Most businesses want to stand out and be noticed for their products and services. To reach customers, they rely on everything from securing media coverage to participating in social media engagement.

Word of mouth, when they can get it, is 10 times more effective than traditional advertising. That's according to Jonah Berger's 2013 book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. It's also one of the main reasons Dorothy Stein, also known as the back-biting masseuse, has grown her business.

Stein didn't start her international massage business offering back-biting massages. According to an Entertainment Tonight interview, it all started when her mother asked the then five-year-old Stein to massage her. Her body not strong enough to give a good massage, her mother encouraged her to bite her. Since then, she's bitten rock stars and entertainment personalities including Kanye West, Katy Perry, and Eva Longoria. The idea is that the biting action promotes blood circulation.  

Today, Stein only offers the bite massage to select clients. Though her business works with more than 500 massage therapists around the world, she's the only one who offers the service.

Offering a back-biting massage isn't common among massage service offerings--but Stein's been doing it for the better part of three decades. Video clips of her media coverage have gone viral. What would compel someone to share these kinds of videos? What's at play?

It's tempting to say these things go viral simply because they're funny. According to Berger's book, there's a deeper explanation: Amusement is a high-arousal emotion, meaning it causes us experience stronger emotions than our normal state. Other high-arousal emotions include joy or anger.

Crafting something people want to share

People share funny videos because of their high emotional arousal. Alternatively, low-arousal emotions, like sadness, decrease sharing. Sharing emotions helps us connect with others.

"When inspired by awe we can't help wanting to tell people what happened," Berger writes in his book. Emotion is one of the six key steps Berger advocates considering when building messaging around a product or idea. One of his other steps, social currency, is also at play here: Knowing about this business and sharing it makes people feel in the know.

Take Stein's story. People felt a reaction to the story and wanted to share it. Whether they thought it was clever or crazy, they felt it was worthy of their time to share it with others.

How to make your idea or product popular

Think about what you offer that will get people talking. I once had a retail client who sold fair trade products from around the world, including paper made from elephant dung by artisans in Thailand. On its own, it was a pretty remarkable product.

To help reinforce the fair trade message, the retailer added a sign next to the item explaining that elephants in Sri Lanka are being killed at an alarming rate--and production of these journals was helping bring light to that message, being an eco-friendly alternative to paper, and providing much-needed jobs to the community.

It's important to make your business stand out. You just want to be mindful of how you stand out.

You can increase someone's social currency by talking about your product. For example, you can attend a trade show and share some insider tips you learned. Are bright and bold colors going to be the new home decor colors or are we going to see a return to shabby chic designs? Are we going to need to raid our mom's closet for her culottes because they're going to be returning to the fashion scene and taking over jumpsuits? Sharing the trends you're seeing at trade shows is a great way to let your customers in on what's happening in your industry, before it becomes public knowledge a few months later.

Is your product visible to the public? If not, can you create awareness through a public medium? Berger uses the popular Movember movement in his book. Prostate cancer is often considered a private issue--the movement helped bring it to light.

Does your product tug at people's emotions in any way? While positive emotions tend to be shared and talked about more than negative emotions, there are times when negative emotions can take off, too. In Stein's case, some people are sharing her story because they find issue with her service.

Stein's service may seem unorthodox to some people, but those aren't her customers. She's unapologetic about her offerings and built an international business focusing on providing a wide range of services to clients all over the world.

Back-biting massages are just one of nearly two dozen and it's helped put her on the map in a very crowded industry. Consider what sets your business apart and how you can harness that unique offering into an idea that can spread.

Published on: Mar 28, 2018