The last principle in Jonah Berger’s STEPPS from his book “Contagious” is the “S”, which stands for Stories. Information travels under what seems like idle chatter, but stories are like vessels. They carry ideas forward in a neat little package, but often they carry more than just the primary story we tell.
You see, every story also has a number of sub-messages wrapped around it, intertwined to the point that by telling one you by proxy have to share the other.
For example, if I tell a story about my vacation to an sandy beach in the Caribbean, I may spend most of my time focusing on the things we did and saw and experienced. You’d likely hear that story loud and clear.
But you’d also take away from that story a few sub-messages, some of which are true, and others that are only your perceptions of the story you heard. They could include:
- I like to travel, especially to someplace with a beach
- Going away on vacation helps me relax and enjoy life more
- Caribbean vacations are exciting
- I must be doing pretty well to afford a beach vacation
- I think you should go on a beach vacation too
Did I mean for you to take away any of that from a simple story about my vacation? Likely not. In fact, some of the items above are flat out false, but your perception that they are true is all that matters.
And like a Trojan horse, that sub-message rides hidden within the story and begins to change how we see the world.
So how can you use this to get others to jump behind your idea or product?
Your job is to build a Trojan Horse narrative within a story that people want to tell. People are more likely to share a memorable story than a list of technical facts and features about a product.
There are some great examples of companies that have used stories and sub-messages to drive conversations about their brands. The story of Subway and Jared (“Our subs can help you get healthy!”) or Dove and their Evolution campaign (“We care about women and real beauty”).
So what story do you plan to tell? How will you tell it?
Do you want to move your message from Common to Contagious? Keep an eye on future posts in this series as we delve into Berger’s 6 STEPPS for why things catch on.