SPS 186: Contagious; How To Make Your Book Catch On & Go Viral with Jonah Berger

Posted on Jan 28, 2023

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Chandler Bolt [00:00:02] Hey, Chandler Bolt here. And joining me today is Jonah Berger. Jonah is a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s also the international bestselling author of the book Contagious. Maybe you’ve heard of it Why Things Catch On. If you’re watching on the YouTube channel, you can see the orange cover on the top left. And then also the book, Invisible Influence. Again, if you’re watching on the YouTube channel, you can see that blue cover, Invincible, Invincible, Invisible Influence. And then his most recent book, The Catalyst How to Change Anyone’s Mind. His books have sold over a million copies and are in print in over 35 countries. I’ve probably talked about his book, Contagious to tens of thousands of people on webinars and trainings and all that. When we talk about increasing the viral coefficient of your book. How do you turn books at one book sale and a mini book sale? So who better to break it down and just go behind the scenes on his journey and all that than the man himself said, Jonah, welcome. Great to have you here.

Jonah Berger [00:01:03] Thanks so much for having me.

Chandler Bolt [00:01:05] Yeah. So I guess for starters, why books? This is like a big part of your brain, your business, your life. My books?

Jonah Berger [00:01:14] Yeah. You know, when I was in college, my grandmothers. Grandmothers often do recommended a book to me called The Tipping Point. Many of you are probably familiar with that book. It’s one of Malcolm Gladwell’s first books and some some would say his most famous book. Others. There’s like different books. But that book certainly very much changed my life. So at the time, I was interested in social psychology. I was interested in marketing in some related things, but I didn’t really understand how they fit together. And that book sort of crystallized for me how these different disciplines could come together and really shed light on an interdisciplinary topic of why things become popular. So I read that book. I designed a major in college to mix social psychology and sociology of networks and marketing and really started trying to study academically why things become popular. Gladwell’s book is a great book. It brings together disparate streams of research, but there really hadn’t been a lot of academic work in that space, and so really tried to start doing research in that space. A professor just come to Stanford by the name of Chip Heath, who you guys made similar with, who wrote, Made to and decisive in a number of other books. Started working with him on why urban legends become popular and sort of started my academic career in the space doing very much academic research. And I always thought, you know, wouldn’t it be neat one day once I’d actually done some academic research to be able to write a book about it? And so I sort of shelved that in the back of my mind and went through an academic career. I did a Ph.D. at Stanford in marketing. I started teaching at the Wharton School in Marketing, and I started teaching there. I put together a class called Contagious How Products, Ideas and Behaviors Catch On. Really teaching about some of these interdisciplinary things that I found quite interesting that I thought students would find useful and taught to undergrads and MBAs and executives and became quite a popular course, was oversubscribed, not afraid to take it. People started asking for the syllabus. They started asking if they could get readings, and some people started saying, You know, these readings you’re giving, they’re interesting. But like, isn’t there a more dynamic, accessible way to get the course? And I started thinking, oh, you know, interesting. I wonder if this could be something beyond a course I teach and could be something like like a book. And so that’s really what started the journey for me. I wasn’t I wasn’t thinking, I’ll be an author. I wasn’t thinking I’m a writer. I don’t I don’t see myself as a writer. But we just wanted to enable more people to access this content and these ideas beyond the folks that could take the class or happened to be able to to get in the room if it was available. And so books were sort of just a way to take the ideas and and introduce them to a larger audience.

Chandler Bolt [00:03:57] I love that you’re touching on a couple of concepts that we believe in, which is when books change lives, they change the lives of readers, but also authors.

Jonah Berger [00:04:07] Change my life, for.

Chandler Bolt [00:04:08] Sure. They do. And then and then you talked about of scaling beyond the classroom, which is you can kind of see the sign above my head. It’s we talk about leveraged impact, the ability to crystallize your work into a book. And then that book goes on to impact thousands, tens of thousands, maybe even millions of people. Right. And as your books have done and it’s it’s interesting even to see like I’m on your Amazon page with all of your books and the customers also buy Malcolm Gladwell a big part of your story. Dan, he he it’s fun to see the crossover there.

Jonah Berger [00:04:41] Yeah, certainly. Yeah.

Chandler Bolt [00:04:43] So tell me. So your first book was kind of your or at least that I know of was the breakout book with Contagious and that you just talked about and I mean, just has done really well. And it’s kind of a meta example of the book contained. Just talks about why things catch on. Why do you think that book, Connor?

Jonah Berger [00:05:06] You know, I remember I was fortunate enough to have an article come out around when the book was released. It was a a piece in Fast Company, and it sort of was sort of talking about the research I had done and sort of the book coming out. And there was a note at the end that said, you know, if he knows about why things catch on and his book doesn’t catch on, it be a failure and doesn’t make The New York Times, you know, listed at best book list or bestsellers list. It would be a failure. And so I, I very much felt like, oh, man, I hope this book does well. You know, in thinking about why the book did well, I think there are a few reasons. So. So, one, I think it solved a problem that many people had. And in startup land, people often talk about vitamins and painkillers. So they talk about, you know, is a certain app, is a certain product, is it a vitamin or a painkiller? And what a what do they mean by that? Well, a vitamin is a nice to have. It would be great to have this. I know I should be taking my vitamins. I don’t need to take my right. Where whereas a painkiller like if I’m in pain, I’m going to go reach for that ibuprofen. I’m going to go reach for that Tylenol. It’s not a it’s not just a nice to have. It’s a need to have. And so they talk a lot about, you know, how can you make sure your product is a need to have as a painkiller or find the set of consumers for which it is a painkiller? And so I think the same is true when it comes to books. You know, I think often authors write about what they know about and that’s a good thing. And there are different goals one can have for writing about a book and certainly writing about something that you know about is good because you know about it. And so you have something to say. That said, there may be things you know about that not a lot of other people are interested in. And so one question, I think as an author or as anyone, as you know, we talk a lot in marketing being customer focus, you know, who is that customer and what does that customer need? Because if you’re writing a book for yourself, then write it about whatever topic you want, right? Because it’s, it’s for you. It’s in some sense an opportunity for you to express your ideas and put them down on a page. If, on the other hand, you’re hoping that people will buy the book, well, then you need to think a little bit about who are those people, right? Who is that customer? What does that customer need and why would that customer want to buy this book? And so that gets back to the ideas of vitamins and painkillers. And I think, you know, Contagious was very fortunate to come out at a time. I mean, I didn’t write Contagious about social media. Sometimes people think, oh, you know, it’s about things going viral on the Internet, and it’s really about people sharing things, whether online or off. But it came along at a fortunate time where social media was getting more and more attention. Brands were realizing, wow, you know, word of mouth has been around forever. But I can see it online. I could see people talking about my product and service. And so maybe I should start thinking about word of mouth and and not only thinking about it, but how do I get more of it? And so it started to become more and more clear that word of mouth mattered. I’m now we all realize word of mouth matters, but it’s less clear how to get it. And I think that’s really where contagious was a painkiller. Right. It came in and said, look, you know, you have a problem. You’re a small business, you’re a large business, you’re a for profit. You’re a nonprofit. You want to grow. You want to get more customers. You want to sell more stuff where you can get your ideas to catch on. To do that, you don’t have to have a big advertising budget. You don’t have to, you know, be a multimillion dollar company. You just have to get those customers to talk and share. But how do you do that? That’s a problem lots of people have. And so contagious, I think, was a tool that help solve that problem. And I think that’s one reason why it was so successful.

Chandler Bolt [00:08:37] And how did you use kind of some of the principles that you talk about in the book to to launch and market the book.

Jonah Berger [00:08:44] All sorts of different principles from the book. So, you know, the book talks a lot about social currency. So there’s a framework on a six, six key steps that drive people to talk and share. And Steps is an acronym. It stands for social currency triggers emotion is the public is the first P practical values, the second P and stories is the second S. And so I thought a lot about that framework and the ideas of the book when, when marketing it, right? So social currency is all about the idea that the better something makes us look, the more likely you are to talk about it and share it right? If something makes us a cool, smart and in the know we pass it along. If it doesn’t, we don’t. And so I said, okay, well how can there be some sort of facts and stories from the book that will travel because they make the people talking about them look good. So there’s you know, we tend to think that all word of mouth is online and indeed a chunk of it is. But a big chunk of word of mouth is actually offline. And when I wrote the book, around 7% of all word of mouth is online. That number has gone up recently, but it’s still not as high as one might think. But that’s a fact. When people hear it, they go, Oh my God, why? Only 7% is online. Most of were word of mouth is offline. I didn’t realize that. That’s something people want to share because it makes them look knowledgeable, but hopefully it carries that book along for the ride. People say, Where did you learn that? And. And they mention the book potentially triggers all about the idea of some he’s top of mind its tip of tongue. How can you link your product or idea to something in the environment? So books all about spreading ideas came out in March, which is cold and flu season. So we made some little orange tissues, which orange is the color of the book? That said, Don’t you wish your ideas were this contagious? And I would hand them out at events where I would do speaking. And so those are just a couple examples, but we thought a lot about how can we take the ideas, the book and apply them to marketing the book. And the publisher was also very nice to be willing to sort of play around with some of these ideas and and give me some leeway in sort of thinking about how to market it effectively.

Chandler Bolt [00:10:42] Got it. So you kind of talk about this this concept of a viral coefficient in the book. Can you explain what that is for people who don’t know? And it sounds like that’s kind of exactly what you were alluding to is crass. It sounds like you were really intentional about crafting a book in a way, the book in a way that it would be shareable and that in a way that that viral coefficient would be higher. So can you explain what that is and how you did it?

Jonah Berger [00:11:07] Sure. You know, we all see things that catch on products, services and ideas. There are books that become popular, movies that are blockbusters, apps that, you know, get a lot of attention. One question is why it’s not random, it’s not luck, it’s not chance. There’s really a science behind it. And as you talked about, some things are more likely to be shared. And what does that mean? Well, rather than having to spend advertising paid media to get people to find out you exist, write to pay, to put your message in front of them. The benefit of earned media word of mouth is that people can share your stuff for free. If someone mentions your book or your product to a friend or colleague, you don’t have to pay for that to happen. And so that allows you to go get a lot larger spread of your ideas with a lot lower budget. But that requires something being spread that requires someone to pass it on. And just like certain diseases are more contagious, you know, certain things are more likely to be caught by somebody else around, somebody who has it so covered, for example. Right. Particularly at the beginning, you know, COVID was very contagious. If you were around someone who had COVID and you didn’t have a mask on, you know, when you within those six feet, you were very likely to get COVID yourself. And so it’s very contagious. There are other diseases that are less contagious. They require, you know, physically shaking someone’s hand rather than just being near them or they require, you know, drinking from the same can of soda or water that someone else drank from it. So just like diseases can be more contagious, ideas can be more or less contagious. And that’s really what the viral coefficient talks about. I think a good way to think about as a batting average out of 100 people who buy your product to use your service, talk about your idea. You know how many of them are going to share it with someone else? Is it one person? Is it five people? Is it ten people? Is it 50 people? Is a hundred people? You can think about that as essentially a batting average, right. For every 100 people who hear about your thing are, you know, a third of them sharing it. So you batting averages 333 or a half of them sharing your batting average, 100% of them sharing it right. What percentage are passing your stuff on and the steps help you get that number to go higher? Right. So sure, advertise is a great way to sort of raise awareness. But once you’ve gotten that initial set of people who are aware you exist, the viral coefficient is going to drive whether or not it keeps catching on. And so those steps are really a great way to, to get that coefficient to be higher and get your idea out there to more people.

Chandler Bolt [00:13:32] Cool. So you talk about the steps acronym and you’ve given some examples. Anything else that comes to mind in terms of what you did to increase the viral coefficient either of contagios or books that you’ve done since then? Or or maybe one or two things that you think authors can do to increase the viral coefficient of their books.

Jonah Berger [00:13:52] Yeah. I mean, I think really the first thing and this is just marketing basics, but like start, start with understanding. Don’t start with yourself. Sorry. Let me let me step back for a second. Depends on what your goal is. If your goal is to write books, you feel free to ignore my advice. If your goal is to try to get people interested in your books, then I think you need to start with them. Right. And Shep, who is my advisor in graduate school, talked a lot about this. You know, sometimes it’s not about writing the book that is easiest for you to write. It’s about writing the book that other people want to read. Right. So really starting with that, starting with that understanding of of your audience, but then also think about, well, what is a problem that they have that they need help solving? You know, how can you not just be something they’re like, oh, man, you know, I wish that I had time for this, but I don’t. Versus something like, oh, man, you know, this is something I need and I have a problem that I need to solve. And so identifying that that need that people have that may not be solved by existing things out there is is another great way to to start. And I also think about, you know, the last episode of the Steps framework is stories. And I think a lot about Trojan Horse stories. Right. So good stories are not just in entertaining or educational, they’re vessels or carriers of information. So if you think about the boy who cried wolf, for example, famous old story. Right. What do you what do you learn from the boy who cried wolf? If you ever heard that story? What do you take away from it?

Chandler Bolt [00:15:21] If you just say things are happening all the time and they don’t actually happen, then no one’s going to listen to you.

Jonah Berger [00:15:26] Yeah. Lying is a bad idea. Would be the shortest way to say it. Yeah. Now, you know, if you have kids at home and you tell those kids, don’t lie, they go, sure, mom or dad, fine. And then they keep doing whatever they’re doing. You tell them the story of the boy who cried wolf. They’re like, And what happens to boy? What happens next? They’re engaged in the story, but along the way they learn that lying is a bad idea. And so. So in some sense, it’s proof by example, using a story to transmit an underlying idea. And that’s why I like the notion of a Trojan horse story. Right? Yeah. There’s an outside an educational or entertaining story, but inside is a product, an idea, a book that comes along for the ride. And so what is that story that’s going to carry your book along for the ride? I’ll give you a nice example. There’s an old great book, The Power of Habit, if your your viewers or listeners are probably familiar with. Charles Duhigg has this great book All About Habits and how habits work. But if you talk to most people who found out about this book, they tell a particular story. They tell the story of a target, you know, mailing, sending in the mail, some information about, you know, diapers and other things related to pregnancy to this this guy’s house. And he has a young daughter and he’s going, well, what do you mean? Why are you sending her the stuff you’re in? So he storms into Target with this flier saying, you know, you’re sending her pregnancy related things. You know, that’s clearly wrong. Why are you sending her this stuff? You’re definitely wrong. Why are you why are you doing this? And then and they’re saying, well, you know, we had some insight based on the things that she bought that she might be pregnant, were so sorry, apologize. And then a month later, he comes back and apologized like, actually, you were right, she was pregnant. It’s my fault. I was wrong. I’m really sorry about that. That’s a surprising story that he tells in that book. And sorry, Charles, if I’m mis misrepresenting your story, I’m sure I haven’t remembered it perfectly. But it’s this interesting story about kind of data and the use of big data to identify consumers and consumer problems and sift through data to provide insight. And that’s a great story that carries the idea of that book along for the ride. And so part of what launched that book was a great article in the New York Times Magazine that got a lot of attention, has a big audience that sees that. But then beyond just the people who saw it, a lot of people told that story because it’s interesting, amazing story. And the people went, well, where did you hear that story? People go, Oh, it’s in this book called The Power of Habit. So the story carries the book along for the ride.

Chandler Bolt [00:17:54] That’s great. That’s a really powerful this a really powerful story about how to make a book contagious. And I think zooming out a little bit, I see I look at stories and frameworks and because that same book. Right, using that same book as an example, I reference that book all the time, but I talk about the framework. It’s a routine reward, right? The habit loop. And then it’s like, oh, maybe you’ve heard this habit loop thing. It’s from this book, The Power of Habit. And here’s the thing. And so it feels like those are kind of two powerful flip sides, maybe of the same coin that you can use. Sounds like you can use that in Contagious with the Steps framework. And I would assume there was a there was a story illustration along with that.

Jonah Berger [00:18:37] Yeah. I mean, I think just as you’re saying, you want to build something that’s on a bull that tracks back to you. So I think about this a lot. I think about language. Right. So like, what are the terms in the book if you’re writing a, you know, pop science book and those two things, what are the terms? Are ideas are using or if it’s just stories, what are those things that will track people back to you? Not just it’s an engaging story because engaging stories great. But if people don’t remember where they heard it or they don’t remember that it has to do with you write, it’s not going to be very helpful for for your book. And so part of it’s not just like what’s a great story, but what’s a great story that brings your idea along for the ride. What’s a great framework, you know that the trigger habit reward loop thing. Oh, that’s interesting idea. Okay, I’m going to take that with me if I’m in business and then I’m going to present that in a meeting and someone’s going to go, Oh, really? Cool. Where did you come up with that? I’m like a power of habit. And then that’s a, you know, a word of mouth event for that book. And so really think about what am I building that’s going to connect back to what I’ve created.

Chandler Bolt [00:19:36] Mm hmm. That’s cool. That’s really good. One last thing. I’d maybe Cheryl Navarro coefficient and then if you have anything else you want to share, then we can move on to some other things. It’s a buddy of mine how our guide wrote a book called The Miracle Morning and he, he, he references you. And one thing that he did in his book that he’s a big believer in is just having some sort of actionable challenge with a partner. And so you need an accountability partner. And for him, it’s the American Morning Challenge for whatever it is, seven days, 30 days, and then building that accountability into the book and then also building share ability. If you want to go implement this, here’s an action step. Share this book with someone so that they can hold you accountable. And then now you’re increasing that viral coefficient.

Jonah Berger [00:20:21] Yeah. And I really like. But there are two pieces I heard of what you said. Right? One is a challenge, but notice that’s just a personal challenge. Maybe nobody hears about it, right? So this gets into the public that I talk about in the book, the second P, sorry, the first P, but like you may have a toothbrush that you use all the time. I use it every day, maybe even twice a day. But nobody knows which toothbrush you use because it’s in your house, in your bathroom, in your cabinet. Right? Whereas if you wear a certain pair of sunglasses or you wear a certain pair of shoes or, you know, you drive a certain car, other people see it because they see you doing it. They can use it as a source of information. And so too often things are private. To help them spread. We need to make them public, we make them more observable. And so I love that idea of sort of an accountability partner when I’ve taken something that might just be private, me doing a challenge and you’ve made it public right now I have to talk to somebody else about it. Now, at least I’m going to share that book with one other person. Maybe they’ll do a challenge and they’ll share it with a different person, right? But the more social you can bake into what you’re doing, the more you can make it. Not a private activity, but a public activity, not an individual activity, but inter-personal activity. The more it’s going to spread by design.

Chandler Bolt [00:21:31] Hmm. That’s really great. That’s awesome. So we’ve talked a lot about your book Contagious, and then obviously you’ve got Invisible Influence launched in 2016. You’ve got the Catalyst launched in 2020, and then you’ve got a book coming up. What? Are there any outside of the barrel coefficient which I just love and I think it’s, it’s so important because so many people think about lunch week or like how do you market the book? And like you said, if you, if you market it and then there’s a poor viral coefficient where it doesn’t have a long tail to that book and it’s not going to continue to sell. So like this is an underutilized piece that I think no one talks about. It’s so important that otherwise you’re just pouring water into a leaky bucket.

Jonah Berger [00:22:14] Certainly. And I think a lot, just as you said, a lot of authors think about launch week. Everyone’s like, I got to make it big on launch week. And I remember for Contagious came out, I was talking to Chip and I think someone else and they were mentioning how like Made to Stick was still selling thousands of copies a year. Like, I don’t know, five, seven years after it came out. And I was like, that’s the goal, right? The goal is not just to have people love your book when it comes out and then it disappears, but like, how can you be selling hundreds if not thousands of copies years after it comes out? And, you know, we’re we’re sitting here in 2022 at the moment, which is nine years after Contagios came out. And it’s still selling close to 1000 copies a month. So that’s what make me proud. It’s like the launch week was good and it wasn’t as good as maybe some other books was pretty good. But we’re still, still selling a thousand copies almost a month over, almost ten years later. And so that suggests something about the power of the ideas and really think about that long tail and that is going to last.

Chandler Bolt [00:23:10] Yeah, that’s great. You talked about the launch week a little bit. Was there two or three things that that worked well? And this gives you the launch week of contagious. This even could be launch launch weeks on books since then anything you recommend.

Jonah Berger [00:23:23] You know, I wish I could tell you that I had good enough analytics to be able to know exactly what mattered. And then I think the second problem is because I’ve heard people be like, Oh, you know, it would be great. Like, you know, get a get a front page article in the Wall Street Journal, my gal. Okay, that’s true. Clearly great. But like, how do we get that right? So so knowing something but not having the ability to get it isn’t necessarily I think I think useful. What I would say is and I know Taylor Swift now has an album out recently and I, I always look at what she does around launch and it’s not just her but I use her as example is you know she and her team are not playing checkers they’re playing chess. And what do I mean by that? Well, checkers is really a game where you can’t think too many moves ahead. Right. You make a move, someone else makes a move, then you make an excellent chess is a game. The really good chess players and I’m not a very good chess player, but I have friends who know something about chess. I mean, they talk a lot about the really good players are like setting you up for like ten moves from now this game is over and you don’t know it yet. You’re walking into a trap, but you don’t see it yet. They’re setting it up ahead of time. And I bring up Taylor Swift and you can bring up other examples. But I often see this with her where, you know, she’s got everything lined up where she’s doing this and then she’s doing that. And then the week after launch, this is happening. Then there’s another thing happening and they’ve scripted out not just like, Hey, we want something to happen, but like what’s going to happen over those first few weeks and think about it ahead of time. So not just reacting to things and hoping like they’ve got a plan. And so I think just like anything else, the more you plan ahead, the more effective you can be. Right? So what podcast am I going to try to be on? What content am I going to put together? How am I going to leverage my email list if I have one? How am I going to leverage social, not kind of waiting until the book is come out to do those things or thinking about ahead of time? What are those pieces so we can play chess rather than checkers? So because I’m only going to be so much time, right, once the book is out, but what can I do beforehand to kind of put those think about a squirrel in the winter, right? Burying those acorns underground so that springtime comes. I’ve got them ready to go. How can I sort of put some of those things in the bank so that I can pay them off later?

Chandler Bolt [00:25:34] Hmm. I like that. What Taylor Swift can teach you about marketing. Yeah.

Jonah Berger [00:25:41] She’s great at it, man. I mean, there’s really so many things that happen right around launch for that. You think about it like she didn’t just zacha. She got lucky, right? She thought about what are the things we want to have happen, what are the multiple audiences? When do we want to engage them? That’s really hard to do. Well, and she’s famous already and so it makes it easier. But I think that’s something to aspire to. Even if we fail to get there, at least aspiring to that will make us effective.

Chandler Bolt [00:26:03] Yeah, well, even the sequencing, which I mean, she put her tickets on sale for tour of the week after a massive the massive album launch where all ten tracks are number one on the Billboard charts. And I mean, I like to look at so my my brother plays in a Grammy nominated rock and roll band called Needtobreathe. He’s actually been on been on a long tour with Taylor Swift. So he’s in the music industry, we’re in the publishing industry. And then I did an interview this morning with a girl that’s done been 15 years a screenwriter in the movie industry. And it’s so interesting the parallels because yeah, how you launch a movie is how you launch a book is how you launch an album fundamentally. And, and there’s so many crossovers even just. Beyond that of how the industry industries works. I think we can look over into these other kind of verticals and say, Hey, how are they doing that? What can I learn from that?

Jonah Berger [00:26:56] Certainly.

Chandler Bolt [00:26:57] What is it? What would you say are top two or three things kind of all time that sold the most copies of of your three books?

Jonah Berger [00:27:05] You know, I, I don’t have anything specific. I would say that I think, you know, doing this was really valuable. I think it’s really just putting in that groundwork, you know, not waiting until the book is done to think about marketing, really thinking about marketing while you’re doing that book. Right. So what are the audiences I’m trying to reach? Do I have stories or information or content for those audiences? How can I create resources out of that content to reach those audiences? Like marketing anything else, right? Not, you know, not selling what you can make, but really making what you can sell and thinking about, you know, what? What is the audience want? How can I build that and how can I design it with them in mind?

Chandler Bolt [00:27:50] Went. I notice that you’ve got with your three books, you’ve got kind of a similar theme, the covers. Right. And they’re all they’re all like I talk about, you know, a good book cover needs to be like a billboard. I need to grab attention. The title needs to be easy to read, and you need to instantly understand what the books about. And I think all of your covers grab attention. They’re all attention gathering, attention grabbing colors. Then you’ve got kind of similar theme, similar image style. Was that intentional? If so, why? And what’s kind of the thought process behind that?

Jonah Berger [00:28:26] You know, I, I love the cover of Contagious, and I and the publisher agonized over that cover for a long time. We thought about the color. We thought about the image. We thought about something that communicated the ideas but wasn’t too obvious. We spent a lot of time on that idea for Invisible Influence. We also spent a lot of time on it. The hard covers, actually lenticular, which probably means nothing to you guys. But if you’ve ever been a kid and you had one of those things where depending on like how you turned it, it looked different. And we actually did that with the cover. So if you look at it one way, it’s an invisible influence. And you looked at that the other way it was because it’s about social influence. It was, you know, everyone’s buying it or something like that. And I love that idea. The execution was really difficult to show online because it’s not static. It needs to move. So it needed to be a video and it was challenging from an executional standpoint. And so the the soft cover of Invisible Influence is a much simpler, much simpler image, but eye catching color. And then the catalyst thought a lot about color also. I actually didn’t get much say in the image from the publisher. They were sort of like, this is what the covers kind of look like. And so went with that. Having just wrapped up the cover though, for Magic Words, which is my new book that comes out in March, I thought a lot about what you just suggested. Right? So can you see the title? Is it big and readable? Do people have a sense of what this is about? Is it eye catching? But but I also spend a lot of time trying to think about, is this too obvious? And I think being obvious isn’t terrible. But sometimes being a little bit non-obvious can be interesting. Having something where, you know, people look at it and they go, okay, this is good, and they look at it some more and go, Oh, this is like, this is interesting. I know I as a reader, as a listener, as an audience member, I appreciate when there’s some nuance. When you scratch under the surface, you see some depth. And so I always spend time, if possible, with covers, trying to think about, you know, what is that thing under the obvious layer? So I’ll give you an example for this new book, Magic Words. We thought a lot about magic things, right? Because it’s about sort of the power of language. So the first round of covers came back with the Aladdin’s lamp. And, you know, something coming out of a magician’s hat and a wand and all those things are good in some ways. But the things that magic is there is not the word. It’s Aladdin’s lamp, it’s the hat, it’s the wand. There’s no the words aren’t doing the magic. Those objects are doing the magic. And so it’s like, okay, can we do something where the words are doing the magic? And so we like thought a lot about that idea. We made Aladdin’s lamp out of words. We did sort of cover that, almost look like a wizard’s hat out of words and then ended up thinking about, you know, sort of like top secret things from when we were all kids. You know, something would be a top secret envelope. And what does that envelope look like? And if the idea is these words are so powerful, could we have a top secret envelope that says instead of top secret says magic words? And so it sort of showcases the power of what’s inside. So not just the idea that there is magic, but the words are doing the magic. And so I ended up going with a cover, something along those lines, agonized over it, but did some user testing also, which I’d highly recommend. Don’t just think about whether you like it or the publisher likes it, because kind of does actually matter whether you like it. It matters what other people like it. And so put them up online, ask people what they thought and this one out. And so we’re going with it.

Chandler Bolt [00:32:00] Right. And when you user test, you get a dual benefit of great feedback. But then also it’s building buzz for the book itself. It’s kind of like to take from the movie world. It’s the behind the scenes. Yes, red carpet tour. And people have the process now. They’re involved in the creation of this thing. I’m compelled to purchase it online each week when it comes out, Hey, we’re running out of time. And I’ve got probably two more questions on the cat list. According, as from what I can see on the Amazon date, looks like it came out like five days before COVID.

Jonah Berger [00:32:36] Had a big competitor. Big competitor.

Chandler Bolt [00:32:40] Contagion is competing for attention. How does you navigate that? And any lessons learned in watching a book?

Jonah Berger [00:32:48] Don’t launch a book at the beginning of a pandemic. You know. I am contagious did very well. Invisible Influence was an easy book to write. The catalyst was set up to be the next contagious. I thought a lot about an audience. I thought a lot about a big problem that people had they needed to solve. And we got great publicity. We got up front page mentioned in the Wall Street Journal in a cover article in the weekend section, we got all the things that were great. I think that book was set up to do extremely well. And then the pandemic hit and there was no PR. There was, you know, no nothing. Right. It wasn’t just like people weren’t seeing one another, but everyone was worried about their own health as as was my family. And so it was a terrible time to launch a book. And events didn’t happen. I don’t think there’s anything that one can learn from that except don’t get unlucky, but I don’t think that’s advice one one can do anything about. But it is a good reminder that sort of when books come out, it’s really important because even six months after that, the ideas are still relevant. But I think people are often going, is this new? And so thinking carefully about, you know, when do you want to launch around things you can control is obviously help.

Chandler Bolt [00:34:00] Awesome. What? Knowing what you know now, Jonah, what would be your parting piece of advice for that, Jonah, from, I guess, over a decade ago, before you wrote your first book and any other Jonah’s out there who are thinking about writing their first book?

Jonah Berger [00:34:15] You know, I think writing a book is an amazing opportunity to learn things. I am not a writer. I was not born a writer. I am not trained as a writer. I still don’t think of myself as a writer. I don’t think I’m a very good writer. And I’m doing my best job of of, you know, imitating the styles of writers that I like and find digestible. But I think always being curious and kind of always being willing to learn and looking for new opportunities to grow, whether it’s writing a book or consuming other people’s books, is is just great. I think it makes life a lot more interesting and makes us better off as people.

Chandler Bolt [00:34:50] This has been awesome. Where can people go to find out more about you to buy your books? Angel It would be most helpful.

Jonah Berger [00:34:57] Yeah, I mean, books are available wherever books are sold. So Amazon, Barnes Noble, wherever, wherever people go for books. And my website is just my name, https://jonahberger.com. There’s a bunch of resources there for each of the books, so we want to get more word of mouth stuff from Contagious. You want to change someone’s mind, stuff from the catalyst. And then I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter @j1berger.

Chandler Bolt [00:35:20] Go check out the books, guys. Jonah, this been amazing. Thanks so much.

Jonah Berger [00:35:24] Thanks for having me.

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