Peanut Butter and . . .

Word-of-mouth is the most effective method to spread ideas; find out the keys to raising awareness about PTK so that it catches on.

“When peanut butter is around, jelly doesn’t need to remind you it exists.” ~ Jonah Berger, The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business

What do peanut butter and jelly have to do with PTK? Jonah Berger’s recent book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, provides insight on viral communications, and he uses the example of peanut butter. It is a trigger for our brains, and we nearly automatically and always think of jelly.

Effective marketing campaigns create triggers or take advantage of them.

What do you think of when you read or hear “Where dreams come true”?

Walt Disney World, right?

What do you think when you read or hear “Just do it”?


But the most effective marketing is not advertising campaigns — it is word of mouth. It is something that spreads outside of the ads and advertising channels. This is PTK Awareness Week, and it’s the perfect time to craft a contagious word-of-mouth campaign about PTK.

According to Berger, for something to catch on via word-of-mouth, there are some additional things to keep in mind. Triggers provide reminders for what you want people to think about, and you also want people to feel that “getting it” has social currency, practical value and can spread positive emotions.

Being “in the know” about something valuable and creating good vibes are things that people like to share publically — word of mouth — which is powerful social influence. When sharing, those who are not in the know may say, “Tell me more,” and the trigger creates an opportunity to tell a story. Stories are important because a good story is something people are more likely to spread than a list of facts and features.

What can be a trigger (reminder) about PTK that those in the know (social currency) can use to help others (practical value and positive emotion) publically (social influence) and open the door to telling real stories that inspire others to further spread the word? When we create or use an effective trigger, we can transform Berger’s phrase: “When _____ is around, PTK doesn’t need to remind you it exists.”

Are scholarships our trigger? On average, a PTK member receives $2,500 in annual transfer scholarships to complete a bachelor’s degree, and indeed our surveys have shown that it is the most important reason members accepted their invitation to PTK. However, as Vice President for Membership and Student Engagement Dr. Susan Scaggs recently wrote on The Reach blog, “We have to acknowledge that only an average of 10 percent of eligible students accepts membership into Phi Theta Kappa.” Why hasn’t accepting membership in PTK caught on for a far greater percentage of eligible members?

Berger’s STEPPS framework for understanding how communications go viral might help craft a contagious message. How can we talk about PTK in a way that hits ALL the elements of the STEPPS framework?

  • Social Currency
  • Trigger
  • Emotion
  • Public
  • Practical Value
  • Stories