Made to Stick – Chip Heath [Book Summary]

by Nick

Why are absurd rumors, conspiracy theories, urban legends, and blatant misconceptions instantly remembered and stuck in people’s memory for a long time, while brilliant ideas and fateful discoveries are often ignored?

According to the author of the book, the problem is not in the idea, but in the ability to convey it to the audience.

Therefore, they argue, good advertising is advertising that tells the story. Of course, this idea is not new, but never before it was considered so thoroughly and not confirmed so reasonably.

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The Ancient Art of Storytelling

Fables, myths, fairy tales, and even modern “urban legends” – like the one in which the hero gets drunk at the bar and wakes up the next morning without a kidney in the hotel’s ice-filled bathtub — are remembered much better than anything useful that we hear about or read. They “stick” because they contain certain elements. These elements can be analyzed and based on them to create a set of requirements for advertising appeal or, more broadly, the idea that you definitely want to convey to the audience.

“In order to expose the essence of the idea, you need to be able to filter out the excess. We need to learn how to set priorities tightly. ”

Your advertising message should follow the formula “SUCCESs: simple, unexpected, concrete, credentialed, the emotional story”, that is, be a “simple, unexpected, concrete, reliable and emotional story”. Only such a story will become truly “sticky” and will be able to change people’s behavior. Information presented in the form of a story not only promotes product sales but also improves the training process for employees and strengthens their motivation.

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Get to the Point

To expose the essence of your idea, clear it of all excess, of all technical details, even if they seem important to you. For a while, try to forget everything you know about your topic, and put yourself in the place of a person who has no idea what this is about. Success depends on one clear message that fits into one sentence. And let there be many convincing arguments in support of your product or service – if you want the audience to understand and remember your message, this should be one suggestion. Rid the reader or listener of the torment of choice. Take an example from good journalists who start their articles with the most important.

“If you say three phrases, you will not say anything.”

“Simple” does not mean primitively, simplicity refers to the essence of an idea, the identification of priorities. Herb Kelleher, head of Southwest Airlines, an American low-cost airline, expressed the essence of his company’s corporate philosophy with one phrase: “We are a low-cost airline.” This certainty helps each employee to understand what is expected of him and what to do in any situation, even in the absence of detailed instructions. You can afford any signs of attention to customers and services – naturally, within the framework of security requirements – but only if they do not lead to additional costs.

“Analogies are a great way to avoid useless accuracy and evade the curse of knowledge.”

In the 1950s, Masaru Ibuka, Sony’s chief technologist, acted similarly to Kelleher. He wanted to work with advanced technologies, including transistors. He saw great prospects in replacing vacuum tubes with transistors in radio receivers – in those days, due to their size, radios were interior items and furniture. He needed to interest his team, but the idea of creating a “transistor radio” or the slogan “Sony will become the manufacturer of the most high-tech radios in the world” could hardly motivate people. “Make a pocket radio,” Ibuka simply said.

“The easiest way to get attention is to break the pattern.”

To achieve this simplicity, you must:

  1. Define the ultimate goal.
  2. Prioritize.


Did you find the main idea? Then pay attention to the following:

  • Specific wording. Try to be very specific – as one publisher of a local newspaper who needed to convince his staff to focus on local events. He was sure that readers were most interested in what was happening in their city. “I need names, names, and names again,” he liked to repeat, and this simple and sticky phrase helped his journalists make the right decisions for many decades.
  • Relevance for the target audience. What is happening in a neighboring city interests readers of a local newspaper only if it somehow affects them personally.
  • Compactness. The saying “a bird in the hands is better than a crane in the sky” reduces a complex concept to a simple and understandable image.
  • Significance. The saying about a tit and a crane (which, by the way, is shared by many peoples) contains not only a well-known truth, but also a certain rule of behavior.

“Riddles are powerful … because they create a need for a solution.”

Complex things can be simplified using analogies. So, one can explain what pomelo is by saying that it is a kind of large grapefruit with a thick soft peel. And the film “Alien” can be described as “Jaws” on a spaceship. Such comparisons work because they allow you to use the audience’s existing knowledge and avoid lengthy explanations.

We Attract Attention

For people to agree to listen to your – even the most interesting – story, you must first attract and then keep their attention. To do this, you need to destroy the usual patterns of communication. For example, if you change the standard safety instructions on the plane, passengers will immediately notice this. As soon as something ceases to meet stereotypical expectations, even in a movie or television show, it instantly attracts the attention of the audience. Use the principle of surprise, as a hotel employee does, by upsetting a guest with the unexpected: “We will iron your shirts.” Such a trick is also a story. But surprises only work when they are associated with your product or advertising message, and not just aim to impress people with a sensational statement.

Using Knowledge Gaps

In order for people’s attention not to weaken, it is necessary to maintain interest. Good teachers and detective writers know that you can keep students or readers by telling them a secret or making a riddle. In general, information gaps in all forms are a great way to retain interest for a long time. We are closely monitoring what is happening because we want to know:

  • At a sports competition – who will win?
  • In a detective story – who is the killer?
  • In the news – what new has happened?
  • In the film – what will happen next?

“In order to interest people, you need to provide them with context.”

Professional screenwriters skillfully end episodes of the series with unexpected, breathtaking plot twists so that viewers wait for the sequel. If you manage to arouse curiosity, the audience will be much more receptive to what you want to say. Of course, it happens that people in principle are not interested in your topic or the gaps in their knowledge are too large. Then you must first give them exactly as much information as possible so that the spaces are reduced to an acceptable size. That is why announcements of popular documentary programs start like this: “There is an invisible chemical in your house – and it is killing you right now!”

We Will Be Extremely Specific

Near Silicon Valley, there is a zone of “brown hills” with grass scorched in the sun – there is nothing interesting for lovers of beautiful panoramas in it, but it is important for maintaining the ecological balance in the region. In order to arouse the interest of sponsors and local residents in the project to protect this territory, the environmental organization gave it the name “Hamilton Mountain Park”. So the vague concept of the “important ecological zone” became concrete and began to cause emotions.

“The V-engine is concrete. “Superproductivity is abstract.”

In a similar way, it’s better to teach children fractions not on abstract numbers, but, for example, dividing a cake into pieces. Another example: the engineers working on the Boeing 727 were not tasked with “creating the world’s best passenger aircraft”. They were supposed to design an “aircraft with a capacity of 131 people, capable of making a non-stop flight from Miami to New York and landing on the runway of La Guardia airport”, whose length is less than two kilometers.

“Concreteness makes goals transparent.”

In another case – a food producer – specificity meant simplifying the product line, as a result of which the number of different tastes decreased from thirty to six. In politics, the speech of President Kennedy was prominent in its specificity, proclaiming the intention “to send a man to the moon and return him alive to Earth by the end of the decade.” This specific goal has helped mobilize thousands of people and find billions of dollars in space programs.

Messages You Can Believe

Sometimes you can give credibility to the message with the help of a well-known specialist. However, there are not many products that could be advertised by, say, Stephen Hawking. Another thing – athletes or representatives of show business. In the United States, for example, Oprah Winfrey, the talk show host, has significant advertising power, as she is always responsible for what she says.

“By making history tangible and concrete, details make it more real, more believable.”

However, trust can also be caused by people, on the contrary, who do not have any authority, such as, for example, an American student who ate sandwiches of a certain chain of fast-food restaurants and lost weight from 193 to 150 kilograms. Personal experience always has credibility, makes you believe in something.

“Messages need to be made emotional in order to excite people. Feelings inspire action. ”

Another way to build trust is to show how your service passed the “Sinatra test”, one of the songs of which says: “If I can do it here, I can do it everywhere.” Safexpress, an Indian logistics company, was able to deliver another Harry Potter novel to all Indian bookstores by exactly eight in the morning on release day. This was a convincing argument for potential company customers who doubted its reliability.

“History is powerful because it provides a context that is absent in abstract prose.”

Confidence is also provided by personal recommendations, specific details, numbers and statistics – the truth is only if you manage to revive the statistics with the help of clear comparisons. Absolute numbers are dead, an uninitiated person is unlikely to connect them with each other and draw the necessary conclusion. Concrete, verifiable evidence works flawlessly. The “see for yourself” approach that Ronald Reagan used during the presidential debate with Jimmy Carter, asking viewers: “Do you live better today than you did four years ago?”

The Significance of Emotions

Analysis and information per se rarely become an impetus to action. An action, as a rule, is a reaction to an emotional impulse. Once the idea is simple and concretely formulated, interest is aroused, it is important to make the message affect readers or listeners. This does not necessarily require strong emotions, such as anger, fear, greed, compassion. Usually, it’s enough to touch on the personal interests of the recipient of information: price advantage, a vacation without worries and problems, a sense of owning your own home, comfortable housing.

“You need to know what to look for. You don’t have to invent anything, you don’t have to exaggerate or dramatize anything … You just need to understand when life throws its gifts to you. ”

In addition, in some cases, there is an appeal not only to personal interests but also to group ones. The feeling of belonging to a group can encourage people to change their behavior, to become altruists. In the United States, the extremely successful Do Not Mess with Texas campaign has forced even the macho people who are stubborn in their contempt for the rules and authorities of Texas to stop throwing garbage from cars onto the road and start disposing of it properly. The advertisement worked, turning to such an important concept for them as “the honor of a Texan”.

Telling a Story

A catchy slogan, a good example, a vivid comparison – all this can be history. Stories are like a flight simulator: they immerse us in another world and cause a certain physical, or at least an emotional reaction.

“The most wonderful thing in the world of ideas is that each of us, with the right information and the right message, can create an adherent idea.”

There are three main plots that any story boils down to.

  • The plot is about overcoming. Typical examples are the myth of David and Goliath or the fate of the dishwasher who became a millionaire. These are stories about overcoming obstacles and the triumph of will.
  • The plot of the association. These are stories about what unites people, forcing them to forget about the differences that divide them – religious, class, racial, ethnic, age or any other. This happens in the biblical parable of the good Samaritan or in an advertisement, where a famous black sportsman, a giant, and a feeble white young man, a fan, are united by a bottle of cola.
  • The plot of the discovery or creation. These are stories about creativity, about how changes are happening, like in stories about Newton’s discovery of gravity after an apple fell on his head or about the development of a Sony pocket radio.

Stories trigger the process of mental modeling in the human mind. Similarly, a musician before going on stage loses a piece in his head, and the skater imagines an upcoming jump or pirouette. Mental modeling allows the audience to better imagine and remember the situation or information message – the moral of the story. And then the idea “sticks”, remaining in memory for a long time.


Heath brothers’ story is so captivating that you will definitely remember it forever.

  • Abstract reasoning is not remembered. Only stories remain in my memory.
  • A story may consist of a single sentence.
  • Start by setting goals and setting priorities.
  • Your message will have the desired action only if it is meaningful and relevant to the target audience.
  • Memorable stories are created using the formula SUCCESs (simple, unexpected, concrete, credentialed, emotional story), which means “simple, unexpected, concrete, reliable and emotional stories.”
  • “Simplicity” implies the brevity and clarity of a popular proverb. Forget everything you know and imagine a person who has no idea about your product.
  • “Surprise” means that you have to offer more than the audience expects. Artificially create knowledge gaps so that you can close them.
  • “Concreteness” means the absence of abstract thoughts. Comparisons and analogies help well.
  • “Credibility” arises when you talk about what you understand. This is the only way to gain trust.
  • “Emotionality” includes the ability to arouse in people the feelings that move them to action.

Why You Should Read “Made to Stick”

  • To build a successful and profitable company
  • To create an extraordinary product
  • To become a wealthy entrepreneur or manager

This book is available as:

AudiobookeBook | Print