6 S.T.E.P.P.S. to Meaningful Content

6 S.T.E.P.P.S. to Meaningful Content

This year’s Meaningful Brands study revealed that 60% of content created by 1,500 of the worlds leading brands was ‘just clutter’. Defined as ‘poor, irrelevant or fails to deliver’. Clearly brands cannot break through the clutter, by simply adding to it.

Yet brands are increasing their investment into content marketing, with less to show for it. It’s worth reminding ourselves that what matters is the effect we make, not the content we create.

So, how do brands create content that spreads? 

Turns out, the same key principles that drive all sorts of social epidemics can be used to help ideas spread. In Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Wharton associate professor of marketing Jonah Berger outlines the STEPPS framework, (Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value & Stories) to explain why some products and ideas catch on.

Social Currency 

We share things that make us look good. Sharing cool, interesting or entertaining things makes us appear cool, interesting and entertaining. When we come across something remarkable, we like to be the one to tell others about it.

Berger gives the example of Blendtec, who created a series of YouTube videos where objects are put to the ultimate stress test.Golf balls, magnets and even a Ford Fiesta are put into the Blendtec and transformed into a fine dust. The idea is so novel that people instantly spread the word. Searches exploded and videos views quickly climbed, driving views into the tens of millions for Blendtec.

Does your product make people look good? If you can make your products or ideas remarkable, people will be more inclined to talk about them.


Products that are top of mind, are tip of tongue. Triggers are environmental reminders for related concepts and ideas. To take advantage of triggers, consider the context for your product and look for ways to expand the associations that remind people of it.

By expanding the number of triggers that cue your product, people will be prompted to think about it more often.

Remember the Friday song by Rebecca Black? While not the most musically gifted it provides a good example of a trigger. Several years since release and searches for the Friday song still surge…on Friday.

What cues make people think about your product? Oreo pairs products with milk. Kit Kat with break times. Extra chewing gum after we eat. The more triggers your product has, the more often it will spring to mind.


When we care, we share. Psychologists have shown that emotions are critical to decision making, so it’s important to focus our content efforts on feelings rather than just the cold hard facts. To find the emotional core of an idea it pays to ask ‘three whys’. First think about why people are doing something. Then ask ‘why’ three times. Each time you’ll drill down further, with the goal of finding the non-obvious.

Marketing’s best and brightest are constantly reminding us that emotional campaigns produce more and stronger business effects. As reported in the IPA’s effectiveness studies.

Does talking about your product generate emotion? If not, look for insights that might be bubbling away under the surface.


Products that are built to show, are built to grow. The more public something is, the more likely weare to imitate it. We assume a busy restaurant will have better food than an empty restaurant next door.

Great examples are everywhere. From moustaches in November to Apple’s distinctive white ear buds. ‘Behavioural residue’ exists for all types of products and ideas.

Can people see when others are using your product? If we can design products and ideas in a way that advertise themselves, people will be more likely to imitate the same behaviour.

Practical Value

How do you provide news others can use? People like to pass on information that has practical value. Does your product or idea help others? If we can package our products in a way that is useful to others we will be more likely to talk about them.


Information travels under the guise of idle chatter. Stories act as vessels, as they carry information in a way that helps us remember the underlying information. Fables such as ‘The Three Little Pigs’ help us understand that effort pays off. While the story format provides our brain with vivid characters that are more easily stored in long-term memory.

The best stories come wrapped up like a Trojan Horse. Often awe-inspiring while intelligently weaving products into the narrative.

The key is for people learn something that can shift the dial on a key business metric. Or else we’re just creating entertainment that does nothing for the brand.

To wrap up, a recent example from Gillette for a new assisted shaving razor. To promote the product, Gillette created a deeply moving three minute story of a son helping his elderly father shave.

The video is a tribute to the connection between three generations of men. A classic story of care giving between father and son, with Gillette embedded into the narrative.

On a personal level, I relate to the story. It tugs at the heart strings. Shaving triggers the memory I have of the ad. It provides practical value, as I can pass on the story to those I care about. And it provides social currency given the caring associations it conjures up in discussion.

For brand content to deliver real business value you need to prioritise quality, not quantity. If your content isn’t creating the thoughts and feelings that drive real value, talk to us about applying the STEPP framework for better business outcomes.