Success is a Sticky Business

Malcolm Gladwell first introduced the idea of “stickiness” in his debut book, The Tipping Point. The Stickiness Factor is the degree to which an idea is memorable: does it stick? Gladwell used Blue’s Clues and Sesame Street to illustrate what makes something stick.

Blue’s Clues was more appealing to children than Sesame Street, because the creators of Blue’s Clues understood what drives preschoolers; the need for understanding and routine, not novelty and exploration. Sesame Street was created to be a children’s show that could also appeal to the adults in the room, and as a result, much of the humor went over children’s heads, distracting them from the show. Blue’s Clues simplified things with large punctuated pauses and repetition to create the feeling of interaction and consistency; Dora the Explorer would follow this same formula to great success.

Thanks in part to The Tipping Point, it became clear that simplicity was crucial to the longevity of any idea or product. However, an idea that sticks requires a lot more than simplicity, as brothers Chip and Dan Heath dived into in their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. The Heath brothers were inspired by The Tipping Point, and sought to create general brainstorming guidelines based off Gladwell’s ideas. They developed the SUCCES acronym: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories.

Let’s take a look at some SUCCESful examples of sticky ideas:

Simple: Find the core of any idea.

The simple rule follows a simple rule: Tell people 10 things, and they’ll remember none. Tell them one thing, and they’ll remember it.

Take a look at the Macbook Air vs. Various PC laptops. Ads for PCs often focus on a variety of features, such as touch screens, detachable keyboards, processing power, portability, etc., whereas the success of the Macbook Air is mostly predicated on one thing: It’s really, really thin. Chances are you don’t need a really, really thin laptop, but there’s a lot more pride in owning the thinnest laptop in the world than there is in owning a smorgasbord of undefined features.

Check out these ads that illustrate our point:

Unexpected: Grab people's attention by surprising them.

Though the goal is to surprise people, it’s important to note that surprising =/= unexpected. When Red Bull had Felix Baumgartner skydive from the edge of space, it was certainly surprising, but not unexpected from a company with a focus on extreme viral stunts. In his lecture on viral marketing for the Wharton School of Business, Jonah Berger uses DoubleTree by Hilton as an example of a simple, unexpected touch that creates a memorable aspect of their business: fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. While you might expect that sort of cozy detail at a family inn, it’s completely out of the ordinary for a mid-level business hotel, thus introducing a rare intimacy into the cold world of business travel.

Concrete: Make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later.

Analogies are powerful tools in making ideas concrete. They’re especially useful in introducing new ideas, as people can relate the understood concept to the new one.

For example, in its early days Facebook was often described as “like a yearbook, but online.” Fixed quantities often play a big role in successful ideas. The Dollar Shave Club blew up on the premise of paying $1 a month for razors, and P90x has had continued success based on the assertion that the system will “transform your body in just 90 days.”

Credible: Give an idea believability.

Snake oil will never sell, at least not for long. No Man’s Sky is a recently released video game from indie game studio Hello Games, based on a pretty revolutionary idea: a procedurally-generated endless universe of exploration and discovery. You could create galactic trade routes, learn alien languages, seek out the secret of the universe, and more. One problem: the game delivered on about half of its promised features, and it had the quality of an early demo, not a triple-A title.

No Man’s Sky could be viewed as a success or a complete failure, depending on how you look at it. Initial sales were very high, due to the amount of hype built around the release. They built credibility through gameplay videos at video game conferences and interviews with the creator Sean Murray. However, when it was revealed that the “gameplay” was actually a produced video and Murray had lied or misled the public in a number of interviews, the reputation of Hello Games was permanently damaged. HG will also be unable to capitalize on DLC content, as there are currently more bloggers complaining about No Man’s Sky than people actually playing it.

So when focusing on building credibility, make sure you can follow through on everything you promise.

Emotional: Appeal to the heart, not the mind.

In certain areas, appealing to emotion is the obvious choice. Everyone has seen, and probably teared up at this Sarah McLachlan SPCA commercial. But even products and ideas with more technical aspects can succeed by focusing on the emotional benefits of their product.

Check out this Google ad:

Notice that while many of Google’s search engine features were displayed in the ad (building credibility), the focus was the heartwarming story. The “Parisian Love” spot also incorporates other attributes of the SUCCES guideline. The story is simple: An American finds love in Paris. The twist? We don’t see a single person the entire ad.

Some other things to consider when appealing to emotion:

  • Focus on the individual: A single poignant picture of a starving child is more effective than a statistic about a starving nation.

  • Focus on self-interest: Show what consumers stand to gain from your product, not the features your product has.

  • Relate to identity: We buy things that appeal to who we think we are, or who we want to be.

Stories: Empower people to use an idea through narrative.

We’ve often praised the power of storytelling in marketing, and this is no different. In a way, the story you tell should be the culmination of everything we’ve discussed so far: simple, surprising, memorable, believable, and emotionally impactful.

Here’s a classic example that, considering the time and place, meets all of these requirements:

When building a story around a product or idea, it’s important to ask “why?” Jonah Berger outlines the thought process here:

“You might say, well why do people use Google search? The answer might be because people want to find information... That's true, that's accurate, but it's not very emotional. To get to an emotional core, ask why again. Why do they want to find information? Well because they want to accomplish something. Well, ask why a third time, why do they want to accomplish that thing? Well, they want to connect with others, make their lives better, and be with their friends and family members more easily and more often. Suddenly, now we've gotten something much more emotional.”

Bringing It All Together

We’ve discussed individual elements of SUCCES, but what about an idea that brings them all together?

One perfect example is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from a couple years ago. It had a simple concept, unexpected premise, memorable subject matter, credibility, and emotional appeal.

Though no exact number can be pinned on the number of donations raised by the campaign, more than 2.4 million tagged video circulated FB and many celebrities participated, raising massive amounts of awareness for the disease.

We hope all your ideas are full of SUCCES! If you’re in need of Blooming Creative Solutions, contact The Pod Advertising today!

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