Berger’s Six ‘STEPPS’ for Creating Viral Marketing Content

By Gabrielle Diepenbrock, Account Support

While it seems like a successful viral marketing campaign relies mainly on luck and timing, creative content plays a critical role in what makes things go viral. In the book Contagious, Professor Jonah Berger explored this idea and discovered six characteristics of viral marketing content. The acronym for these six characteristics is STEPPS.

Social Currency

A lot of viral marketing content holds valuable information so people feel good about themselves when they share it – it makes them look good to share it. An example would be the ASL Ice Bucket Challenge. People feel good when they are standing with a cause – like increasing the awareness of ASL.

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A trigger is emphasizing something that is easy to remember about a product or idea that helps keep it top of mind. An example would be the ‘The Will it Blend’ viral videos where the founder of Blendtec blends random and obscure things to demonstrate the blender’s power.  For each video, the products he blends acts as a trigger. When he blended the iPhone and rake, people are reminded of the Blendtec blender when they see these two different items.

viral videos

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Other common examples would be associating a product or brand with a certain song or jingle.


The strongest and most effective brands are the ones that use messaging that speak beyond a person’s intellect and elicit an emotional response. When brands are able to stir emotion, they become more meaningful to that person. A great example of a brand using emotion would be the beer company Guinness with their ad that demonstrates meaningful friendship.

You can watch the ad below or at:


The idea with public is that whatever you are making, it needs to be created to show. Are you creating content that a person in your target audience would be comfortable sharing? Is your brand’s image consistent enough in all avenues to make a strong, public image? An example would be Apple’s clean and consistent branding. Whatever they do, they make sure it has the Apple look.

Practical Value

Are you telling the consumer why your product or your brand offers practical solutions to their daily lives? One example would be the iPhone commercials. In these commercials, iPhone shows the practicality of FaceTime. Mom and/or dads can remain in contact with their loved ones while away, whether it is because they are in the army, on a business trip, etc.


People remember stories. They just do. If you ask someone to repeat mathematical formulas they learned ten years ago or a movie they watched as a kid, they will (probably, for the most part) have a much easier time telling you about the movie. The gum brand Extra does a really good job telling a story between a father and daughter in this ad:

Usually viral campaigns do not have all six of these characteristics, but they usually have at least 3-4 of them. Marketing content can be a powerful and effective way for your target audience to engage with your brand, and here are six strategic ways to make sure you get the most bang out of your buck.

Book Citation:

Berger, Jonah. Contagious. London: Simon & Schuster, 2013. Print.

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