“Be on the Books” is a regular series in which Braithwaite staff break down what they learned from the best business and marketing books.
How do we know that “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” is a modern marketing classic, a book that stands out from the hundreds of others on effective communications?
Because when we read again almost 10 years since its first publication, we realized how many examples and lessons from the book we use all the time, without even remembering where we first heard them.
There’s the “Curse of Knowledge,” the idea that once you know something, it’s tougher to remember what it was like to not have that understanding. We reference this all the time when taking particularly technical jargon from our clients and re-writing it in a way that the average person can grasp.
There’s the idea of message triage, and the quote from Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign that, “If you say three things, you don’t say anything.” This is relevant on an almost daily basis, because so many organizations can’t resist the urge to say everything all at once.
There’s the Velcro Theory of Memory, which states that just like Velcro has thousands of loops and hooks that cling together, ideas need as many hooks as possible in order to cling in our minds. We think of this concept all the time, especially when explaining why a media event needs to have “news hooks” in order to earn coverage.
And there are the multiple examples of how stories are better at conveying information than abstract prose, like the World Bank worker who won support for a new initiative not by quoting statistics and experts, but by telling the story of a family from Zambia that could benefit from their help. It’s just more evidence that direct, literal messages often cause people to push back, while stories serve to pull people along.
It’s because we remember all these lessons that you know the authors, Chip and Dan Heath, practiced what they preached. If you haven’t read it yet, they boil all these lessons into an acronym: SUCCES. (Yes, there’s only one S at the end, but you have to admire them for not making up another S word just to complete the acronym.) Here’s what they stand for:
- Simplicity, which strips an idea to its core.
- Unexpectedness, which captures and holds attention.
- Concreteness, which makes a message understandable.
- Credibility, which gets people to believe you.
- Emotion, which gets people to care.
- Stories, which get people to act.
At this point, practically everyone in our agency has read Made to Stick, or absorbed its lessons through osmosis since we cite them so often. To see what ideas stood out to new readers of the book, we asked some of our interns to read it for the first time. Here’s what stuck in their minds.
Cecelia Foley, Marketing Intern
I once had a professor who told us on the first day of class, “Nobody cares about fluff. Nobody wants to listen to fluff. If you add fluff to your pieces, I am going to fail you.”
The Heath brothers on the same page: they instruct reader to strip the main idea to its core, find the most important idea, and share it in a compact message that has a sense of worth.
The gold standard of an effective, simple message? Proverbs. By offering wisdom in short statements, they’ve stuck around for thousands of years. That’s a level of stickiness that every communicator should aspire to.
Alex Dwyer, Marketing Intern
My favorite teachers have always been the ones who are able to incorporate real life examples into their lesson plans. The application of a new concept to a familiar situation promotes complete understanding of the subject, and allows me to be able to explain it to others. Made to Stick is effective for the same reasons.
Consider the introduction – instead of some auto biographical note about their experience, I was immediately sucked into an outrageous story about an illegal organ removal. Clearly, they took their own advice from the first page. Instead of taking a purely scientific approach to what makes ideas stick, the Heath brothers give lively examples that have stuck in my brain, making the examples speak for themselves.
As I’ve learned here at Braithwaite, storytelling is a crucial part of good communications, and this book is definitely a great example of using stories to educate and inform readers.
Emily Acton, Marketing Intern
The lessons on unexpectedness had the most takeaways for me. As they explain, “unexpected ideas are more likely to stick because surprise makes us pay attention and think. …. Surprise makes us want to find an answer — to resolve the question of why we were surprised.”
This was particularly interesting when I recalled the advertisements I remember most. They weren’t those that directly communicated a sale or a product. They were those that surprised me, that shocked me, that did something I didn’t think an advertisement would do.
Doing the unexpected, and surprising the audience, really resonated with me as a way to make messages sticky. They’re sticky often because they’re different.