Report: The Future of Insurance


A Conversation with Jonah Berger

Jonah Berger is the internationally bestselling author of multiple books including New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers, “Contagious: Why Things Catch On”, and most recently, “Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior”.

Jonah’s works provide insights about the how consumers use social media and share content, and how marketers can take actions that impact campaigns and consumer engagement strategies.


Q: The Harvard neuro study revealing that sharing is rewarding in the same way as food and other high-pleasure reward was incredibly interesting. Taking this into consideration, how do you explain what is referred to as the “me” generation of Twitter and Facebook, in which individuals share the most minute aspects of their everyday lives. Are generations focused on “me?” Is there something different going on in modernity?

A: “People have always thought about and cared about themselves, but social media makes this easier to see because it creates a written record of our actions. What we said, what we shared, and what we “like.” But research suggests that these methods of communication may also contribute to making us “me” focused. Computer mediated communication, and talking to large groups (rather than a single other), may focus us more on ourselves and less on the wants and needs of others.”

Q: What’s the most recent thing you shared? And what was most recently shared with you?

A: “Wow. Good question. One thing I recently shared was a New York Times article that has a quote related to a research project we’re working on.One thing I just received was a restaurant recommendation for good Asian fried chicken. I had talked about something related in a Financial Times article about brand extensions, and someone who read the article sent me a note to prove me wrong!”

Q: Do you think you’ve cracked the code of efficient product advertising? Would you ever try your hand at it?

A: “Can we make ads more effective and viral? Yes. Have we “cracked the code”? There is always more to learn. Definitely like trying my hand at it. I often help companies use theSTEPPS (Social Currency, Triggers, Emotions, Public, Practical Value, Stories)framework to improve their products and ideas and it is always lots of fun.”

Q: Along those same lines, have any of your students gone on to become successful advertisers/viral video makers/idea-spreaders?

A: “Definitely. I teach an exercise in my class where students use the STEPPS framework to try and create a viral video. It’s tough but some people do amazingly well!”

Q: Discuss how you think sharing today compares to sharing 30 years ago. What about our digital culture has made things different? Has sharing decreased in any way?

A: “Sharing today is certainly different in some ways. There is less face-to-face interaction with our friends and family, so we talk more over the phone or through the web. Research shows that this decreases some of the benefits of social interaction. Warm interpersonal contact reduces stress, but things like texting don’t have the same effect. Do we share less? Doubtful, but we do share differently.”

Q: The nature of current commercials seems more and more “off-brand,” as companies create non-sequitur and nonsensical ads to elicit a laugh or capitalize on “irony.”

Are they failing to follow the STEPPS? Is there remarkability to silliness un-related to product?

A: “Funny ads are great. And as a consumer, I love to watch them. But if the goal is not just to make people laugh, but to get them to buy something, then valuable virality becomes vital.People will share funny or ironic ads, but at the end of the day it doesn’t help the company if the consumer has no idea what the ad was for.”

Q: Do you think most STEPPS happen at the unconscious level, or do you believe people create things with these fundamental human behaviors in mind?

A: “People are more aware of some of the STEPPS than others. Practical Value? We see that every day. Social Currency? We see it in others all the time (even if it’s hard to see in ourselves). But we are less aware of how Triggers or Public affects our behavior.”

Q: Is there something to be said for over-saturation? Can a good method of viral sharing exhaust itself in our fast-as-lightning culture?

A: “There is a key difference between psychology and marketing tactics. We may get over-saturated with a particular tactic (e.g., pop-up ads or a certain style of ad) but the underlying psychology that drove us to like it still remains. If every company makes their product “scarce” consumers will start to catch on, but does that mean we’ll stop valuing scarcity altogether? Probably not.”

Q: Is one element of STEPPS more vital than the others?

A: “No one of the STEPPS is most important, but certain ones are definitely easier to apply in certain situations. It’s easier to leverage Public if you have a physical product. It’s easier to use Emotion if you sell something related to children or animals. But the key is not just using the easy STEPPS. Trying to incorporate the more difficult ones will really boost their impact.”

Q: Have you ever eaten the $100 cheesesteak at Barclay’s?

A: “Yes. I highly recommend it.”

Reposted with kind permission from All Content © 2017 Jonah Berger.

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