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Breaking Down the 'STEPPS' Framework

While association marketing has always had its challenges, this last year most associations have struggled particularly with reaching their audiences. Turning your followers and members into advocates is the Holy Grail of association marketing. It can be challenging, but incredibly impactful if achieved.

STEPPS Framework. The words 'social currency' and 'STEPPS' are highlighted on a word search puzzle.

Over the next few weeks, we will explore the STEPPS framework – an evidence based framework pioneered by Jonah Berger, professor of Marketing at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and best-selling author. It’s used in viral marketing to help you craft messages that will convert your existing members and followers into advocates, while encouraging new audiences to take action and convert. You can use any one of the steps in the framework, but it’s most impactful if you combine them all.

Follow along as we breakdown the STEPPS framework, and let us know how you will use the STEPPS Framework to inspire, excite and empower your members to become advocates of your association and ultimately help it grow.

The STEPPS Framework

S- Social Currency

T-Triggers and,

E- Emotions

P- Public and

P- Practical

S- Stories

S- Social Currency

If you want to turn your members in brand advocates and share the value of your association, start by leveraging the concept of Social Currency. Humans are social creatures and we thrive on sharing ideas and content that help us stand out. If we can provide our members content that they want to share, they will. This digital “word-of-mouth” sharing is shown to be incredibly impactful – we trust our friends and colleagues much more than we trust brands.

So, how do we as association marketers leverage the concept of Social Currency?

In 3 simple steps:

Make your members feel like insiders!

Spend time with your team and board brainstorming on what you can create and share that can make your members feel like “insiders” – in the know and with access to select information that others do not have. The more we can make our members feel in the know and with access to scarce information, the more they will want to share that status.

Highlight your organization’s inner remarkability!

Spend time with your team and board to brainstorm on what you can develop that truly and authentically highlights your organization’s inner remarkability.

- What is the one thing that makes your organization remarkable?

- What makes it surprising

- What makes it interesting

Don’t tell them- Show them!

Figure out the BEST, most impactful way to show them. Don’t tell them about it.

- If possible use video to capture attention and help your message and value come alive.

So, how will you leverage the concept of Social Currency in your marketing strategy and tactics to help your organization grow? Let us know, and as always reach out if you need any support. Our talented team of association marketers is here to help.

T & E - Triggers and Emotions

STEPPS Framework. The words 'social currency', 'triggers', 'emotions' and STEPPS are highlighted on a word search puzzle.

We’ve covered how you can leverage the concept of Social Currency to help your

association grow. But knowing how to leverage social currency to get members to share is not always going to be enough to have messages stand out. That’s where Triggers and Emotions can help.

Triggers - Refers to any stimulus in your environment that reminds you of something else. Triggers keep us talking and ensure our products stay top of mind. Your product and value can be very well liked, but if we don’t get our audiences to think about us, they will never take an action.

So, how do we find a product’s trigger? What can be the thing in the environment that reminds audiences of our association and the value we provide? Sure, we can send emails and promote on social media (you should certainly be doing all of that already) but how do we go a step further to really stand out from everyone else that is doing the same? Spend some time with your team and your board brainstorming around the following questions:

What environmental triggers can you identify that relate to your Value Proposition and your Brand that are FREQUENT?

- Kit Kat grew it’s sales from $300 million to $500 million with it’s Kit Kat and Coffee campaign. Not just because it sounded fun, but because drinking coffee is a frequent behaviour, so by associating coffee and Kit Kat, customers would be triggered to think of Kit Kat far more frequently than they did before. So start brainstorming and make a list of all possible environmental triggers that can be associated with your brand and rate them by frequency. Can you create a campaign or messaging around the most frequently encountered trigger?

What environmental triggers can you identify that relate to your Value Proposition and Brand that your audiences can see as they are about to take an action?

- Make sure that your environmental trigger can happen at the right time – as your audience is near to the action you want them to take. Think about re-usable grocery bags. A brilliant product with lots of value. How many times do you forget your re-usable grocery bag at home and only remember it when you are in line to check out?

- Look over the list you made earlier and see if some of the environmental triggers you identified as having high frequency align with when you want your audience to take an action.

Emotions – We started looking at the STEPPS Framework with the goal of getting our members and followers to become advocates and the best way to do that is to get them to share. Share our messages and share our content. If you are a marketer, you know how expensive getting a new audience is, so levering our current audiences to share and help us grow can be highly valuable. That’s where emotions come in. It’s pretty simple - when we care, we share. The more emotion we feel about a piece of content, the more we will engage with it and pass it on.

So when you’re thinking about getting our audiences to share our own content and ideas, don’t just focus on the function, focus on the feeling.

One great way to get to the underlying emotion is to focus on the 3 Why’s. Keep asking Why, at least 3 times to get to the underlying core of why would people share.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, not every emotion will encourage people to share. And it’s not about positive or negative emotions. Research shows that sharing is much more connected to an emotion being a high arousal emotion. Think about high arousal emotions as humour, excitement, happiness, awe or inspiration and low arousal emotions as contentment, serenity, relaxation, calm. All are on the spectrum of positive emotions, but if your content leaves your audiences feeling relaxed and content, they are far less likely to share it than if it had left them feeling excited, in awe or they found it humorous.

If you’re planning content that you want your audience to share to gain new audience, think about how you can make your content emotional but most importantly, focus on triggers that provoke impactful emotions.

P & P - Public and Practical Value

Let’s talk about social proof – how often in a new city have you decided to go into a

restaurant because it was busy? No one verbally told you about it, but you saw it. The power of visually seeing someone use your product is extremely impactful, and that is what social influence is all about.

Sure, it is fantastic to have our members and our audiences share our high value via word of mouth, but that is not always necessary. If people see others using our services or associating themselves with us publicly, they are just as likely to do the same.

Make it Public - So strategically we need to make it really easy to have our products and value easy to see. How can we make it easy for audiences around our members to see that they are using our services? Make it easy to see and others will imitate. What can we provide or create that will allow our existing members to highlight their engagement with us? Just an hour of brainstorming with your team will give you great value and help unlock the power of public social proof.

Create and Share Content that has Practical Value – useful information is a big reason why we share content. Associations are rich in valuable information. Spend some time and come up with a few useful bits of content that can be shared on your social channels. Think how you can use this to highlight the value of your association’s expertise, or the expertise that comes with being a member. Quick warning though – time spent reading is shorter so focus on easily digestible content. Think lists, tips or short emails. The more practical and helpful it is, the more likely it is for our audiences to pass it on.

See you for our next #MarketingMonday next week as we continue to breakdown the STEPPS framework!


Last but certainly not least in the STEPPS framework is Stories and Story Telling. Content should be wrapped up in an easily digestible story or narrative. Audiences are much more likely to remember an engaging story, and by making your products or brands an integral part of that narrative as well as the audience, your brand will also linger in the minds of the public.

Now that we’ve gone through the full STEPPS Framework. Now what?

Bring it all together

If you are already working in association marketing, you know that stories are the currency of conversation. It’s how we sell without really selling. But most associations aren’t unlocking the full power of stories. Let’s discuss how to make stories work for us and leverage the power of the STEPPS framework.

What is the idea we want to get across? What is the key concept we want our audiences to share? We can’t just keep telling our audiences that we have great membership benefits. We have to engage them and entertain them while telling them a story that ultimately addresses their needs.

Spend some time thinking about how you can leverage the STEPPS framework to craft stories that bring it all together and leverage the science of why some organizations are successful in getting their audiences and members to talk and share.

Social Currency – When our audiences feel in the know and special, they are much more likely to pass a message on

Triggers - top of mind and tip of tongue. What is that element in the environment that will remind your audience of you and get them to act?

Emotions – the more you care, the more you share and high arousal emotions drive sharing far more than low arousal emotions.

Public – build to show and grow

Practical Value – how can you highlight practical value?

Stories – How can you tell a narrative audiences will remember?

You don’t need to include all six aspects of the framework in one message. You can plan an email campaign focused on emotions and simultaneously post social media content that incorporates public and practical value. The more of these aspects you can include in your marketing, the more successful you will be to leverage word of mouth, convert your existing audiences and members into advocates and grow your association.

If it sounds challenging or you don’t have the resources you need to implement the STEPPS framework to grow your association, please reach out to the MM team! Our team has decades of experience helping associations grow by leveraging best practice and evidence based marketing strategy and tactics, and are here for a consultation.


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