Can you consistently and predictably communicate your ideas in a way that impacts your target audience’s behavior? Yes—you can do that, regardless of your natural ability, according to the authors of Made to Stick. Through their six-step SUCCESs recipe, the Heath brothers assure us that we can make any idea more sticky.
Fables, proverbs, parables, and stories have been passed on for thousands of years to billions of people in every culture. Common messages such as “Do unto others as you would want others to treat you” and “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush” have transcended time, communicating the same meaning to generations of people. Yet as marketers, we struggle to communicate our messages in a way that is memorable and actionable.
According to the authors of Made to Stick, the primary reason is because we suffer from the curse of knowledge. At the heart of the curse is a paradox: People who become specialists need a high level of subject matter expertise, but this expertise prevents them from communicating in a simple and powerful way. This curse of knowledge moreover blinds the expert from self-awareness. Try this: Ask the smartest person in your organization to explain to a 7-year-old what he or she does for a living; you’ll likely get answers that will confuse the child and frustrate the expert.
From Cursed to Sticky
Sticky ideas are easily understood, remembered, and ultimately have an impact on your audience’s behavior. For example, think of JFK’s vision of a man on the moon in 10 years. This difficult idea was articulated in a simple yet powerful way. It was inspiring, uniting, and yet concrete and easily transferred. And that’s the good news; sticky ideas can be formulated, even in complex communications.
The book’s recipe for SUCCESs:
1. Simplicity – Become a master of exclusion, and boil down your idea to a simple and profound one-sentence core.
2. Unexpectedness – Surprise your listeners into curiosity and then maintain their interest throughout your communication.
3. Concreteness – Ensure that your idea will mean the same thing to the people in your target audience by explaining it in terms of human actions.
4. Credibility – Help your audience believe by providing authoritative references, relevant statistics, convincing details, or first-hand experiences.
5. Emotions – Provoke emotional value by leveraging associations or appealing to self-interest and group identity.
6. Stories – Inspire your audience to act by providing a simulation of the desired response.
By using the analogy of cooking in this review, I’m implying that while these are key components, the magic happens only when they all come together through the right process. In other words, you don’t just throw all the ingredients into a pot and expect a five-star multi-course meal. At the same time, you don’t cook your favorite meal without the appropriate ingredients.
I first read this book in 2008 when it was honored as one of the Top Ten Books on Innovation by BusinessWeek. It has remained on my reference book shelf ever since. I have found the SUCCESs model a great reminder of what good copy should contain. Beyond copy, I have applied these principles to advertising concepts. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve communication.