Podcast: How Things Go Viral and The Science of Popularity with Derek Thompson [Marketing]


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We’ve all experienced those crazy scenarios when something goes viral – in the old days, we said it was extremely popular or a tremendous hit. We’re talking about things like Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies, or hit albums on the Billboard Chart. What makes them go viral? What makes them so popular? Derek Thompson says the answers to those questions usually surprise people. That’s because there is more of a science behind it than you would think. This episode is extremely practical for salespeople because it demonstrates the human tendencies that contribute to popularity and Derek is very skilled at applying it to the sales world. You’ll want to hear this episode.

Sales professionals need to understand the “Mere Exposure” effect: The mere exposure of any stimulus biases us toward that thing

Have you ever wondered why some of the bigger brands plaster their logo across a billboard with no particular “ask?” It’s because of something called the “Mere Exposure Effect.” Science has proven that when a person, in this case, a consumer, sees the same company in a positive light repeatedly over time, then when they notice that brand on the shelf at the grocery store their purchasing decision is much easier because they’ve become familiar with the brand. The mere exposure they’ve had to it makes it trustworthy in their eyes. Derek Thompson unpacks these kinds of scientific findings and applies them to the sales world for us, on this episode.

When people are interacting with a product or service they want an element of familiarity, in spite of looking for something new

Everyone seems to be interested in the latest movie or the newest gadget. There’s something about new products and services that intrigues us. But Derek Thompson says that the science demonstrates that though people are indeed looking for something new almost all of the time they are also more likely to adopt the new thing if it has an element of familiarity to it. Steve Jobs knew this when he created the first desktop computer. He said that it had to say “Hello” and it had to have a face. By designing his computers with those features, the Apple Computer Company was a novelty that was also familiar to users – and the computers sold like hotcakes. You won’t want to miss Derrick’s explanation of how this principle applies to your role as a salesperson. Be sure you listen.

To sell something surprising, make it familiar. To sell something familiar, make it surprising

We are all looking for something new and novel to demonstrate to her friends and family. It makes us feel important, like someone on the cutting edge. But very few of us are actually bold enough and brave enough to dive completely into the unknown. We want at least a little bit of the experience to be familiar. That phenomenon is backed up by science and on this episode of In The Arena, Derek Thompson tells us why.

Many things we think have gone viral were actually intentionally spread by “dark broadcasters”

When we talk about something going viral we usually mean that it became popular suddenly and for little visible reason. But Derek Thompson says that almost everything that goes viral was intentionally positioned to do so. Yes, the thing in question has to be interesting or intriguing to the general public, but it also has to be put in a place where it can be distributed and found. Derek called these places the “dark broadcasters” of the internet and says they could be news sites, celebrity Twitter accounts, or any number of things. In this episode, we talk about what it means for something to go viral and how we can apply the concept to sales.

Outline of this great episode

  • A great conversation with a guy who has studied the science of popularity
  • Why Derek fell in love with the idea of understanding popularity and pop culture
  • The “Mere Exposure” effect and why it matters when it comes to popularity
  • Fluency makes us want things that are familiar
  • How do we predict hits? An example from Spotify’s “Discover Weekly”
  • Neophilia: people love new things, but they’re torn between them and familiar things
  • The story of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” and how it became a hit
  • The intentionality of “going viral” – how it happens, and how it doesn’t happen

Resources & Links mentioned in this episode

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