Is your communication sticky?

image via huayiinc on flickr

image via huayiinc on flickr


Think about how much communication you experience during a typical day. Think about everything you read online, face-to-face discussions you’re part of, and emails or texts you receive. It’s a massive amount (unless you happen to be a hermit on a desert island without Internet access).

Now think about how much of that communication you actually remember clearly the next day, or even minutes after receiving it. Chances are that amount is very much not massive, but rather miniscule.

So, why does some communication stick with you while the majority of it does not?

This topic is explored in depth in the book Making It Stick by brothers Chip and Dan Heath, the most recent selection that my fellow Mobytes and I read as part of our office book club. This is a book I had been aware of for years, and was glad to finally get around to reading. It includes a wealth of information and real-world examples that can help anyone–whether they’re in the business world or not–learn to communicate in a more impactful way.

“Sticky” ideas, according to the authors, have some key qualities:

  • They’re simple. They succinctly let people know why they should care.
  • They’re unexpected. They catch people by surprise.
  • They’re concrete. They’re clear enough for people to easily latch onto and retain.
  • They’re credible. They’re backed up with something that makes them truly believable.
  • They’re emotional. They get people to genuinely care.
  • They’re based around stories. They get people to take action.

One of the the many real-world examples cited in the book is the well-known Subway advertising campaign that focused on customer Jared Fogle’s actual, significant weight loss that resulted from eating Subway sandwiches every day. Everyone seems to know about Jared and this campaign. It’s one that stuck with people when it was new and still sticks with people years later. Why? Because it hits on all the key aspects of sticky ideas. Look at each of the six qualities above in relation to this particular example of communication, and you’ll see that they all apply.

It doesn’t have to be about an advertising campaign, though, or a situation where you’re trying to reach customers. That’s just one example. The idea also applies to communication you put out to co-workers, friends, family, or anyone else.

Some of these ideas might seem obvious, but that doesn’t mean they’re always easy to put into action. We can often over-complicate what we want to get across to people without even realizing it. I know that I’m now going to give more thought to what effect the messages I put out into the world are going to have. I believe we can all aspire to make our communication sticker–to get at the heart of what we’re trying to get across and do it in a way that ensures it won’t be easily forgotten or overlooked.

4 Responses

  1. Bob Goranson says:

    The book could have been as long as this blog.

  2. pat mcauley says:

    This book’s ample detail and real-life examples made this a fantastic read. The back cover summary might serve those less inclined to read, but every businessperson responsible for communications should dive in and absorb every word. Frank, you’ve done a fine job of summarizing the authors’ main points, and I hope you inspire people to seek out this book.

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