This month’s business book club review is ‘Made To Stick’ by Chip & Dan Heath.
Are you memorable? Do people remember what you say, what you post on your blog and on social media? Does your content inspire action?
As much as we like to think people hang on our every word and are enthused by what we say and write we’re probably missing the mark.
That’s the issue that Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath (affiliate) addresses. It outlines a formula for judging and creating ideas that will ‘Stick’. Ideas that people will remember and act on.
I picked up a copy of this book after seeing Stacy MacNaught speak at the Learn Inbound conference. She recommended it as inspiration for coming up with better ideas.
The book opens with a familiar story. An urban legend about a man being drugged in a bar by a beautiful woman and waking up in a bath full of ice missing a kidney.
This story is unforgettable, it may change each time it’s told but the core of the story stays the same. We remember it. Why? It’s sticky, it scores well on Chip and Dan Heath’s SUCCESs checklist. It’s this checklist that is the core of the book.
The SUCCESs framework
We like to think that we’ll be remembered, that our audiences hang on our every word but it’s not that easy. Why don’t people store the information we give them? How could they forget our words of wisdom?
There are lots of reasons. We suffer from the ‘Curse of knowledge’. Once we know and understand something we assume others do too. We fail to frame our ideas in a way that is relatable to our audience and we fail to be simple.
The SUCCESs framework is a simple checklist we can apply to our ideas that will help us tell them in a way that will be remembered.
Here are the basics of that framework.
S – Simple
Our ideas should be simple to tell. Complexity is the enemy.
Start with the heart of your idea. What one thing are you trying to do with your content or communication? Knowing the answer will make it easier to build ideas that are memorable.
Communicating that core idea is easier if you can tie it into ‘schema’, something your audience are already familiar with.
As they illustrate in the book. The pomelo fruit is easier to picture if it’s compared to a grapefruit than if it’s described on it’s attributes of size, colour, texture and think skin alone.
In the case of the pomelo the grapefruit is the schema.
U – Unexpected
People expect certain things to happen in a certain way. When we disrupt that our audiences surprise makes the idea stick.
The authors suggest we use knowledge gaps. Instead of giving answers straight away pose a question, hint at the answer along the way but don’t reveal it until the end. It’s the pursuit of the answer that will embed your idea in the audience’s mind.
C – Concrete
When our audience can actually picture something we have a better chance of being memorable. Using a visual cue whether it’s a person or a prop adds focus.
This also ties into our schema. When a businessman tried to sell the idea he had for a laptop computer he was able to illustrate it by throwing his briefcase onto the table and telling the panel that the computer would be the same size.
This gave the idea a focal point. Now the audience could begin to imagine it.
C – Credibility
This is perhaps the hardest part of the checklist to attain. Credibility usually comes with experience and being known. But there are ways you can hack it.
We can embellish our communications with vivid detail. It doesn’t have to be detail that reinforces our point, we can wrap our ideas in story and description. Studies referenced in the book show that any vivid detail can make our idea seem more credible.
Statistics also reinforce our credibility but if we want them to stick we have to find a way to make our stats tangible. Instead of quoting large numbers look at ways you can relate those numbers to the real world. Stuff that people can picture.
For example, if I told you that you’d spend 27,375 hours (approx) of our lives eating food that’s a pretty unimaginable figure. It’s not tangible.
If I changed the frame of reference from hours to years and told you that you spend 3 1/2 years of our lives eating you’d probably relate to the statistic better. You can imagine what 3 1/2 years is like. It’s the same statistic presented in a more tangible way.
Even better if you can relate your statistic to something physical.
I doubt if I told you flushing the toilet could take up to six gallons of water you’d be able to picture that (particularly if you live in the UK or Ireland). If I told you that you were flushing away ten pints, you might find it easier to picture those ten pints lined up at the bar. Because you can picture it you’re more likely to remember it.
E – Emotional
As a marketer you are well aware of the power of emotion. If you can make your audience feel you will get a result.
But we need to think beyond raw emotion. Instead we should aim to create content that buys into our audiences sense of identity.
What forms their identity? What do ‘people like them’ do? If we want to be persuasive we have to come up with ideas that reinforce their sense of identity.
The book describes a Texas anti-litter campaign. Being told litter was bad was having no effect. Being told not to be a litter bug wasn’t working. What did work was getting well-known Texans to share the tagline ‘Texans don’t litter’. It tapped into the state’s pride and identity and it worked.
S – Stories
Wrapping our ideas in a story makes them relatable and memorable. Stories demonstrate to us how we should act and react, they inspire us.
The book tells us the story of Jared the Subway dieter who managed to loose life-threatening weight just by eating Subway sandwiches. His story changed his life and made a real difference to the bottom line of Subway.
Compare that to their previous campaign promoting their low cal sandwiches and it’s easy to see that the story worked better.
Should you buy Made To Stick?
Since I opened this book I’ve started seeing better ideas around me. I’ve started applying the checklist to marketing campaigns and content I’m consuming. It’s beginning to change the way I think about the content I produce and I’m hoping that by applying the SUCCESs techniques will make my content become more powerful.
It’s written in a way that reinforces the structure. It’s a persuasive book, the ideas it shares are sticky. It’s a great advertisement for itself.
It’s a short read but one that will stick in your head and as a result should improve the power of your marketing messages.