Jonah Berger’s 6 STEPPS for Success Applied to Email Marketing

jonah-berger-headshot-lg-200x300Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, recently spoke at Summit on characteristics that make products and ideas go viral. According to Berger, there are six STEPPS (Social Currency, Triggers, Emotions, Public, Practical Value and Stories) which, if incorporated, make your concept much more likely to be shared with others.

As email marketers, we strive to have our emails shared; in fact, it’s often a campaign KPI we measure to determine success. Berger’s six STEPPS to creating more buzz around messages translate directly to more successful email marketing. Let’s take a look.

1. Social Currency

Berger notes that sharable information is that which holds social currency; one way or another, it makes us look good to those around us. This is a concept that most email marketers can learn from and should apply to programs. Too often, we ask subscribers to share an offer or information in an email communication, yet there’s nothing in that email that would make a subscriber look or feel good by passing it along.

2. Triggers

By Berger’s definition, a “trigger” is something that is easy to remember about a product or idea, helping to ensure it stays top of mind. It’s funny to note that although email marketers use the term “trigger” to mean something completely different, we apply triggers to our programs with that same goal: keeping our program top of mind. Do not underestimate the power of properly triggering your email communications–or the importance of being top of mind with the customer.

3. Emotion

Simply put, messaging with an emotional component is more likely to be shared. Email is a relationship channel and part of any good relationship is emotion. Does that mean that every message you send should pull on heartstrings or get subscribers mad as hell? Probably not. However, every message you send should absolutely stay true to your brand, while remaining focused on your customer. If your subscribers feel like your messaging is all about you, without taking their interests into consideration, don’t expect them to participate in spreading the word.

4. Public

Within the context of Contagious, the public component of a successful, shareable program means that it’s “built to show, built to grow.” This is a great concept to apply to your email program. While it is true that not all email content is meant to be shared (think exclusive offers, transactional statements, and other personal information), many elements are designed specifically for sharing. For these, be sure they’re “built to show.” Formatting content in a way that lends itself nicely to the channels where you want the recipient to share is a great step in building your content to show. 

5. Practical Value

Although it would screw up Berger’s STEPPS acronym, another word for practical value is “relevance,” practically a mantra for folks like you and me. If your email isn’t relevant, why would it go viral? Some of the most successful email programs are those that provide practical advice; how-to information, for example, or interesting, random facts. Think top ten lists, or “did you know” messaging. Always consider the practical value your messaging offers your audience.

6. Stories

Berger notes our rich cultural history of storytelling and, certainly, good stories get passed along through generations. For email marketers, there are a couple different ways to tap into this and use stories to improve our programs. Sure, you could come right out and toss an actual story into an email every once in a while. It could help keep your content fresh, keep subscribers engaged, and maybe even get subscribers talking. But another way to look at building stories into your program takes a more holistic perspective: What is your brand story to consumers? Every memorable brand makes implicit promises to consumers across key touch points. And every great brand keeps those promises with every interaction it makes. So, if every email you send isn’t reinforcing your brand story, the absence of that story can inadvertently erode brand value.

So is your next huge viral email campaign a mere six STEPPS away? It’s hard to say for sure, but you can absolutely apply best practices in contagious content to your email campaigns. Consciously walk through Berger’s STEPPS in your next one and watch for any measurable difference.

Editor’s Note: As 2013 comes to a close, we’re pleased to share our top email columns of the year. This article was originally published October 7, 2013.

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