Made to Stick

Chip Heath and Dan Heath became famous for their first book, “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.” The book investigates the concept of stickiness, how some ideas stick to people and spread.

People don’t forget sticky ideas and change their mindsets with them. The Heath brothers write the formula of stickiness using the acronym “SUCCES” (without the last “s”). There are six characteristics of sticky ideas. They should be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and based on a story.
Making something “simple” provides an easy reference point for everybody. The clarification of complexity helps us to find the core of any idea. And when we find the core, we find an effective means of communication. For example, “sending an astronaut to the moon, and bringing him back” is simpler than achieving progress in the aerospace industry. Southwest Airlines’ goal is “to be the cheapest airline company.” The two goals are simple, and everyone can easily understand and adapt their behavior toward this goal.
Anything unexpected grabs people’s attention by surprising them. An unexpected idea can break a pattern in the minds of the audience. The unexpectedness is parallel with doing something extraordinary; on an airplane you hear the announcement: “Dear children, please fasten your parents’ belts. If you can’t, please let them fasten their own belts and yours.” This announcement is unexpected; and if you hear something like this, you cannot forget it.
Any idea that becomes concrete with an example might be sticky. Most tales are more persuasive than mere advice. Advice becomes a kind of reality within the tale; however, when it is not given at the end of a story, it is only words. Abstract concepts like numbers can be forgotten easily. We can forget the number “seven,” but we don’t forget “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” High performance is abstract, “Strong as Hercules” is concrete.
The credibility of an idea is very important. When one idea is supported by an authority, it may become sticky. For example, if we hear that SARS is a dangerous epidemic from the Ministry of Health, we start to assume that it is dangerous. However, although it may be misinformation, we still believe it because it comes from a credible authority. If the idea has convincing details, accessible statistics or testable credentials, it provides internal credibility.
There are some ideas with which we can have emotional associations. “While we sleep in our warm beds, earthquake victims sleep outside. We have to donate money for tents and sleeping bags.” This call for action has an emotional value. On the Brooklyn Bridge there was a beggar waiting for coins with a sign “I am blind. Help me.” An person from advertising changed the sign to read “On this beautiful summer day, while you can see the flowers, I can’t. So, please help this poor blind man.” After this small change, many people gave more money to the beggar. With the new phrase, people can empathize with the blind man; they can relate to his disability.
Stories are the most effective way of making one idea stick. I will share with you an excerpt from the book: “Dave was recently in Atlantic City for an important meeting with clients. Afterward, he had some time to kill before his flight, so he went to a local bar for a drink. He’d just finished one drink when an attractive woman approached and asked if she could buy him another. He was surprised but flattered. Sure, he said. The woman walked to the bar and brought back two more drinks — one for her and one for him. He thanked her and took a sip. And that was the last thing he remembered. Rather, that was the last thing he remembered until he woke up, disoriented, lying in a hotel bathtub, his body submerged in ice. He looked around frantically, trying to figure out where he was and how he got there. Then he spotted the note: Don’t move. Call 911. A cell phone rested on a small table beside the bathtub. He picked it up and called 911, his fingers numb and clumsy from the ice. The operator seemed oddly familiar with his situation. She said: ‘Sir, I want you to reach behind you, slowly and carefully. Is there a tube protruding from your lower back?’ Anxious, he felt around behind him. Sure enough, there was a tube. The operator said: ‘Sir, don’t panic, but one of your kidneys has been harvested. There’s a ring of organ thieves operating in this city, and they got to you. Paramedics are on their way. Don’t move until they arrive.’ This story is not true; but we remember it and we have a tendency to tell the story to somebody else. It is a powerful story including emotional, concrete details. The oldest texts are legends; we remember them because they are stories.”
The Heath brothers’ book is a perfect guide for editors, copywriters and marketing professionals. It shows how to market one idea with concrete tools.
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