comes with a half bottle of champagne, but best of all it’s a great Trojan Horse story for the restaurant that sells it -- a great example of how a small business used the power of word of mouth to grow their brand.

In addition to the $100 cheesesteak, Jonah’s book had several other examples of things that went viral. Two that I had to show my daughter were The Force: Volkswagen Commercial and the Dove evolution video (which she had to watch five times each). Jonah is sure to have more interesting things to say on why things catch on at Discovery Summit. Of his STEPPS principles, you are sure to learn some things that will provide you with social currency, practical value and interesting stories.

Note: This is the third blog post in a series on keynote speakers at Discovery Summit 2014. The first post was about David Hand. The second post was about Michael Schrage.

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