Jonah Berger employs an interesting marketing maneuver at the very end of the “advance reader’s edition” for his new book, Contagious. On the last page, the publisher invites anyone cool enough to receive an advance copy to request another for a friend, loved one or colleague—anyone who might be interested in the topic of viral marketing, or anyone you might want to impress. Simon & Schuster would then mail a complimentary copy to them. What makes it interesting is not necessarily that Simon & Schuster would give away so many copies. It’s that they are employing the very same tactics that Berger, Wharton’s James G. Campbell Assistant Professor of Marketing, promotes in his book to make products and ideas spread.

Prof. Jonah Berger

Prof. Jonah Berger

Written in a prose that flows almost as fast as Berger talks in real life, Contagious offers a heaping portion of insight into as few pages as necessary. The gist is that the conventional wisdom of how things spread by word of mouth and go viral is wrong. The idea that a few “influencers,” “exceptional people” and “connectors” drive the tastes and attentions of the masses—made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point—is not necessarily true.

Instead, after more than a decade of research, Berger has found that contagious ideas, products, videos, social media campaigns and the like tend to spread because they have some or all of six key ingredients. Contagious releases on March 5, but if you cannot wait until then—or have not received the advance copy that I requested for you—a quick snapshot of the six principles is below:

Social Currency: Encourage people to talk about your product by making them seem smart and cool by doing so. People love to talk about themselves, and they love to appear smart and cool.

Public: Given the cliché “monkey see, monkey do,” it makes sense that products and ideas easy to observe in public are easier to spread.CONTAGIOUS-cover-LG

Triggers: Make it easy for people to share your product or idea with others long into the future; remind them with environmental triggers, associating your product or idea with a time of day—lunch, for instance—or sunny weather.

Emotions: Evoke the right blend of “high arousal” emotions, good and bad, from your target audience, and they will talk about you.

Practical Value: Your product must deliver real value, and that value must be easy to identify and share with others.

Stories: Package your marketing message in a story. People love to tell and hear stories. Keep in mind that your story only makes sense if your marketing message is wrapped into it.

These six ingredients—per Berger’s acronym, STEPPS—give hope to those of us who don’t have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers or pay a millionaire celebrity for promotion. Then again, even STEPPS does not ensure viral success. We’ll try them out here at the Wharton Blog Network, though. Let us know how they work.