The secret of spreading "sticky" ideas

The secret of spreading "sticky" ideas

When you have an important idea, how do you communicate it in a way that has impact, a way that “sticks?” Guy Kawasaki recently interviewed Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

The book reveals the six principles that characterize sticky ideas. They’re almost always some combination of Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and have a Story (“SUCCES”).

That’s it? Gee, that sounds pretty simple.

But if it’s so easy to make ideas sticky, why aren’t there more brilliant ideas? Heath’s answer underscores the importance of effective copywriting in marketing communications:

“People tend to think that having a great idea is enough, and they think the communication part will come naturally. We are in deep denial about the difficulty of getting a thought out of our own heads and into the heads of others.” (emphasis mine)

The trick, of course, is to craft a simple message that expresses the core of your big idea. Something that’s catchy and viral, easy to remember, easy to repeat. Hmmm, this doesn’t sound so simple anymore.

One problem, the authors explain, is the Curse of Knowledge. Our in-depth knowledge of our own narrow specialty has turned us all into lousy communicators:

“Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.”

In other words, most of us know too much and are too close to our own ideas to be able to express them clearly to outsiders. That’s why it’s often wise to work with a professional writer, someone who can express your complex ideas in simple ways, in language that resonates with their intended audience. You depend on the services of a good copywriter for the same reason your primary care physician refers you to a specialist, or your accountant sends you to a tax attorney. A communications specialist can do the job more quickly and more effectively than you can.

Made to Stick is so eye-opening, it can feel like a lightning strike. It can make you feel a little queasy when you take another look at your brochures, white papers, sales letters. As Guy put it:

“If you read this book, you’ll revamp a lot of your marketing material (as you probably should).”

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