The YOLO Effect | 7 Essentials For A Contagious Idea

YOLO. Equally the most loved and hated acronym in the world. Everyone knows what the letters stand for. In fact, I’m somewhat embarrassed to use it, but its ubiquitous nature makes it the perfect example.

What does it take for an idea to explode and go viral?

We’ve all got a ton of ideas and potential ventures floating around, and frankly, we’d be over the moon to have the YOLO effect and have it spread like wildfire.

Here are 7 Essentials For A Contagious Idea:

1. The Nitty-Gritty.

Attention spans are notoriously short. Effective ideas can easily be conveyed to goldfish.

What is the crux and core of your idea? Boil it down to a single sentence: What’s the product? Who is the audience? What difference is it going to make?

It’s called the proverbial effect: give your idea a tagline that packs a punch—a micro-statement with a massive message.

Here are some great examples:

American by birth. Rebel by choice. – Harley Davidson.

Save money. Live better. – Walmart.

The greatest tragedy is indifference. – Red Cross.

Journalists use the inverted-pyramid technique in their headlines and first paragraphs; the most important attention grabbing content first, and then broadening out. In order for your idea to resonate, it needs to first capture the attention.

2. Social Currency.

People are deeply image-conscious.

Ask this question: How will this idea or product portray me to others?

Shallow? Perhaps. Reality? Undeniable.

Just think Grey Poupon. How on earth were they able to charge three times the price of their closest competitor when they released and dominate the market? Really, it was just mustard. But yet, it was so much more. It was the Rolls Royce. It was the prestige. It was an image—even though it was just mustard.

Walk into a cafe and you see two college students typing away: one is on their macbook, the other is on a PC. Whatever conclusion just went through your mind, it is likely that they were both distinct and conveyed different messages.

What’s the image attached to your idea?

3. Testable & Applicable.

Make the intellectual appeal also an applicable one.

In the 1980’s Wendy’s kicked off a campaign called “Where’s the Beef?” It challenged consumers to verify that Wendy’s hamburgers were larger than other chains. A more subconscious and subtle effect would be Nike giving a challenge to “Just do it,” and Adidas declaring “Impossible is nothing.”

Intellectual and applicable. What does your idea in action look like?

4. Emotional Appeal.

When you care enough to send the very best. – Hallmark.

Between love and madness lies obsession. – Calvin Klein.

Emotional empathy makes all the difference. People don’t act on reason, they act on emotion. In a Stanford study, two approaches were taken in raising funds for starving children. The first, appealing to reason, gave statistics on the devastating number of people crippled and dying due to starvation. The second shared the story of a single starving seven year old girl in Mali, Africa: Rokia.

No prizes for guessing which yielded stronger response. When we put on our analytical hats, we put aside our ability to empathise. People take action when they can empathise, connect, and resonate through an emotional response.

What feelings will your idea evoke from people?

5. Get Personal.

Have it your way. – Burger King.

I am what I am. – Reebok.

Appeal to personal interest. Emphasise benefits over features– a gardening store will boast about giving you the “best lawn” rather than the “best seed.” It’s not what we have, but what you will experience. An effective tool in writing is using the word “you” —closing the authorial gap and making things personal. Connection means comfort. Higher open-rates from email campaigns happen when you are addressed you by name. Make sure your ideas hit at a very personal level.

6. The Magical “Why.”

The classic study on compliance by Psychologist Ellen Langer: there’s a queue to use the photocopier and a student asks to cut-in. The first request, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” resulted in 60% compliance. The second request was more specific, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” Compliance shot up to 94%, no real surprise there. The third request, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?” A ridiculous redundant request, yet it had an almost identical compliance rate of 93%.

Langer found that one simple word made all the difference: “because.” It did not matter how absurd the justification was, simply that a reason was given was enough. Effective ideas carry with them an implicit reasoning that satisfies the human craving for justification.

Back to the infamous YOLO, the phrase is essentially justification to engage in whatever behaviour (usually hedonistic and irresponsible) one wishes. An old FedEx slogan giving a reason: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.  What reason does a person have for adopting your idea?

7. The Higher Self.

Effective ideas act as a means to an end, and not simply an end in itself. Similar to the social currency idea, but implicit, introspective, and forward thinking. Not an immediate, but a future benefit.

A great example is a high school teacher responding to the question of why one needs to study Algebra: while a typical response may be to get into college, this teacher answered,

“Never. You will never need it. But then again why do you lift dumbbells? You do it for the future: If you are attacked you can fight, or carry your groceries, or lift your grandchildren. Same with algebra: You exercise your mental muscles, which you will need your whole life.”

Effective ideas include appeals to a higher plane. How is the future version of a person benefit from your idea?

Sources & Further reading: Contagious: Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger. Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive & Others Die, by Chip & Dan Heath. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell.