Marie Forleo introduction


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Marie: Hey, it’s Marie Forleo, and you are watching Marie TV, the place to be to create a business and life you love. Got a question for you. Have you ever wondered why some pieces of content go viral and others not so much? If you thought it was about massive creativity or just dumb luck, think again. Because my guest today is going to show you a scientific formula for making your ideas and your products spread like wildfire. Jonah Berger is the New York Times bestselling author of Contagious, Why Things Catch On. He’s received awards for both scholarship and teaching, including being named Wharton’s Iron Professor in recognition of awesome faculty research. He received his PhD from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Jonah’s published dozens of articles in top-tier academic journals, and popular accounts of his work have appeared in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Science, Harvard Business Review, Wired, Business Week, and Fast Company.

Marie: Jonah, thank you so much for being on Marie TV.

Jonah: Thank you so much for having me.

Marie: Okay, I got to ask. Before we get into all the good stuff of Contagious, what does being the Iron Prof really mean? Do you have big guns, is it-

Marie: Every day. At the gym morning until night. No, Iron Prof is basically you give a five minute lecture, 15 slides, 20 seconds a slide. They auto advance, you don’t get to control it. And at the end the students vote. And so it was 600, 700 students, and I squeaked by just two votes ahead of the other person. So I was the Iron Prof, it’s a very exciting title.

Jonah: That’s awesome. I was thinking is he like the iron chef? But I like this, very good.

Marie: I’m good at cooking but not that good.

Jonah: Okay. All right, so now let’s get to the real deal. So in Contagious you talk about six principles that help make our ideas spread like wildfire. And one of the most interesting ones to me was “social currency.” What does that mean and how can we use it?

Marie: The idea of social currency is just like the car we drive, or the clothes we wear, what we say affects how other people see us. So we want to say things that make us look smart and in the know, rather than not so smart and behind the times. So for example, a few months ago you might’ve gotten an email in your inbox from LinkedIn saying, “Hey, you are one of the top influencers on the site, one of the top 5% or 10% of profiles.” Lots of people got this email. They felt really good. They patted themselves on the back, but they didn’t just feel good. They shared it with others. They bragged to other people, “Look at me, I’m special on LinkedIn. I have this honor. Look at how great I am.” But notice that in talking about themselves, they also talked about LinkedIn. LinkedIn got to come along for the ride. By making them feel special, smart, and in the know, they shared it with other people and LinkedIn got to be part of the conversation.

Marie: And so the idea of social currencies, if you can make people feel like insiders, that they have something not everyone else has, or give them something remarkable, lots of online videos you see, the more remarkable it is, the more likely you are to share. People share it because it makes them look good.

Jonah: Right. So we have to think about, I guess in our businesses or for whatever idea we want to spread, how can we help our customers or prospects feel like insiders, and how can we help them feel cool amongst their peers and amongst the world at large.

Marie: And I think this is actually, if you’re a small business it’s pretty easy, because you start to know your customers really well. That’s actually your advantage over a large business. You see your customers. If you’re a coffee shop, you know who comes in on Wednesdays or who always orders a triple macchiato something or another. And so by making them feel special, you can get them to talk. Make them say hi by name rather than just greeting them as an anonymous customer, have their drink ready to go, know what they like and dislike. Making them feel special, like they’re an insider, like they have something not everyone else has, will make them want to talk and share.

Jonah: Yeah, I have to share. I just came back from a trip from Italy, and I was thinking about the last hotel I stayed at. They knew our names and actually it was this tiny little town called Pienza, and we made a reservation for a place outside of the hotel for dinner. And one of the women that worked there was so concerned that I wouldn’t get to the right place, she just wanted to make sure, that she actually ran to the restaurant to make sure that we arrived okay. And then the people I was having dinner with, we all talked about it, and again, I’m talking about it right here. It was this little townhouse called La Bandita, but I felt so taken care of, and so like a VIP, that I wanted to tell everyone of all the hotels I stayed at in Italy, it was like they made me feel the most special.

Marie: Yeah. Or even giving people something for free, same thing. If you feel like, “Wow, I’m different from everybody else,” you want to tell others. It makes you feel good about yourself. But the brand gets to come along as part of that conversation.

Jonah: Love it. Okay, so let’s move on to another principle that you teach, which is called “Triggers, Top of Mind, Tip of Tongue,” which could be a tongue twister in and of itself. What are we talking about when we talk about triggers?

Marie: The idea of triggers is simple, but it’s often one we don’t really get. I think we sort of understand social currency. Oh, make people feel good. They’ll talk about us. Triggers is a little more nuanced. And a great way to explain it, remember the video that was popular a couple of years ago. Rebecca Black had this song, Friday.

Jonah: Oh my God, Friday. It was all over the place. It was, one of most viral videos of 2011. 300 million people viewed that video. Why? Right, people hate that song. No one likes it. They say, Oh, it’s terrible. It’s about a 16 year old girl. Why would anyone share this? But why did it do so well? If you look at the data, if you look at the number of people searching for Rebecca Black over time, it’s actually quite neat. You see a spike, and then it goes down. And then you see another spike, and then it goes down. And then you see another spike, and then it goes down. If you look closer, the spikes aren’t random. They’re every seven days. And if you look even closer, you’ll notice that they’re every Friday. The song is equally bad every day of the week, right? It’s bad on Monday, bad on Tuesday, bad on Wednesday. But Friday is a ready reminder, because that was the same name as the song, what psychologists would call a trigger to make people think about it and talk about it.

Jonah: Because again, if something in the environment reminds us of something, we’re much more likely to share it. If I said “peanut butter and” for example you might say…

Marie: Peanut butter jelly, peanut butter jelly. Someone made a peanut butter jelly video for us. So they made a song.

Jonah: Yeah, but it made you think of jelly, and then it was just think of the song. But peanut butter is like a little advertisement almost for jelly, right? Even though I never said the word jelly, the fact that I said peanut butter made you think about jelly, and the fact that I said those two things together made you think about the song. And so that’s what a trigger is. If you see something in the environment, maybe you see a friend of yours and it reminds you of a story you meant to tell them, or you smell something and it reminds you of your grandma’s fresh baked cookies. These triggers that make us think about things but also make us talk and share.

Marie: You know, it’s interesting when I was reading about triggers in Contagious, and even listening to you now, I think that we’ve built in even to Marie TV, our own trigger. Because outside of interviews, what we often do is called a Q and A Tuesday. And so every single Tuesday is when we publish our new Marie TV episode.

Jonah: Oh, that’s great.

Marie: And so people have now, and they tweet at us and they Facebook us and just say, “Oh my God, Tuesdays are the day that we get to see Marie TV.” So we’ve kind of created our own little trigger with Tuesdays.

Jonah: And so it’s really important to think what are you going to link yourself to in the environment? You’ve done a great job of linking yourself to Tuesday. If I’m a hair salon, or I’m an accountant, or I’m a coach, what can I link myself to so that every time people see that thing, they think about me? It doesn’t have to be the biggest thing in the world. It doesn’t have to be a day of the week. It can be something in their environment. If I’m a fitness coach, well what at the gym are they going to see to remind them, “Oh yeah, I got to go sign up for an appointment.” If I’m a real estate agent or I’m a dog walker, what’s the thing they’re going to see that goes, “Oh yeah, I have to call this person and set up an appointment.” Making sure you’re linked to something in the environment. Even if we like something, we don’t always buy it if we’re not thinking about it. And so it’s really important to make sure we’re connected or triggered by something in that environment.

Jonah: So another great example of triggers, you might’ve seen it recently, Geico has these fantastic ads out, where it’s “happier than” right, so there’s one of “happier than Dracula at a blood drive,” and he’s like, “ahaha.” Or you’re “happier than the Pillsbury Dough Boy on his way to a baking convention.” He’s like, “Yay.” But there’s also one recently with a camel. There’s a camel walking around the office going, “Guess what day it is, guys? Hey, guess what day it is?” And everyone’s trying to ignore him. And then finally someone goes, “It’s hump day.” And he’s “Yeah, it’s hump day!” right? And happier than a camel on hump day.

Jonah: But what’s really neat, it’s funny, very funny. You should go watch it, it’s great. But if you check out online, if you look at the search traffic for Geico, you see a big spike now every Wednesday.

Marie: Really?

Jonah: They were getting beaten by Progressive before, but now every Wednesday they’re doing better than Progressive, because people are thinking about them every Wednesday. Because they say hump day reminds them of the camel ad, reminds them of Geico, reminds them to go check it out. And so that’s triggers at work. Thinking about what’s in the environment, what’s in your context you can link yourself to, to make sure consumers are thinking about you.

Marie: Fricking awesome. So next thing I want to talk about Jonah, one of the questions I get asked so much, it’s such a hot topic, is around pricing. Should we discount? Shouldn’t we discount? So professor Berger, can you school us on the “rule of 100?”

Jonah: The rule of 100 is very simple, but it’s really important. It’s in the chapter on practical value. And I think many people often have the same issue you mentioned with discounts. Well, do I want to discount my thing? I don’t want to seem like I’m cheap, and JC Penny, they were doing discounts all the time, and then no one shop there anymore, because they got rid of their discounts, but they were saying do we have too many discounts. The key with discounts is making people feel like they’re getting something special. If this is an opportunity I have to take, it’s not going to be around forever. I really want this discount. The rule of 100 is very simple.

Jonah: Let’s use let’s say a $20 t-shirt, right? Simple example. You could have 25% off, which would be a $15 for the tee shirt, or you could have $5 off. Everyone agrees that’s the same amount of money, right? 25% off, $5 off. A little math, calculator’s working, but it’s the same. But does it seem the same from the consumer? It doesn’t. Even though those are identical in terms of monetary value, to the consumer, they seem different. To the consumer, 25% off seems like a better deal. Whereas actually if it’s over a hundred dollars it flips. So if we’re selling like a $2,000 laptop, let’s say, or a $2,000 coaching session, if it’s 25% off, that would be $500 off. Same amount of money. But they are, the 500 is bigger, seems bigger than the 25%. and so the rule of 100 says is well, if I’m going to discount, let me use a certain type of discount, either money off or percentage off to make that same discount seem bigger, based on whether it’s larger or smaller than a hundred dollars.

Jonah: And you can do the same thing with any numerical information. So maybe you’re talking about how many customers you’ve gained this year, how much revenue has grown, how you’ve changed something. You want to represent in a way that seems larger rather than smaller. And so using that rule of 100 will help you frame the discount to make it seem like a better deal.

Marie: I think that’s one of the most genius things, because positioning really is everything and how you frame just what you’re talking about. And also I think you just made some really great points in the book, which you all have to just go out and get to read. But there was another story you told, we don’t have to get into details here, but just about how pricing things and putting things next to each other, if there’s something really expensive, and then all of a sudden you know something right next to it doesn’t look quite as bad, you’re like, “Oh, I’m getting a great deal.” However, if it was existing on its own, not next to the more expensive thing, people are like, “No way. It’s too much.”

Jonah: Yeah, there’s a great story, and I don’t actually think I told it in the book, but a great story about, I think it’s Williams and Sonoma, with a bread maker. And so they had this bread maker, and I don’t remember it was a few hundred dollars, and it wasn’t selling very well. But then they introduced this new bread maker that was twice as expensive. And nobody bought the really expensive bread maker, but it actually increased the sales of the cheaper bread maker. And you would say, “Well, why does introducing another option increase your sales?” If anything, it should split people, right? Less people should buy the cheaper one. But it changed the way people saw the cheaper one. Suddenly it made the cheaper one seemed like a really good deal, whereas before it wasn’t.

Jonah: And that’s the key with deals. No one knows how much something should cost. Right? How much should a haircut cost? I don’t know. Maybe $30, $40, $20, $80? I don’t have a reference point. And so by giving people a reference point, by using your set of options or other informations to help them figure out whether something’s a good deal or not, you convey that information and help them decide.

Marie: Fricking awesome. All right, so moving on. I’m curious, since you’ve written this book, and again, there’s tons of great stories in there, but have you heard reports from either readers or companies that have consciously used your six principles to help their ideas become more shareable and more spreadable and more viral?

Jonah: Definitely. So one thing I’ve done a lot since the book has come out is actually do workshops for companies. So a couple weeks ago I was over at Purina in St Louis. I did something for Vanguard, I did some work with Google. And all these companies are interested, “Okay, we’ve got these steps, but how do we apply them? How do we put them into work? It’s great that they’re science. It’s great that you spent 10 years studying this stuff, but I don’t really care about that. I want to use it.”

Jonah: And that’s the key for your listeners also. Okay, the science is good, but how can I apply? And so I spent a lot of time thinking about how to apply the science, baked some of it into the book, but also have helped lots of companies do this. So I got an email actually just late last week saying, “Hey, all thanks for this framework. We use it. And we increased the number of people talk about us on Facebook by 400%,” a company called Photobucket. They were doing things before, they were doing posts, using social media, but it just wasn’t really working for them.

Jonah: And so now they’ve engineered their posts based on the framework. You know, the E for emotion, they’ve dialed up the emotion they’re using, but figuring the right emotions rather than the wrong ones. Discounts, they’re framing those discounts using the rule of 100. Social currency, they make some people feel special. With Vanguard, I was talking about, now they call their customers clients. You’re my client. That seems sort of special. But if I called you a member, well suddenly, now it seems much more special, than just being a client. A client is, you’re over there and I’m over here. If I’m a member, we’re part of the same team. I feel much more special. And so even using the language that they use to communicate ideas can be really key. So it’s been amazing to see companies using these ideas and really helping their products and ideas take off.

Marie: I love that. So the final thing I want to ask you today, because we have so many aspiring authors and authors in our audience, and you have this incredible class which your book is based on and you’ve taken over a decade of research, and you put it into a book. And I also have read that you used one of my favorite techniques, reverse engineering that helped you kind of take all of these ideas and figure out how to formulate it in a book. So any lessons from the trenches, just it’s a New York Times bestseller. Anything that you’d want to share with someone who’s thinking about writing a book or writing their next book?

Jonah: I think it’s really important to have a kernel, a short version of a message that’s easy to communicate. So one of my favorite examples actually didn’t make it in the book, but it’s a new one. There’s a bar near my house that’s sort of a high end cocktail bar, and they have no red bull, no vodka, but egg white this and chrysanthemum flavor that, and all sorts of high-end cocktails. But they’re dozens of similar bars. So how do they cut through the clutter? How do they make sure they stick out? Well, they did something really clever. They have three types of ice.

Jonah: And as soon as you hear that you go three types of ice. I didn’t even know there were types of ice. The ice in my freezer looks very similar to the ice in your freezer, looks very similar the ice I get. There are three types of ice, what are they? You want to know more, right? What are those three types of ice? And it turns out one is this cube block of ice that’s stirred from the bottom up. It has no bubbles. Another’s these small chips that sort of form together and melt in a certain way. But they have different types of ice for different types of drinks, because depending on the drink you’re drinking, you want different sorts of melting, right? You want faster melting or slower melting.

Jonah: Now that’s a great story. It’s remarkable. You want to learn more about it, but it does something else interesting. If you know there’s a bar that has three types of ice, you know they must care about drinks. That’s a story that proves their point. It’s like a Trojan horse story like I talk about in the book. And so I think the same thing as an author, you want to have a message that’s remarkable, that cuts through the clutter, that opens up that curiosity gap. And it’s a story that carries your message for the ride. There are thousands of books out there. It’s been amazing for me trying to market this book. There’s lots of other books there on word of mouth or social media, but cutting through the clutter is tough. And we’ve done well, we sold 50,000 copies so far, we’re on the Times bestseller list. Really exciting. But in terms of how to do that, we had to figure out what’s that key message and how to sharpen that message in a way that everyone would remember.

Jonah: And so what I would say to your audience, is what are your three types of ice, right? What’s your memorable message that everyone’s going to remember, they’re going to want to know more about, they’re going to want to hear the rest of that story and will carry you for the ride. The book industry is really tough. A lot of it’s about getting a good advance, but your publisher not only has to like the story, they have to be able to sell that story internally, and they have to be able to sell it to Barnes and Noble, and to sell it to everybody else. And so they have to have something they can remember and share. And three types of ice is a great way to do that. So figuring out those three types of ices is really key.

Marie: Jonah, thank you so much for being here. Hang out one second before I let you go. Jonah is amazing, but he’s got so much more to offer you, especially a free workbook that is at his site, Jonah We’re going to put a link below this. You got to make sure and get that, because it’s going to help you take all the incredible ideas from Contagious and put them to use, put them to action into your business right now. So one of the things we like to do on Marie TV is we like to help our viewers turn their insight into action. So here’s our challenge for you today. What’s the single biggest insight that you’re taking away from this interview? And more importantly, what’s the action step that you’re going to take in your business? I want to hear about it in the comments below.

Marie: Jonah, thanks for being here, buddy.

Jonah: Thanks for having me.

Marie: High five. Freaking rocking. As always, the best discussions happen after the episode over at, so go there and leave a comment now. Did you like this video? If so, subscribe and share it with your friends. And if you want even more great resources to create a business and life that you love, plus some personal insights from me that I only talk about in email, get your buns over to and sign up for email updates. Stay on your game and keep going for your dreams, because the world needs that special gift that only you have. Thank you so much for watching and I’ll catch you next time on Marie TV.

Marie: Everybody likes burgers. Who doesn’t like a good burger? [inaudible 00:00:16:54].

Jonah: And they would do an exercise in my class and they typed in my name and they were like, “You’re not doing so well, you should release a sex tape.” And I was like, “Oh God, just what I need, right?

Marie: What about a little of this? Arms out and in, and this is all you get.

Jonah: I’ve a reputation to uphold.

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