Made to Stick

I’ve just finished reading what I predict will be the most influential marketing book of 2007. I received a prepublication copy of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, written by brothers Chip and Dan Heath, which will be released in January. It’s all about how to create ideas with a lasting impact. The book picks up from where Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point left off, with the idea of the “stickiness” of an innovation making it more likely that it will spread across a population. The Heaths’ book tells us how to make our ideas sticky — in other words, how do you present an idea in a way that leaves a lasting impression?

The book is filled with great anecdotes and examples of sticky ideas (both good and bad): the urban myth about a friend of a friend who wakes up and finds his kidney has been stolen, Subway’s campaign featuring Jared, Nordstrom’s reputation for customer service, and many more. In fact, a large number of the examples are tailor-made for social marketers, with a health, social or environmental focus — CSPI’s campaign against high-saturated fat movie popcorn, American foreign aid, the Truth campaign, oral rehydration therapy, the Nature Conservancy’s campaign to save the Mt. Hamilton Wilderness…

The Brothers Heath have come up with the requisite acronym that conveys the six principles of sticky ideas – SUCCESs. While none of the principles are in and of themselves revelations, it is in the distillation and systemization of the guidelines that the book shines. The principles are:

  1. Simplicity – Boil down the idea to its essential core, so that if the recipient of the message remembers nothing but this one point, they get the idea.
  2. Unexpectedness – Be counterintuitive and use surprise and/or curiosity to grab people’s attention.
  3. Concreteness – Make the idea meaningful by explaining it in human and sensory terms rather than as abstract concepts.
  4. Credibility – Provide ways of letting people test the idea out for themselves to prove its credentials.
  5. Emotions – Get people to care about your idea by making them feel a strong emotion about themselves or someone else.
  6. Stories – Use stories to provide a vicarious experience, illustrate a point or inspire an action.

All of these are, of course, common sense. However, what often gets in our way of utilizing these principles is what they call the “Curse of Knowledge.” When we know so much about an issue, our knowledge can get in our way of expressing ourselves clearly because it becomes hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. We use terms that we say so often to our peers that we assume that everyone knows what they mean. And when we try to distill our knowledge into concise bullet points, the people we are talking to miss out on the stories and experiences that led to us learning those lessons, which make them so obvious to us but lacking in interest to others.

This is why all marketers — especially social marketers — must get a copy of Made to Stick when it comes out next month. The stories and case studies used to illustrate the points above make the ideas come alive and help to make the ideas in the book stick. The book is well-written, engaging and readable. In fact, I’m going to go back and reread the book with an eye toward incorporating its ideas into my own trainings.

Read an excerpt from the book and then order it as a gift for yourself for the new year.

***Self-Congratulatory Note: This is my 200th post!! If you enjoy reading my blog and are still doing so by coming directly to the website each time, please consider subscribing to my RSS feed (here’s a simple guide to how to do it). To receive my blog posts by e-mail, just plug your e-mail address into the Feedblitz form on the right side of the page. Thanks for reading!***

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  1. Hi Nedra,

    I agree. I think Chip Heath has a big hit on his hands. I saw him last week give a presentation about the book’s key ideas, and he “wowed” the audience with many provocative stories and examples. Plus, his mnemonic — SUCCES — is easy to remember. I’ve since had a chance to read the book, and it does not disappoint. I especially like the exercises.

    My only quibble (and this is probably a personal idiosyncrasy) is with the title. I keep remembering the book title as “Messages that Stick” because he spends a lot of time saying that’s what we want to stick: MESSAGES. Plus, “messages” is more CONCRETE that “Made”. But, I think “Made to Stick” will do really well.

  2. Congratulations on turning 200!

    I went back to your first post (in late January) and you said:

    “Postings will most likely not be daily, but I will definitely try to post something at least once or twice a week.”

    As it’s turned out, you done 200 posts in a little more than 300 days. Betcha you didn’t know blogging would grab ahold of you the way it has.

    Best wishes to you!

  3. Roger,
    Thanks for your comments! I agree with you about the title not being “sticky” — I was trying to remember the name of the book to tell someone about it and came up with every permutation of the words except the correct title.

    You’re right that I started off blogging unsure what to expect, but that I definitely got hooked. Looks like you did too! Won’t be long before you hit 200 as well. 🙂

  4. It’s on my pile to read — guess I’d better put it on top!
    Thanks, I’ll start reading soon

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