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Keynote: ‘Made to Stick’

Keynote: Dan Heath, author of ‘Made to Stick

Dan Heath stood in for his brother Chip to make this keynote on why some ideas prevail through time and how marketers can capitalize on these. Some of the most pervasive ideas are those transmitted by urban legends. Dan kicks off with a few examples: that the Great Wall of China can be seen from space (not true as the salient feature of the wall is its length rather than its width) and that Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC on the basis that it no longer puts chickens in its buckets, but rather some hybrid genetically modified beakless techno-chickens (personally, I could believe this one).

It’s not just urban legends. Aesop’s fables have existed for over 2,500 years and still enjoy tremendous popularity.

So, what are the traits present in all sticky ideas? The Heath brothers have whittled it down to these six factors:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

You don’t need all of these in order for your idea to stick – but you do need at least some of these. Also, this doesn’t apply to all ideas – only those you want to persevere, eg. messages you pass down to your kids.
For the rest of the presentation, Dan concentrated on a few of these points.

Simple ideas
There is the concept of decision paralysis: (the more decisions you have, the more likely you are to freeze up and go to the path of least resistance). A good example is speed dating – you are more likely to choose a prospective partner if you see 6 dates in a session rather than 12.

From a marketing standpoint, this can be tested in the creation of landing pages.

A good example is the Pandora music player. It deals with enormous complexity – but only ask you for one choice up front: what artist you like.

Within a large organization, a simple idea can aid coordination:

eg. for fast followers in the marketplace: ‘we don’t want to be first but we sure as hell don’t want to be third’.
eg. creating a movie: most people guessed a movie described as ‘Jaws for space’ could be Aliens.

The point here is to come up with a simple idea and use this to shape the project.

Emotional ideas
Dan showed some terms from the search industry: link analysis, contextual search. These terms are devoid of emotion which isn’t great for recall.

James March, an expert in decision-making theory, argued that we make decisions based on either consequence (cost-benefit) or identity (who am I, what kind of situation is this, what do people like me do in this situation). The latter case hinging more directly on emotional ideas.

A problem that dogs us is the curse of knowledge. It is almost impossible for us to understand what it’s like to not have the knowledge we have. Experts that give us advice often fall foul of this problem. This is a particular issue for communication.

Concrete ideas
it’s much easier to remember things that have a strong sensory component. Concreteness is the turf of differentiation ie. the escape from abstractions. This is particularly useful when it comes to illustrating what differentiates you from your competitors. Use concreteness to show what keeps you apart.