Email Marketing: Six Steps for Success

Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, recently spoke about characteristics that make products and ideas go viral. According to Berger, there are six STEPPS (Social Currency, Triggers, Emotions, Public, Practical Value and Stories) which, if incorporated, make your concept much more likely to be shared with others. We can easily apply these STEPPS to Email Marketing.

1. Social Currency

According to Berger, sharable information is that which holds social currency and makes us look good to those around us. Too often, marketing emails ask subscribers to share an offer or information in an email communication, yet there’s nothing in that email that would make a subscriber look or feel good by passing it along.

2. Triggers

By Berger’s definition, a “trigger” is something that is easy to remember about a product or idea, helping to ensure it stays top of mind.

3. Emotion

Messaging with an emotional component is more likely to be shared. Every message you send should absolutely stay true to your brand, while remaining focused on your customer. If your subscribers feel like your messaging is all about you, without taking their interests into consideration, don’t expect them to participate in spreading the word.

4. Public

The public component of a successful, shareable program means that it’s designed to show and share with others. While it’s true that not all email content is meant to be shared (think exclusive offers, transactional statements, and other personal information), many elements are designed specifically for sharing. For these, be sure they’re “designed to show.” Format content in a way that lends itself nicely to the channels where you want the recipient to share.

5. Practical Value

Another word for practical value is relevance. If your email isn’t relevant, why would it go viral? Some of the most successful email programs are those that provide practical advice; how-to information, for example, or interesting, random facts. Think top ten lists, or “did you know” messaging. Always consider the practical value your messaging offers your audience.

6. Stories

If you read Berger’s book, he talks about our rich history of storytelling and sharing ideas with others. For email marketing, there are a couple different ways to use storytelling. You could come right out and toss an actual story into an email every once in a while. It could help keep your content fresh and keep subscribers engaged. Another way to look at building stories into your email marketing takes a more holistic perspective: What is your brand story to consumers? Every memorable brand makes implicit promises to consumers across key touch points. And every great brand keeps those promises with every interaction it makes. So, if every email you send isn’t reinforcing your brand story, the absence of that story can inadvertently erode brand value.


Consciously walk through Berger’s STEPPS in your next email marketing campaign and watch for any measurable difference.

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