The Catalyst – Book Interview

Heidi Cohen Interviews Jonah Berger

New book: The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind

The Catalyst

Q: What’s your best piece of advice for readers looking to improve their marketing?

A: To be a successful marketer, you have to understand social influence.

People don’t make their own choices. They make choices based on what the people around them are doing.

So to succeed you have to understand how influence works.

Jonah Berger - Contagious- Book Interview

Q: What inspired you to write The Catalyst?

A: Since Contagious came out, I’ve been fortunate to get the opportunity to work with hundreds of organizations. Everything from big Fortune 500s like Google, Apple, and Nike, to small startups. B2B and B2C, non-profits and for profits, products and service, and ideas.

Across all these disparate situations and industries, they all had something in common:
Everyone had something they wanted to change!

The Catalyst - Jonah Berger Interview

Employees wanted to change their boss’ mind and leaders wanted to transform organizations. Salespeople wanted to win clients and marketers wanted to change consumer behavior. Politicians wanted to change countries, startups wanted to revolutionize industries, and nonprofits wanted to change the world.

But change wasn’t happening.

People pushed and pushed, but often nothing happened.

So I started wondering if there might be a better way. A faster and easier way to change minds, organizations, and the world.


Q: What is the biggest mistake people make when they try to persuade others to change their minds?

A: We use the wrong approach.

When trying to change minds, we tend to push.

Client not buying the pitch? Send them a deck of facts and reasons. Boss not listening to the idea? Give them more examples or a deeper explanation. Whether trying to change company culture or to get the kids to eat their vegetables, the assumption is that pushing harder will do the trick. That if we just provide more information, more facts, more reasons, more arguments or just add a little more force, people will change.

Unfortunately, however, pushing people to change their minds often backfires.
Rather than going along when pushed, people often push back.


So The Catalyst is all about a better approach. It’s not about pushing harder. And it’s not about being more convincing or being a better persuader. These tactics might work once in while, but more often than not they just lead people to up their defenses.

Instead, be a catalyst and change people's minds by removing the roadblocks and lowering the barriers that keep them from taking action. --Jonah BergerClick To Tweet


Q: How did you develop the REDUCE Framework?

A: I interviewed startup founders to learn how they drive new adoption of disruptive products and services. I talked with CEOs and managers to discover how great leaders transform organizations. I spoke to superstar salespeople to learn how they convince the toughest clients. And I consulted with public health officials to find out how they change behavior and speed diffusion of important medical innovations.

Slowly, a different method emerged:
An alternate approach to changing minds.

We tried a rough version with the client and it got a little traction. We revised it further and were even more successful. Emboldened by these early wins, we tried extending the approach to a different company. They found it useful, and soon I was trying this technique on all my consulting projects.

The REDUCE Framework:

Explanation of the REDUCE Framework in Jonah Berger’s The Catalyst

  • REACTANCE: Encourage people to persuade themselves. When pushed, people push back.
  • ENDOWMENT: Inaction is NOT costless. Doing nothing isn’t as costless as it seems.
  • DISTANCE: Make new information within people’s zone of acceptance or it will be ignored. Get too far from their backyard, people tend to disregard you.
  • UNCERTAINTY: Reduce barriers and related risks. Seeds of doubt slow the winds of change. To get people to un-pause, catalysts alleviate uncertainty. It’s easier to try means more likely to buy.
  • CORROBORATING EVIDENCE: Provide reinforcing and concentrated proof. The impact depends on more than credibility. You need fit. Consider who, when and how of delivering information.

Some things need more proof than others. Catalysts find corroborating evidence, using multiple sources to help overcome the translation problem.

Q: In The Catalyst, what are some of the analyses marketers should consider when trying to change people’s minds?

A: Use these analyses:

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Loss Aversion
  • Reframe the Discussion
  • Uncertainty Tax
  • Switching Costs
  • Upfront Costs
  • Expand Discoverability
  • Assess Why Audience Does Not See The Problem

For further details, please consult The Catalyst.

Q: From a marketing perspective, how do you define trust and influence? How do they relate to the topics you discuss in The Catalyst?

A: Trust  is to have confidence or faith in someone, that they have your best interests at heart.

 Influence  is the capacity of someone to change the mind or actions of another person.


Q: Is there anything else that you would like to add?


Jonah Berger

Contact information

Thanks, Jonah.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
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