Sticking to the basics

  • Asuthosh

When you have an important idea, how do you communicate it in a way that has impact? How do you construct a great idea? What matters most to a communicator is painfully simple: that his audience “gets” it and be motivated enough to “act” on it in some way, for instance, by responding in word or thought, or by buying something (ads!). Then why is it so difficult? Do you have to be a great public speaker to make your ideas stick?

With their second book, “Switch” due next month, we thought we would revisit Chip and Dan Heath’s first, “Made to Stick”,” which has become an instant classic of sorts among marketing and PR circles.  In the world of B2B marketing and social media, the ideas contained in the book find resurgent value.

Something that’s put to the reader upfront is that while some ideas are memorable and others are not, what is truly “unfair” (to the communicator) is the fact that the stickiness of a message has little to do with its value. Urban myths, sleazy scams, and conspiracy theories spread like wildfire, while charitable appeals fall on deaf ears and important public service announcements are quickly forgotten. We can bemoan this fact, or, like the authors have done, reverse-engineer them.

The Heath brothers introduce a simple but terrifically sticky acronym to remember the fundamental ideas: SUCCESs – Simple (they rely on core ideas); Unexpected (they’re capable of sparking interest); Concrete (they’re grounded in experience); Credible (they draw on believable sources); Emotional (they appeal to self-interest and -identity); and Story (the best form for conveying them). Most important, sticky ideas steer clear of what the authors call the Curse of Knowledge — “The better we get at generating great ideas—new insights and novel solutions—in our field of expertise, the more unnatural it becomes for us to communicate those ideas clearly.”

Each of the six chapters explains the idea, illustrates it with examples and counter examples and warns of pitfalls in implementing it. SUCCESs may come across at times like didactic lecture, but what one will enjoy and appreciate most about the book is the authors’ skilful use of stories to illustrate their thesis. Using anecdotes, fables, advertising campaigns, psychological studies, screenplays, and a variety of other sources, the authors tell us why SUCCESs works in ways that are both entertaining and compelling, and underscores perhaps the biggest takeaway idea from the book: that stories are far more effective than abstractions in conveying a message. With a deep understanding of the concepts they espouse, they don’t  just tell us that stories are important, but why they work. They actually allow us to simulate the message in our brains which reinforces the ideas, builds skills and helps make places for the idea to stick.). And, rather cleverly, they also apply these principles in making their message – the book – be a sticky idea that stays in our consciousness.

One may feel the itch to make extensive notes as they read along – but a quick peek at the end will reveal an supremely useful “Making Ideas Stick: The Easy Reference Guide,” which outlines the key points of each chapter. This along with checklists and a diagnostic section for the treatment of common communication problems (called ‘Idea Clinics’) where we get to work on practical exercises demonstrating how the same idea can be expressed in sticky and non-sticky ways with each idea evaluated on a SUCCESs scorecard, help the reader apply their many observations and ideas, and show how the principles of SUCCESs can be applied to as-yet undeveloped ideas. It’s a technique that can easily be adapted to B2B marketing exercises, a sort of do-it-yourself guide to generating stickiness.

If any part of your life involves communicating ideas to others, “Made to Stick” should be required reading; every B2B marketer, sales, training, corp comms and PR practitioner will find this book especially helpful in shaping and evaluating their messages (you’ll probably revamp a lot of your marketing material, so be prepared). “Made to Stick ” is a book that will transform the way you communicate ideas. The techniques are simple and useful and the case studies provide excellent benchmarks to judge your own writing against.

So, do you have to be Barack Obama to get your ideas across (considering he hasn’t been too good at it of late)? Short answer: NO! Anyone can – just make sure what you have to say, sticks.

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