Tools, techniques, and ideas to create an effective brand story

6 Brand Messaging Traits That’s Made to Stick

Based on The New York Times bestseller Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, authors Chip and Dan Heath explore what makes ideas memorable.


Beyond the wealth of case studies from the book Made to Stick, the authors came up with a checklist of six traits that makes a brand idea, message or story memorable. The six traits, in no particular order, are as follows.

Simple

Unexpected

Concrete

Credible

Emotional

Stories

The authors suggest using as many of the traits from the SUCCESs checklist as possible. Of course, as to any recipe from a cookbook, it’s up to you to refine them to your taste. Let’s take a deeper dive into what the six traits entail.

Simple
Sticky ideas, message, and stories are simple. Find the core and share it compactly. The authors referenced Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign where his political advisor James Carville wrote “It’s the economy, stupid” on a whiteboard to focus the team. The message would prove to be pivotal to Clinton’s winning campaign.

Unexpected
To grab people’s attention, there are two essential emotions to provoke: surprise and interest. Surprise gets people’s attention. Interest keeps their attention. The authors suggest to systematically open gaps in the audience knowledge through surprise and interest and filling them with new information.

Concrete
Language is often abstract, life is not. Abstraction makes it harder to understand or remember an idea. Concreteness helps avoid this problem and enable people to understand new concepts. The “Velco Theory of Memory” suggests that new information is easier to remember if it relates to familiar and concrete items or images.

Credible
People’s experiences have more impact on determining what’s credible to them than statistics or facts. To get people to believe in your ideas, you need to find a source of credibility to leverage. The “Sinatra Test” is based on Frank Sinatra’s classic “New York, New York” and the chorus: If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere. If you wrote for The New York Times, you could write anywhere. If you painted Obama’s house, you could paint anywhere. Sticky ideas are credible.

Emotional
Frame the message to evoke emotions and drive action. To make people care about your ideas, you must get them to take off their analytical hats and feel for something. Research has found that the emotional content of words is rated as more important and are recalled much better.

Stories
Storytelling is a narrative of a chain of events told with emotions. To make people act on your ideas, stories are a kind of mental flight simulator that prepares the audience to respond quicker and more effectively.

Based on research, there are three plots that ensure a story is memorable and inspiring: the Challenge plot, the Connection plot, and the Creativity plot.

Respectively, one that makes people want to set greater goals, one that makes people want to work with others, and one that makes people want to do something different.

Sticky ideas are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and tells a story. Simplicity helps at many stages but more importantly, it tells you what to say.

Unexpectedness makes people pay attention and concreteness enables people to understand and remember your message. Leveraging on credibility makes people agree and believe in your idea. Finally, emotions evoke empathy and stories drive action.

When I work on a client’s brand messaging, these six traits have become almost automatic and entrenched at the back of my mind. How will you use the checklist that will impact the stickiness of your brand idea, message or story?