Whether you’re a professional in marketing developing TV ads, a parent instructing your child, a CEO setting business strategy, or a volunteer youth coach, one of your challenges is getting across your message. If you’ve been frustrated as those to whom your message is directed seem oblivious to the information you’ve labored to provide, pick up a copy of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Random House, New York).

Brothers Chip and Dan Heath collaborate on this easy to read handbook for crafting your important messages so they are remembered. With loads of examples from everyday experiences–think “Where’s the Beef?”–the Heath brothers define six concise principles governing messages that people remember and act upon.

Principles of Best TV Commercials

Based on research of successful ideas ranging from TV ads to corporate missions, the authors distill these six principles of successful, sticky ideas. Ideas people remember and act upon, whether TV commercials or corporate mission statements are:

  • Simple: The message must be brief, simple, yet easily related to existing knowledge. The Golden Rule is an excellent example. It is simple, but profound.
  • Unexpected: Messages that surprise catch peoples attention. Clara, a white-haired, diminutive, female senior citizen unexpectedly barks out a challenge of “Where’s the beef?”
  • Concrete: Abstract ideas don’t stick. Include specific hooks in terms of human actions and sensory behaviors that are easily remembered.
  • Credible: Establish credibility with links to trusted professionals, authorities, or personal testimony. The surgeon general’s warning of the harmful effects of cigarettes is accepted as truth by most people.
  • Emotional: People respond to feelings. Invoke your target’s audience’s emotions, as in hidden dangers to unsuspecting children.
  • Storied: People remember stories. Use the stories of individuals or universal parables. Aesop’s fables have survived for over twenty five hundred years because they are short, profound stories that reference human actions and emotions; classic sticky messages.

“A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.” ~Mark Twain

The Halloween Candy Danger

One classic example of a sticky message isn’t even true. Nearly everyone knows the dangers of Halloween trick-or-treating. Parents have been dutifully inspecting their children’s trick-or-treat bounties since the 1960’s when stories surfaced of Halloween candy booby-trapped with razor blades. A 1985 ABC News poll showed that sixty percent of parents worried about their children’s safety in eating their haul of Halloween treats.

Yet researchers Joel Best and Gerald Hriuchi studied every reported Halloween incident since 1958 without uncovering a single instance of tampered candy treats. This false message has all the ingredients of successfully sticky messages: it’s simple, unexpected, concrete, seems credible as reported in the news, is certainly emotional, and is a short story easy to recall. It sticks, yet researchers found no factual evidence to support it.

Marketing Strategies

Whether selling a product, service, or concept, following the six principles outlined in Made to Stick will improve the odds of your message being heard and acted upon.