Marketing Psychology Book Summary: Insights from “Made to Stick” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Marketing Psychology Book Summary: Insights from Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

For most marketers and business owners, coming up with marketing ideas isn’t a tough task. As marketers, we have more marketing ideas stored in our back pocket than useless business cards you get at most networking events. Most of them you’re never going to use.

The marketing ideas you do use however, must be memorable, powerful, legendary, and prone to virality. In other words, they must be ‘sticky’.

After years of research, Chip and Dan Heath neatly present us with the common characteristics that all successful, long-lasting, “sticky” ideas have, in their bestseller Made to Stick.

Those characteristics can be easily summed up in the mnemonic of SUCCESs:

  • SIMPLE
  • UNEXPECTED
  • CONCRETE
  • CREDIBLE
  • EMOTIONAL
  • STORY

In this review, I’ll sum up each one in order.

By the end of this post, you’ll have all the essential insights you need to:

  • Quickly and easily evaluate the “stickiness factor” of the next brilliant marketing idea you have.
  • Tweak your marketing ideas, to ensure they spread quickly when implemented.
  • Create memorable marketing ideas from scratch.
  • Create marketing campaigns predisposed to going viral

Are Your Marketing Ideas SIMPLE? 

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

“When in Rome… Do as the Romans.”

“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.”

You’ve heard these proverbs before. In fact, your mind probably finished them before your eyes got to reading till the end. What makes these proverbs so easy to remember? Is your company tagline this easy to remember?

Granted, they’re simple. But a lot of things are simple. Why are proverbs so memorable and why do they get spread so easily? Why do people speak them out loud at just the right times?

The answer is that they are simple… AND profound.

Powerful marketing ideas are simple and profound. To come up with something simple and profound, you must first let go of every supporting point that comes to mind and instead, express only your main point. Not as easy you’d think.

Too much detail is counterproductive. Details get forgotten, along with important messages.

As a side note, don’t make the mistake of dumbing down your idea – that’s not what we’re trying to do here. There’s a difference between profoundly ‘simple’ and profoundly stupid.

Profound simplicity is accomplished by capturing the core idea in a way that anyone can understand, without compromising the meaning. It requires some creativity.

Take Hollywood movies for example. In Hollywood, movies are pitched with the ‘simplicity’ concept in mind; Speed is Die Hard on a bus, Alien is Jaws on a spaceship. It’s a skill to think in profoundly simple ways. And just like any other skill, it strengthens with practice.

This skill is especially useful when creating headlines – which is why journalists have pretty much mastered it. They have the impressive ability to not only grab their audience’s attention, but also express the meaning of an entire article in just one simple, catchy line.

The purpose of your marketing message is to capture attention, spark intrigue, and eventually, trigger action. You write headlines so people are compelled to read the rest of the article. If no one is reading the rest of your copy after the headline, make it simpler and use concrete language.

“Finding the core and expressing it in the form of a compact idea can be enduringly powerful.”– Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Are Your Marketing Ideas UNEXPECTED?

Our mind is one efficient system. It’s so efficient that it has the capability of running on autopilot majority of the time – usually without even your conscious awareness! It does this to save us energy.

When things become routine for us, when things have become familiar through repetition, our conscious mind stops paying attention to them. They end up becoming ‘background noise’. We tune out. The easiest way to get someone’s attention is to tune them back in! Break that familiar pattern! When things change, we become aware.

Your goal when communicating your marketing message shouldn’t be to regurgitate facts but convey the main point in an unexpected and simple way. The trick is to stay away from common sense. The key to delivering an unexpected message successfully, is by avoiding common sense. Common sense and sticky messages don’t work together. This example will show you why…

“A journalism class teacher gave her class their first assignment: They were to write the lead of a newspaper story. The teacher reeled off the facts: ‘Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverley Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown.’ The budding journalists sat at their typewriters and pecked way at the first lead of their careers. Most of the students produced leads that reordered the facts and condensed them into a single sentence. The teacher collected the leads and scanned them rapidly. Then he laid them aside for a moment. Finally, he said, ‘The lead to this story is ‘There will be no school next Thursday’. In that moment, students realized that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point. That idea should be in the Sticky Hall of Fame. The teacher knew students had a defective schema of journalism, took their mental models, gave them a swift kick, and made them work better.” – Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Those journalism students remembered that lesson for years to come, because it was simple and unexpected.

Here’s how to break patterns and capture your audience’s attention when delivering your marketing message – ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the main message that I need to communicate?
  • What’s counterintuitive or unexpected about my message?
  • Knowing those two things, how can I communicate my message in a way that jolts my audience out of their comfort zone?
  • What questions do I want my audience to ask?

Surprise your audience. You want to create that ‘huh’ and then the ‘AHA!’ moment. Create the mystery, and then solve it. Though surprise is just half the equation. The other half is to create interest and curiosity.

Trigger your audience’s curiosity. Give them tiny bit of information and encourage them to fill in the gaps in their knowledge themselves. The gaps must be interesting, not overwhelming or unbeatable.

People are curious. We have a natural need to get answers to our questions and close open patterns. The most successful marketers leverage curiosity constantly – usually through storytelling. When emailing your prospective customers for example, does every email have an unexpected turning point? Is your reader curious and wondering what happens next and how the story will turn out? Are they excited to read your next email?

A great marketer will never let the answer arrive until the climax of the last email – which probably calls on the reader to take some action. The answer in fact will, require some call to action. Maybe to purchase. By that time, they’re long invested in the story, and they’ll do what needs to be done to get it.

Even if your story isn’t that encapsulating – people’s curiosity takes over. Haven’t you ever stayed until the end of a shitty movie just to see how it ends? Most people have. Obviously however, try to make your story as interesting as you can.

If your prospects are unresponsive to your emails or your ads or have become unresponsive, you can capture their attention by violating their expectations and being counter-intuitive. When you cause people to think differently, they act differently.

Speaking of unexpected, here’s a commercial that ‘breaks pattern’:

Are Your Marketing Ideas CONCRETE?

We’re not all born teachers. In fact, most school teachers aren’t born teachers either. Yet, in all our marketing initiatives, on some level we’re educating others all the time. We’re educating them about our products/services and their benefits/features. We’re even educating them about their own problems that they have yet to see completely.

Throughout the teachings of Brand Marketing Psychology, you’ll come to realize that great marketers are also great teachers. Yet, psychologically we’re not wired to be good teachers.

The number one problem we face is that we’re not able to put ourselves in the mind of our students (our customers) completely. Understanding your prospect and their psychology will free the great marketer inside you. For example, one our biggest barriers is that the more knowledge we have on something, the more we’re psychologically inclined to speak in abstract terms.

As a marketer or brand owner, you’re extremely knowledgeable about your product. We’ve been around our product so much that when it comes time to educating others on it, we naturally forget that they’re not on the same page at all. We need to avoid speaking in abstract concepts, and instead we need to get back to the roots and be more concrete in our communication.

“Of the six traits of stickiness, concreteness is perhaps the easiest to embrace. It may also be the most effective of the traits. To be simple – to find our core message – is quite difficult. (It’s certainly worth the effort, but let’s not kid ourselves that it’s easy). Crafting our ideas in an unexpected way takes a fair amount of effort and applied creativity. But being concrete isn’t hard, and it doesn’t require a lot of effort. The barrier is simple forgetfulness – we forget that we’re lapsing back into abstract speak. We forget that other people don’t know what we know.” – Chip Heath and Dan Heath

What good is it for your long-term strategy if a marketing campaign or a marketing message causes some traction initially, but people forget it really quickly? Only by using concrete, tangible, and understandable language, can we be certain that our marketing message will be understood, and remembered for a long time.

The best part for us as marketers? People buy tangible, understandable ideas. For example, statistics will strengthen your message, but only examples will do the selling. People can connect to examples and understand them with their senses.

Who’s going to donate to a random abstract charitable cause like ‘Humanitarian International’, as opposed to giving a donation to a real person like the ‘Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’?

Your marketing message will be powerful and sticky if:

  • It is lacking in unnecessary jargon and limiting buzzwords
  • Your audience knows exactly what to do, without any confusion or hesitation
  • New prospects who know nothing about you can understand your message easily
  • Your audience can easily visualize and remember your message
  • Nothing is left open to interpretation for your audience
  • Your message or idea can be interpreted by and appeal to the five senses

Are Your Marketing Ideas CREDIBLE?

How believable is your marketing copy or your brand story? Ideas will only spread if they are believable. We want proof.

PROOF: that’s the magic word. Once you have sufficiently proved your product to your customer, you’ve pretty much won them over.

Most people draw conclusions about whether or not something is credible from:

  • Recommendations from people we look up to (could be celebrities, professional athletes, older siblings)
  • Paying attention to authority figures who we know and trust (doctors, lawyers, etc.)
  • Hearing from others who have personal experience with whatever you’re trying to gauge (i.e. looking at amazon reviews for different products, reading blog articles of people reviewing products, etc.)

These are sources of ‘external credibility’.

The harsh truth for most companies is that it’s usually quite difficult to get external credibility, especially if your company, product, or campaign is new and in its beginning stages. It takes a lot of time and creative action to get an endorsement from a celebrity for example, or to get influencers to review and feature your product to their audiences.

The best way to go about making sure your marketing initiatives ‘stick’ and spread is to give them ‘internal credibility’. Internally credible ideas inherently just make sense and aren’t self-contradictory.

There are four things you can do to improve the internal credibility of whatever your marketing initiative may be.

First, include statistics. Simple number citing won’t do however – make it genuine, relatable. You can give someone a statistic of X number of smokers who are dying every day and ask them to stop smoking. Yet if you present a smoker with that same statistic with an image of a dying smoker, now you have given the viewer visual proof that smoking is bad for them. Not only will it be proven more substantially, but your message will be remembered more vividly. It will also hit them emotionally and that will amp up its convincing power.

Second, use your current credibility sources to assist your credibility with other initiatives. For example, it means nothing to me if a delivery company says that their services are “fast and reliable”. It means a lot to me if they tell me that they handled the delivery of the Twilight or Harry Potter books. That’s all the information and proof I need.

Thirdly, let people try something before they buy it. That way they prove to themselves that what they’re getting is worth it.

Lastly, and most importantly in my opinion, be your message. If you’re a makeup artist and your makeup is horrible, no matter what you say or do, your prospects won’t believe you. Would you go to a personal trainer who is out of shape?

“How do we get people to believe our ideas? We’ve got to find a source of credibility to draw on. It’s not always obvious which wellspring of credibility we should draw from. A few vivid details might be more persuasive than a barrage of statistics. A single story might overcome a mountain of skepticism. A case study might work better than an authority.” – Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Are Your Marketing Ideas EMOTIONAL?

Chip Heath conducted a study on how people are motivated.

A company offered employees $1000 bonus if they met certain performance objectives. There were three different ways of presenting this incentive to employees:

  1. Think of what that $1,000 means: a down-payment on a new car or that new home improvement you’ve wanted to make.
  2. Think of the increased security of having that $1,000 in your bank account for a rainy day.
  3. Think of what the $1,000 means: the company recognizes how important you are to their overall performance. They don’t spend money for nothing.

What would your answer be?

Most people chose answer #3. Why? A raise in self-esteem means a lot. The interesting thing is that when each employee was asked which of the three motivators OTHER employees would find most motivating, most people put #1 first, #2 second and #3 third.

When you think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs here, you realize that most of us think we have higher needs like ‘self-esteem’ whereas most others are more concerned with superficial things like getting a new toy. This bias is normal, and inherent in most people.

However, this bias is destructive for any marketer and their marketing initiatives to motivate others to take action. You’ll read this time and time again on Brand Marketing Psychology; emotions trigger action.

If you don’t know what your prospects really care about, if you don’t know what really motivates them, how can you stroke their emotions in favor of your marketing initiative? What do most people care about really care about? Themselves.

Focus your marketing initiative on your prospects self-interest. You can do this by creating an association with your marketing initiative and something your prospect really cares about.

The key is to remember it’s not just about what they want, but who they want to be!

John Caples’, one of the most respected copywriters of our time, said ‘First and foremost, try to get self-interest into every headline you write’. His words still stand. Be careful to get past basic benefits and basic emotional drivers like sex, greed, and fear.

“The most frequent reason for unsuccessful advertising is advertisers who are so full of their own accomplishments (the world’s best seed!) that they forget to tell us why we should buy (the world’s best lawn!). First and foremost, try to get self-interest into every headline you write. Make your headline suggest to readers that here is something they want. This rule is so fundamental that it would seem obvious. Yet the rule is violated every day by scores of writers.” – John Caples, mail order advertising guru

Do Your Marketing Initiatives Tell a STORY?

Stories are powerful. You already knew that. Why? We’ve all heard stories before. And you can remember the best ones easily if you tried.

Having a story in your marketing initiative is important because:

  • Stories are memorable
  • Stories can hit the right emotions in the reader/listener
  • Stories are effective teaching tools (the most memorable ones are rich with wisdom)
  • Stories can contain context for letting the reader/listener know how to take action
  • Stories can inspire
  • Stories contain not only provide stimulation (knowledge on how to act) but also inspiration (motivation to take action)

Stories are like flight simulators; you get inside all the action and experience the journey in figuring out how you’d react in the same situation. A lot of companies make the mistake of getting rid of the story in their marketing. Their ‘about us’ page is often empty, tasteless and barely a reflection of what the company really stands for and how it got there.

The fast food chain Subway leveraged story perfectly when they loudly released the story of Jared Fogle; an overly overweight man who was able to lose over 100 pounds with a diet of two Subway sandwiches per day.

There are three simple plot lines that engaging stories usually have. They are:

  1. The Challenge Plot – this is where the underdog overcomes all the odds against him or her. This is the rags to riches story, the David vs. Goliath story, the Rocky story, etc. Stories like this inspire people to take action by following the underdog’s example.
  2. The Connection Plot – this is where two people connect against all odds and remind us to focus on the beauty of our relationships with other. It reminds us to be more tolerant and open to our differences. This can be the romantic story like Romeo and Juliet or it can be one where someone helps another as a ‘Good Samaritan.’
  3. The Creativity Plot – this is where someone has a huge mental breakthrough, solving a mystery, a puzzle, and achieving success in an innovative manner. This can be the MacGyver story inspiring people to use their mind to achieve their goals. The story about an apple falling on Newton’s head also fits into this plot, as it encourages us to think outside the box and see the world through a different lens.

One of the best marketing campaigns in 2015 was a campaign on LinkedIn called “How to Rock the Perfect LinkedIn Profile.”

LinkedIn presented the world with a digital storybook on SlideShare, which LinkedIn owns by the way. The story was a slide deck of a musician named Matt Henshaw. I don’t want to give the story away but in it, Matt rediscovers his passion for music and has a ‘comeback’ – all because of the connections he’s made on LinkedIn, obviously.

LinkedIn is a brand that has the reputation of being boring and all… you know, “professional”. What a great strategy to expand its appeal and let people know that it’s not just an online resume space, but it’s also an avenue for “anyone with ambition,” according to Matt.

The call to action at the last slide is also very on point.

If you have a moment, check out the story here:

Now that is how you use STORY in your marketing initiatives – it’s memorable, powerful, and inspiring.

 “Stories have the amazing dual power to stimulate and inspire. Stories are almost always concrete. Most of them have emotional and unexpected components. The hardest part of using stories effectively is making sure they’re simple – that they reflect your core message. It’s not enough to tell a great story: the story has to reflect your agenda. And most of the time we don’t even have to use much creativity to harness these powers – we just need to be ready to spot the good ones that life generates every day.” – Chip Heath and Dan Heath

That concludes the book review of Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. I highly recommend reading this book if you want a far more in-depth understanding of what is written here.

Click here to check it out.


This Was My First Book Summary – Kind of a ‘Trial’ Post

I read for a passion and as you can imagine, regularly go through books related to marketing psychology. I also read a lot of different types of business, psychology, and self-development books.

Whenever I recommend a great book to a friend, I usually know, at the back of my mind, that they’re not going to read it. It’s not that they don’t want to – they just can’t prioritize it enough to make time for it.

Truth is that most authors cram the book with arguments before they get to the real insights. Maybe that’s necessary – but more often than not, I don’t care about the arguments because I trust the author. All I want are the insights! It can be easy to feel as though your time is being wasted going through the arguments.

So most of the time when reading, I find myself digging through all the clutter to get to the real applicable insights.

I had an idea to start sharing those insights with readers of Brand Marketing Psychology. This could save you time from doing all the digging yourself. It can also let you know if this is a book you want to invest in and look further into.

So let me know if this article is something you found valuable, and hopefully this will be the first of many, many more marketing book summaries to come.

Did you enjoy that review? Would you like to see more? Let me know in the comment section below.

Sam Pardhan

Hi, I'm Sam. I enjoy growing brands and businesses through sophisticated marketing methods. Over the years, I have contributed to the profitable growth of my own and many of my client's companies through the exact principles I write about on Brand Marketing Psychology. It is my hope that these marketing insights will also serve you in catapulting your business and marketing success to new heights.

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