What makes ideas stick in the minds of others?

Made to Stick by Dan Heath and Chip Heath 2006

Made to Stick highlights the concepts needed to make ideas stick; it neatly sequences them using the acronym SUCCES.







Here is a summary of the core concepts from the book which can be utilised in sales and marketing communications.


*Don’t overcomplicate your offering; find and share your core message!

Find the core of your message!

It is far easier said than done to distil your company’s offering to one clear message. However, if you can lead with a compact and core message you stand a better chance of being remembered! Many companies get this wrong because they list all the value that they can bring. When they say lots, they end up leaving little clarity in the minds of their desired audience.

It may appear difficult to simplify the message when the solution is complex or highly technical, Using analogies can offer a solution to this as they tap into existing Schemas held. Hollywood directors used an analogy to pitch the concept of the film Speed to a studio. The filmmakers marketed it as, “Die Hard on a bus.” How apparent is the association?


Attention-grabbing (and holding) is one of the most valuable skills in communication and is often done best when it is unexpected.

Initial attention can be grabbed when we SURPRISE our reader — by breaking the pattern they are used to hearing/ seeing in this space.

In order to hold someone’s attention, there needs to be an element of intrigue and/or interest; this can be achieved by highlighting someone’s knowledge gap in a given area. Called the Gap Theory of Curiosity, examples are prevalent across social media. With titles like…

“A Pain-Free Sales Process: 4 questions you need to ask each prospect”

See how this gives you an itch, which can only be scratched by reading on.

*Think about sounding different in your sector, standing out and breaking conventions to break through the noise.


Concrete messaging helps the audience to understand and remember your idea. Many people try and keep their sales and marketing comms abstract. Don’t do this! Abstraction is only there for the luxury of the expert. The greater you understand your product/solution, the more you assume that your customer knows about the solution and the value that you can bring. This is called the Knowledge Curse and it draws you further away from your customers’ mindset and level of understanding.

How many websites and emails have you viewed, which sound like gobbledegook?

Made to Stick gives a great example of a Professor teaching college kids the concepts of Accounting using concrete examples. Instead of keeping topics like the P&L and Balance Sheet abstract, the professor used a company case study to relate all the topics. This helped the student to not only apply the ideas but gave them real situations to where these concepts can be applied, which in turn increased understanding.

Keep away from abstract descriptions in order to keep ideas concrete. Often this rears its head when describing sizes and performance figures etc. For example, when charities discuss deforestation and how “A donation can save three Acres of trees” it is an abstract idea. What do three Acres even look like? Most people have no idea and so it is often better to leverage concrete concepts, like football pitches and double-decker buses. A useful tip is to use common nouns, like bicycle and beachball, rather than abstract nouns, like Transport and Circular. If it can be visualised it has a better chance of sticking in your mind!

*Think: how does my solution fit into my customers’ life and how can I paint the picture to make this stick?


Highlight your credibility to help an audience to believe your claims. This can be done by social-proofing given by an authority in your space, typically an expert who your audience knows and respects.

Alternatively, credibility can be built by using an anti-authority in the space. This can be someone unknown, but whose real-life story is so compelling it challenges your thoughts and emotions on a topic. In the book, this was highlighted using the smoking industry. A smoker, Pam Laffin, joined an anti- smoking campaign, just before she died.

Sometimes credibility can be built by using the Sinatra test. In Frank Sinatra’s song “New York, New York”, he describes starting a new life in New York and declares that “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”. He demonstrates his credibility in an area through that one example. For instance, if you have window dressed for Harrods, you have enough credibility to window dress anywhere; if you have served silver service for The Queen, you can equally serve billionaires and royalty throughout the world — you have instant credibility!

*Think: who have we helped that are known and would wow my prospective customer base?


Make people care!

If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.- Mother Theresa

The negative influence of using emotions on mass has been demonstrated in the charity sector. People do not want to give aid to a country stricken by poverty because they feel that their contribution is futile. The problem is perceived as overwhelming and is described in Made to Stick as the “Drop in the bucket effect.” To get around this, charities have started focusing on how a contribution can make an impact to an individual: “You can clothe, feed and give running water to little Sofia.” The resulting impact of this is powerful and emotionally pulls you to the need of the individual, who is now named: their face becomes familiar and the impact that can be had on that individual is apparent. That’s powerful!

Another interesting point made in Made to Stick, is that the emotional intensity of writing can vary. You can influence this by focusing on an audience’s higher level needs, which are described in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Tapping into an audiences’ higher level needs (belonging and feeling accomplished in their roles) will increase the emotional pull of an offering. Typically, an audience already has their basic needs met and many companies make the mistake of targeting lower level needs, not emotionally pulling a target to action. These basic needs pitches are typically similar to their existing solution and are included in their audiences basic needs. This results in pitches being overlooked.

*People are led by their emotions and look for rational reasons to back up their initial emotional response


Get people to act through the use of stories. Since the birth of man, people have been telling stories. It’s how ideas have been transmitted successfully with the great stories captivating us. When a powerful story is heard, people become gripped by the characters and look forward to hearing how their journey unfolds.

Stories, as a mode of communication, often breaks the typical sales and marketing dynamic. Sharing information and stories to instigate a commercial exchange of money is rarely seen. However, it can tell an audience much more about people and their lives which would be more engaging than a usual sales pitch.

In the book, they researched many different stories to highlight the common plots spotted. They noticed three reoccurring plots:

  • The Challenge Plot — a protagonist overcomes adversity (e.g. a rags to riches story)
  • The Connection Plot — people who develop a relationship that bridges a racial/demographic/class/religious gap (e.g. Romeo and Juliet)
  • The Creativity Plot — someone making a mental breakthrough or solving a problem in an innovative way.

*Stories are like social currency, store them up and use them wisely

Concluding thoughts

The SUCCES framework, discussed in Made to Stick, has highlighted that in order for ideas to stick they need to make the audience:

  1. Pay Attention (simple and unexpected)
  2. Understand and remember it (concrete)
  3. Agree and believe (credible)
  4. Care (emotional)
  5. Instil action (story)

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