Book review — Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

Alice Hollis

Alice Hollis Ltd. - More than words®

I need to rave about the wonderful Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, an essential read for any marketeer, or small business, wanting to see success in the digital world.

It covers the 6 principles of how to create sticky ideas – in essence: “a simple, unexpected, concrete, credentialled emotional story”.

The book starts by talking about how, in a world full of noise, it’s really hard for brands to get themselves heard. But this isn’t exactly new news. We’re all aware of what it’s like out on the promotional battlefield.

No, the thing I found most interesting and that really hooked me in, was when they talked about ‘the curse of knowledge’. It’s something that has plagued me and most of the companies I’ve worked with – it’s probably an issue for you too. The idea that once we know something, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it.

For example, having studied copywriting techniques in great depth for the last 5+ years, I know a lot about it, which makes it really hard for me to understand how some people think it’s the same as writing.

Once you’ve been ‘down in the weeds’ for a while, it’s hard to see how a fresh pair of eyes might view your world. The book explains that the best way to overcome this, other than to not learn anything in the first place, is to transform your ideas into something new.

Here are the main lessons I’ve learned from the book.

Strip it down

Transforming your idea into something new is much easier said than done. Stripping the idea down to its core means you need to ruthlessly disregard other important messages in order to identify the most important detail.

But when you strip back your idea to simplify it, you can’t dumb it down – it’s a fine balancing act.

For example, in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, there’s the example of how Alcoa pushed the idea of “zero accidents”, rather than the usual increasing efficiency/productivity, to transform the business. This raised its market capitalisation by $27 billion.

Mix it up

Once you’ve got your core idea, you need to identify what’s different about it – the thing that’s going to make it stand out from the crowd.

For example: in my world, I read a lot of claims from companies saying they’re a ‘trusted partner’. Snore. I’ve mentioned my feelings about this phrase.

Then I came across a tech SME in the cybersecurity field that said they, “step into the shoes of the hacker”. Now that got my attention. That’s a partner I’d want, one’s who’s prepared to think and act like the lowlife scum trying to attack my business in order to save it.

Add some emotion

When you learn about storytelling technique, you’re often told that in order for people to care, they need to feel. In Contagious by Jonah Berger, he determines that the best emotions that get people to act are “high arousal, positive” emotions, such as awe, excitement and amusement.

In my world of IT and tech, it might seem strange to talk about emotion – after all, who’s ever felt a ‘high arousal, positive’ emotion because of software?!

So you need to think, “what questions do I want my audience to answer?”

When you know the questions, you can carefully craft a story that opens the knowledge gaps, which force people to actively discover more in order to close them.

Using sensory language and concrete images to cement your words in someone’s mind you can’t help but create an emotional connection.

For example: with a perimeter as secure as Alcatraz, they thought they were untouchable. And yet there was a chink in the armour, a tiny vulnerability that left them wide open and exposed – an old inbox that they’d failed to decommission.

Finish with data

To add credibility to your story, sprinkle a few statistics here and there (obviously from credible sources), but make sure they’re meaningful and not just dumped into the story.

For example, blogging frequency really does matter as research from Orbit Media Studios shows companies that publish weekly blogs are nearly 2.5x more likely to report ‘strong results’, than those who publish monthly or less.


I can’t recommend Made to Stick enough, as I said before, a definite ‘must-read’ for any professional marketer or business looking to be heard in an increasingly noisy world.

And make sure you drop me a message after you’ve read it as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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