"Made to stick. Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck" by Chip and Dan Heath is a must-read for anyone who communicates with other people.
So it is a must-read for anyone, but if you do marketing, it is an absolute, absolute must.
It's about designing messages and communicating ideas in a way that is naturally easy to remember and easy to share with others.
It is about why urban legends are so popular.
It is about why some commercials worked like crazy and others not so much.
So here is a gist of what they wrote (but I highly recommend you read the book for more context).
There are six components of a great story:
Your story can have all six, just three or none of them at all, and still work.
But the more components you use in your story the more likely it will be a story made to stick.
Let's look at those components.
What is the core of the idea? One crucial thing.
Not three important ones, just one.
Use that. Communicate that and don't worry about not being "complete".
"inverted pyramid" can help you extract it.
Let me explain.
Imagine you are sending a telegram from a war zone and at any time your communication can get jammed.
What do you start your telegram with?
You start with the absolute most important thing. A complete must.
Then you go to more detail.
But with every new information remember it needs to add on top of the first one. And it needs to be complete.
We are under attack,
There is 10000 or more of them
They are coming at us from the sea and from the forest,
They have tanks, and ...JAMMED"
If I get just the first sentence, great. If I read two more, I get a better picture.
Every new line adds new details to the message and makes it more complete.
It starts from the most important and goes to least and least important. The inverted pyramid of importance.
I love how GitLab uses it in their messaging:
"GitLab is The DevOps platform
that empowers organizations to maximize the overall return on software development by delivering software faster, more efficiently, while strengthening security and compliance.
With GitLab, every team in your organization can collaboratively plan, build, secure, and deploy software to drive business outcomes faster with complete transparency, consistency and traceability."
Every new section adds depth and completes the one before. But if your communication gets jammed at "GitLab is The DevOps platform" you still get the point.
And talking to people online today is sort of like war.
There are so many distractions and so many people fighting for attention that your communication will get jammed mid-way. Trust me.
But simple doesn't mean short. At least it doesn't have to.
If you need 10 words to describe something fully, go for it. Just don't add more words where you don't need them.
If people don't see your story they won't know your story.
You need to catch the attention somehow and keep it until you say what you had to say.
How do you do that?
Ok, that was a bit too much but I did get you to read this sentence didn't I?
The idea is that breaking the expected pattern makes things pop and catch attention.
Our mind gets accustomed to things and they naturally become a background.
And then something breaks that pattern and lures you in.
So to catch attention use pattern-breaking surprise.
For example, say you are selling a time-series database and need to create an ad for a case study that you want to distribute on social media.
You can do the expected:
"See how BoringCorp decreased infrastructure costs by 10% with MyComp scalable time-series database. Read the case study."
I am not clicking that, sorry.
Or you could go for the unexpected:
"People at BoringCorp ripped apart the entire infrastructure to make things scalable. Why?"
Somewhat interested, right?
Not saying it is perfect or anything. It is just more interesting, more attention-grabbing.
Ok, but say you caught your reader's attention. How do you keep it?
You use knowledge gaps.
There is this concept that the Heath brothers introduced that can make you read through a completely fluffy sentence like this one waiting for me to explain what those knowledge gaps are.
And since you made it all the way through, I'll happily explain😂
A knowledge gap has three parts:
- open: where you introduce something and make people interested to find out what it is
- mid: you talk about something, don't explain the concept that you opened yet
- close: explain the concept and close the gap
But there is one more important component of a knowledge gap.
Want to know what it is?
Ok, I did it again, it is opening another knowledge gap to get people to read more.
The reason it works is that humans are very curious creatures.
They want to know how the story ends. And they read on.
Be concrete, explicit, real.
Don't be abstract, implicit, vague.
Use images, real-life examples, concepts people already know and can relate to.
Going back to our scalable time-series database.
You could say:
"MyCorp created a popular time-series database that is very scalable"
Or you could say:
"People put 100 billion records into our database every day.
That is 5 months of Wall Street transactions every day."
Not sure if those numbers make sense but you get the picture. It makes it real.
Trust me, big words sure sound big to some people, but to the vast majority of your readers and potential customers, they are just fluff.
Especially if you are marketing to devs.
So instead of "we democratize machine learning" say "we help farmers use machine learning"
Instead of "we streamline adoption of advanced analytics" say "we help companies get data insights in days not years"
You get the picture.
It is not only easier for your readers to understand it, but it is also easier for them to remember and share your story with other people.
No matter how interesting your story is if people don't believe it it's not worth that much.
So how do you make people believe it? How do you make it credible?
The first source of credibility is external authority.
Say you want to run a story about long-term injuries that come from skateboarding.
You can get authority by:
- Expert: get Tony Hawk to talk about skateboarding injuries
- Celebrity: get Brad Pit to talk about skateboarding injuries
- Someone who experienced it: get a "normal person" who had skateboarding injuries
And what can you do if you don't have Brad Pit to ask for help?
Use details to make something feel more real.
Instead of "Security of your company emails" say "Imagine opening your computer on Monday morning and you cannot log to anything. Gmail, all the analytics tools, source code repo, all locked out."
The message is the same but the first one feels bland and the second makes you feel it.
You can also use statistics and numbers but be careful here.
If you make them to abstract they won't stick.
Try to put them in human-scale terms to be more memorable.
Instead of "million petabytes of data every year" say "your entire digital data every 15 minutes".
It just makes it easier to compare to things you know and that makes it easier to remember.
Make people feel something.
Add emotions to the mix, make it personal.
Craft the story that appeals personally to people.
Sometimes it may be hard or it may not be able to apply to your audience.
But if you can you probably should.
And you know what?
If you see a real-life story from your audience that ticks some of the criteria and it communicates what you wanted to communicate tell that story instead of trying to craft a perfect story yourself.
Real stories are 10x better than crafted ones.
They are relatable, by design.
They appeal to the right audience, speak the language that those customers would use to describe what has happened.
That is why voice of customer (VOC) copywriting is so powerful.
So always look for great stories that can help you say what you want to say.
And once you find it, just spread it around.
What is next?
Now that you know the components of a great story audit whatever you write with the "Made to stick" framework.
Look at your stories and see if it ticks one, three, or maybe all six of the storytelling components.
If it is not all six, see if you can improve it somehow to hit more points.You won't regret it, and your readers will love you for it.