Is Your Next Big Idea 'Made to Stick'?

The Brothers Heath Serve Up Six Ingredients for Success, But This Recipe Is Too Complex For Everyday Use.

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The hazard-orange cover of "Made to Stick," is a bold statement, but then the idea that you can deconstruct the most influential ideas and pronouncements in history -- from Aesop's Fables to JFK's man-on-the-moon credo -- into six "sticky" ingredients is a pretty bold endeavor.

Authors Chip and Dan Heath argue that an idea made to stick bubbles with SUCCES: just the right amount of Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotion and Stories. (The acronym isn't an accident, but would have been so much more satisfying with a seventh s-word ingredient -- I'm thinking maybe 'sensibility' could've been handy.)

But can each of these elements explain why we'll always remember Subway's weight-loss icon Jared? Or why we're quick to bank on famed pop-culture assertions such as "If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere?" The brothers Heath spent more than a decade working in separate professions -- Chip's a Stanford Business professor, Dan the co-founder of new-media publisher Thinkwell -- trying to prove that it can.

Paying homage to Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, the Heaths search high and low to bring you ideas that floated ("It's the economy, stupid") and those that have notoriously sunk (anyone recall those wolves from Superbowl XXXIV?). Unlike Gladwell's philosophy, which examines the moment an indie ripple becomes a mainstream wave, "Stick" attempts to find out what's in the water that makes it swell. The reason why we remember the 'good' ads and the 'bad' ads.

Here's some of the Heaths' wisdom on concocting your own sticky idea:
  • Use Velcro -- Be concrete by narrowing your focus. The Velcro theory of memory claims the more hooks your idea has (emotions, memories), the more loops you'll catch in your audience. Just remember, it takes more than a good speaker to be a sticker.
  • Break a schema -- The best way to catch your audience unawares is to violate surface expectations. Make them unexpect. Exhibit A: The Ad Council's 2001 Enclave SUV spot, which begins as a sell for the faux-auto's family-oriented features and ends in a collision of broken glass. Viewers expected white picket fences, not deaths (message: Buckle up!).
"Stick" is, as any reader will welcome, a collection of anecdotes, and I appreciated the Heaths' exhaustive research. But the exhaustive research may be the precise reason why book's the how-to approach would be difficult to take on board for the average marketing or media exec. Given the number of times in a week (or month, or year) you'll need to make an idea sticky, the Heaths' process is too complex to sit down and toil with.

The big sellers in this field of finding-common-ingredients in success/failure stories are rarely as thorough as the Heaths are here, but they are usually a little easier to incorporate into your day-to-day process.
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