Sticky Moments


I was sent this via the dmr interactive newsletter I signed up to. Unfortunately I read it late at night and it took me ages to get to sleep because it got my mind thinking about how this applies to the non profit sector. So I thought I would share it with you.

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

Why do urban legends, conspiracy ideas, public health scares, and PPM theories seem to flow effortlessly through emails or conversations while important and true ideas and insights often get lost? In his most recent book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, author and Stanford professor, Chip Heath says that the key to communication effectiveness and return on investment is to create messages that “stick.”

A sticky message is one that people understand when they hear it, that they remember later on, and that changes something about the way they think or act.  

A great example Heath cites is the campaign to end roadside littering in Texas. The Texas transportation agency determined that the biggest offenders were 18-34 men who were anti-establishment, anti-authority and seemingly anti-law.

They named the target group, “Bubba.” The message had to resonate with Bubba. From there, they developed the highly sticky, highly familiar slogan, “Don’t Mess With Texas.” The threat connotation spoke to Bubba’s tough-guy image while the double meaning enlisted their support to keep Texas clean. Ironically, the key to the campaign was having a clear understanding of the small target (age and psychographically) in order to develop a sticky message. From there, the “Don’t Mess With Texas” message spread far beyond becoming a quasi-state motto.

We spend months coming up with the right strategy and idea, but then spend only a few hours thinking about how to translate that position into a marketing message that’s concrete, simple and meaningful to target consumers. There’s a much more effective approach. It’s worth spending time making sure that the light bulb that has gone on inside your head also goes on inside the heads of your target consumer.

In addition, instead of focusing on creating a sticky message among the key target audience, marketers often make the mistake of focusing on the medium. Heath says get the message right –a sticky message– and it works in any medium. Get it wrong, and it doesn’t matter how much you spend.

“People who think too much about the medium [TV, outdoor, email, etc.] are making the same mistake that people have made for years in education. Remember how the 8-millimeter film was going to revolutionize education? Then the VCR? Then the personal computer? The medium can certainly help, but an 8-millimeter film didn’t salvage a bad math lesson.”

Chip Heath’s research suggests that sticky ideas share six basic traits.

Simplicity. Messages are most memorable if they are short and deep. Glib sound bites are short, but they don’t last. Proverbs, such as the golden rule, are short but also deep enough to guide the behavior of people over generations.

Unexpectedness. Something that sounds like common sense won’t stick. Look for the parts of your message that are uncommon sense. Such messages generate interest and curiosity.

Concreteness. Abstract language and ideas don’t leave sensory impressions; concrete images do. Compare “get an American on the moon in this decade” with “seize leadership in the space race through targeted technology initiatives and enhanced team-based routines.”

Credibility. Will the audience buy the message? Can a case be made for the message or is it a confabulation of spin? Very often, a person trying to convey a message cites outside experts when the most credible source is the person listening to the message. Questions like –“Have you experienced this?”– are often more credible than outside experts.

Emotions. Case studies that involve people also move them. “We are wired,” Heath writes, “to feel things for people, not abstractions.”

Stories. We all tell stories every day. Why? “Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation,” Heath writes. “Stories act as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.”

check out the site. For a PDF of the authors’ SUCCESS Map, click here.


2 thoughts on “Sticky Moments

  1. good stuff. i have the book Conor, if you want a loan (a loan…)

  2. It all seems so simple because it is. The trick might be to strip the other simple stuff, the simple wrong bits, first. Leaves us with a neat message with relevance to any marketing operation. Nice post, Conor, with great uncommon sense, even if Chip Heath’s name comes straight from the Homebase Garden Sale 🙂

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