Contagious: The Power of Triggers

The power of triggers.It’s time to pull the trigger on Jonah Berger’s second step in making a message contagious.

So far, we’ve discussed word-of-mouth prevalence and the use of social currency, both based on what “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” had to say. This week, let’s look at the T in the STEPPS acronym: trigger. While social currency deals with what gets people talking, triggers are what keep people talking.

Berger shares that “American consumers mention specific brands more than 3 billion times a day. This kind of social talk is almost like breathing. It’s so basic and frequent that we don’t even realize we’re doing it.” So, it’s not unusual to discuss brands and messages.

But why do some messages get talked about more than others?

Well, it has to deal with triggers and what we are thinking about. “Top of the mind means tip of the tongue,” said Berger. Meaning, we talk about what comes to mind. We discuss what we are thinking about. And if something, whether it is a topic or a product, is at the forefront of our mind, we’re going to talk about it. So, how do you get your brand/product/Box to the top of peoples’ minds?

Through triggers. All around us are sights, smells and sounds that can stimulate, or trigger, various ideas and thoughts.

For instance, when I say summertime and barbecues, what do you think of? Hot dogs were probably in there somewhere. Connecting a brand, idea or product with a trigger that is often thought or talked about raises the chances your brand, idea or product will be thought or talked about.

And while making a message or brand interesting is our “default tendency” said Berger, that’s not always the best option: “Think about whether the message will be triggered by the everyday environments of the target audience.” Even though it might be interesting, if it doesn’t have frequent triggers, it won’t last long in popularity. It’s like why Cheerios are discussed more than Disney World: Breakfast happens every morning for everyone. Going to Florida and seeing Mickey Mouse only happens once a year, if that. Cheerios are triggered by a frequent stimulus while Disney World isn’t, even if it is more interesting.

So a good trigger equals frequency … most of the time! There are some triggers that are too frequent, like the color red; people already associate red with roses, apples, Coca Cola, etc. You need to find a frequent yet original trigger.

What can you use to trigger people’s thoughts to come back to your Box business? How can your message be triggered on a daily basis? While “triggers and cues lead people to talk, choose and use,” it’s up to you to find and place those triggers accordingly.

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at