Chip Heath of Stanford and Dan Heath, Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE center, distill principles that make messages memorable in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Citing urban legends and advertisements as examples of tenaciously “sticky” messages, they argue that unforgettable ideas can be recalled with an acronym that means “success” in French:
- Concreteness, with many details to act as “hooks” to “stick” to memory’s many “loops” (Velcro theory of memory)
- Emotion-laden stories.
The Heaths’ principle of credibility draws on the three elements of persuasive messages outlined by Robert Cialdini in his best-selling Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
Credibility is enhanced by liking, authority, and social proof in Cialdini’s model:
- Liking – Appealing public figures or personal friends endorses
- Authority – Well-respected role model or respected authority provides testimonial
- Social proof – Others like me endorse it, and others provide justification: “because…”, though the actual reason is immaterial
- Reciprocity – “I know you’d do the same for me,” recommended by Guy Kawasaki to convey that “You owe me…”
- Scarcity – “While supplies last…”, “Limited time offer!”, “Act now, don’t wait!”
- Commitment, consistency – Draws on people’s desire to appear consistent, and even trustworthy by following through on commitments: “I do what I say I will do…”
- Contrast principle – Sales people sell the most expensive item first so related items seem inexpensive by comparison: Real estate transaction fees may appear minimal in contrast to a large investment in a house.
Both memorable messages and persuasive messages take advantage of habitual reactions to typical situations.
These automated and sometimes unconscious processes are a heuristic to help people to deal rapidly and efficiently with routine activities and tasks.
However, “auto-pilot” reactions may lead to being persuaded to act in ways that might not be helpful, such as excessive eating, drinking, spending, or engaging in risky activities.
Wharton’s Jonah Berger formulated an acronyn, STEPPS, to describe narrative elements that increase the likelihood that a story, idea, or product will spread like a contagious virus:
- Social Currency – Passing along the information makes the sender appear “good” – knowledgeable, helpful or other
- Triggers – The message evokes a familiar, frequent situation
- Emotion – The story evokes emotion, so will strengthen the emotional between the sender and receiver
- Public – Similar to Social Currency, passing the message reflects favorably on the sender
- Practical Value – The sender provides actionable value in sharing the message
- Stories - Memorable, surprising elements increase the likelihood that others will convey the message
Finance executive Randall Bolten draws on similar observations about human cognitive and perceptual processing to recommend ways to tell a memorable and motivating quantitative story.
His Painting with Numbers: Presenting Financials and Other Numbers So People Will Understand You, discusses “quantation” as another type of business storytelling that affects “personal brand image.”
Even more practical than Edward Tufte’s breathtaking examples of effective “information architecture” in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information, Bolten provides coaching on designing memorable, persuasive presentations and “pitches” featuring quantitative information as “proof points.”
His book demonstrates the Heaths’ principles of simplicity, concreteness, and credibility while drawing on Cialdini’s proven approaches of authority, commitment, consistency, and contrast.
-*What principles do you use to tell stories that motivate others to act as you hope?
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