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Making Your Marketing Message Stick

What keeps your message in the minds of consumers?

We only use 10 percent of our brains. There are alligators living in New York City's sewers. What do these two statements have in common? They're false, and yet you can't get them out of your head.

Chip Heath, a Stanford organizational-behavior professor, has spent years studying the qualities that give ideas staying power. He and brother Dan Heath are co-authors of the new book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.
Chip Heath says there's plenty entrepreneurs can learn about branding their businesses from the persistence of silly urban myths.

Entrepreneur: In your book, you identify six qualities that help messages stick--they should be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and tell a story. How can entrepreneurs best use these principles to create effective branding or ad campaigns?
Chip Heath: If you look at award-winning ads that make an impact, people are using a surprisingly small number of plots in those ads. They all boil down to creating an unexpected message.

Take Subway's Jared--it's an unexpected idea that you can lose more than 200 pounds by eating fast food. It's square on their core message: They're fresher and more nutritious than other fast food. And they've added a story, which is another good thing to have.

Entrepreneur: Where do ads often go wrong?
Heath: If you're off the core idea, you're not going to have an impact. There was a Super Bowl ad where a marching band was on the field and ravenous wolves were unleashed. It was a sticky, unexpected image, but we have no idea what product it was advertising, so it had zero impact on our willingness to buy a product.

Entrepreneur: Of your six principles for creating sticky messages, which do you think entrepreneurs have the most trouble executing?
Heath: Concrete. Come up with a concrete example of your customer or a situation where your product would be used.

It's hard for entrepreneurs to be simple. The very knowledge that allows you to come up with a solution to a complex problem curses you. You're going to be too abstract and detailed, when customers are just trying to understand the basic idea.

This story appears in the January 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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