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Why Do Your Ideas or Message Stick?

Updated: Nov 25, 2022

The book "Made to Stick" by Cheap and Dan Heath served as the basis for this article. At Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, Chip Heath teaches organizational behavior. Former Harvard researcher Dan Heath now works as a consultant and creates cutting-edge textbooks. They also contribute regularly to a Fast Company magazine article.

Your Ideas Stick because t hey follow the 6 principles of STICKINESS:


Powerful messages distill concepts into their most basic forms, not soundbites but simple yet profound proverbs. A straightforward message is comparable to a proverb or "The Golden Rule," which are traditional cultural representations of morals or ethics that are communicated in their bare minimum.


Focus on what is most crucial (“If you say three things, you don't say anything.")

Avoid burying the lead.

Use analogies or existing schemas that conjure well-known notions (the fatty foods schema, for example).


Do you know what 37 grams of fat looks like? What if you heard that a medium-sized bag of buttered popcorn contained more artery-clogging saturated fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings – combined? Thirty-seven grams of saturated fat might not mean much. But the image of three greasy meals, in a 1990s ad campaign, sparked a popcorn boycott in movie theaters from coast to coast.

Why did it work?

The message illustrates all Six Principles of Stickiness:

It’s simple – an uncomplicated comparison;

it’s unexpected – a surprising departure from nutrition facts in percentages and grams;

it’s concrete – a vivid picture jumps to mind;

it’s credible – it’s factual without too many numbers;

it’s emotional – we’re disgusted, we don’t identify ourselves as binge eaters; and

it’s a good story – the kind we could easily recount at a cocktail party.

The six principles are easy to remember because together, their initials conveniently make the acronym SUCCES.


People pay attention when expectations are broken. When we point out knowledge gaps in others, we can be prepared to fill them with crucial, fresh data or fresh viewpoints. When JFK declared that the US would send a man to the moon within a decade, he was doing something unexpected!


  • Common sense is the enemy of sticky communications; if recipients believe they "understand it," they are less likely to pay attention.

  • Get attention with surprise. Determine what about the message (all that fat packed in a bag of popcorn!?) is paradoxical.

  • Maintain interest in the audience.

  • Avoid tricks.

  • Make figures or data seem less abstract by presenting them in unexpected ways.


Compared to abstract ideas, visual or sensory information is much easier for our brains to recall. The most memorable teachings are those that are illustrated with vivid imagery, analogies, and human behavior. Real-world examples of the devastation caused by war, as opposed to dry statistics about the quantity of faceless soldiers or residents who have been killed or displaced, are significantly more moving. Providing the genuine identities of those who were slain instead of just the numbers has a completely different impact than just providing photographs. The truth of global warming was further highlighted by video of icebergs breaking apart in Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, in a way that graphs and charts cannot.

  • Chip Heath refers to this as the "Velcro" theory of memory, which states that the more hooks a concept has, the more likely it is to stick.

  • Discover your inner Aesop. Write with the fable-like specificity.

  • Use images to make abstraction (and statistics) concrete (think of the popcorn example).

  • Set the stage Give a specific setting.

  • Include characters in the plot.


Sticky concepts need to have their own credentials, not necessarily in the form of hard data or figures, but rather as triggers that link your narrative to the experiences of your audience. For instance, in a televised presidential debate, Ronald Reagan asked Americans, "Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?" without than giving particular economic figures. Each audience member could still see the "proof" in their heads. The message was predicated on credibility.

Some advice:

  • Show, don't tell: Include believable details.

  • Encourage viewers to "see for themselves" or try it out!

  • Provide examples and case studies that demonstrate how the idea or solution is applied to real-world situations. Prove the viability of your idea by citing successful examples.


Make folks feel something if you want them to be interested. Although they may forget what you said or what they read, they will never forget how you made them feel. They will recall whether they were overcome with pride, or whether they sobbed, laughed, or shivered. When we listen to even a very brief excerpt of a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., most of us experience emotional upheaval. We recall the emotions the entire speech evoked in us; we don't need to hear the words again to feel the emotion.

Make an effort to connect with people's sense of identity and make it important to them.

Don't try to do too much. When a problem seems too huge to handle, people give up. According to studies, one malnourished youngster stirs up more compassion than millions of others do during an epidemic.

Encourage others to visualize living their convictions or existing in a better world. Imagining a bright future encourages behavior.

Engaging the individual is essential, but it's important to keep in mind that "group interest"—the community or worldview we identify with—often predicts political attitudes more accurately than self interest.


All these ideas are combined in a tale style, which helps people be open to learning new things. Stories are much easier to retell than facts or figures that lack context. Our stories have a greater chance of spreading on their own if they are compelling—concrete, credible, emotive, simple, and unexpected.

Encourage individuals to imagine themselves in a story or acting on a conviction to engage their imaginations.

Consider the tales you share at the dinner table or at the water cooler. People feel more engaged and in control of the story when it is retold.

Inspiring stories typically include three main themes: struggle (overcoming difficulties), connection (reconnecting with others), and creativity (prompting new ideas or shifting perspectives).

Tell a "springboard story," or a tale that demonstrates a potential solution to an issue.

Simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, and emotive stories work best.

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