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How to Get Your Ideas to Stick

This story originally appeared on KISSmetrics

There’s an adage that goes:

Ideas are easy, execution is hard.

Everyone can create ideas for new businesses, new companies, new products, and new marketing campaigns. But executing on the idea – not just making it a reality, but making it successful, is the hard part.

In 2007, the Heath Brothers helped us all out by publishing the book Made to Stick. In that book, they described the six things needed to make an idea sticky. It’s called their SUCCESs framework:

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

You don’t need all of these in a sticky idea, but you will need a few of them. The more of them you have, the better the chance your message will stand out.

Co-author Chip Heath gave a presentation where he outlined 5 of the 6 points in the book. This blog post serves as a review of his talk. And if you haven’t already read the book, we highly recommend you pick up a copy.


A simple message means prioritizing to the core of your idea. If you say 10 things, you say nothing. This requires a little constraint, because most marketers and companies have a lot things they want to say.

Prioritize the most important things you want to get across. Be sure to get the first most important thing out before the 2nd, 3rd, etc. A good, simple message means that you can make decisions off that idea.

Here are a couple simple messages that get the idea across in a succinct manner:

Movie pitch

“Die Hard on a bus.”

The movie: Speed

Business pitch

“Blockbuster without the late fees.”

The business: Netflix

What you need to do:

Find the essence of your concept.


Unexpected ideas are surprises that stop us and make us listen to that idea. To surprise people, you need to break a pattern or violate a schema.

Each of us has a pattern of how things work or the way things are. We have a mental schema of what a diet should be, or the way the market operates.

The burger industry is one of America’s treasures, but the issue for companies is that it becomes difficult to stand out. There are dozens of burger joints in every city, so how do you make yours stand out?

The Heart Attack Grill is a company that has broken the patterns of the market. The burger names – single bypass, double bypass, triple bypass, and quadruple bypass make it clear that they don’t try to hide how unhealthy their food is. They embrace it and use it as a differentiator.

There are also unexpected ideas or phrases that stick with people, such as:

“You only use 10% of your brain.”

This is complete nonsense, but it sticks around because it’s unexpected, as well as retaining a few other principles in the SUCCCESs framework.

What you need to do:

Find the pattern in your industry, and break that pattern.


To be concrete, use sensory language. Perhaps the best example of a concrete statement comes from President Kennedy:

“This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

What are we doing? Landing a man on the moon.

When are we doing it? Within a decade.

This is a bold, concrete idea. If Kennedy said he wanted to people to space someday, it wouldn’t have been as concrete. By sticking to concreteness, the idea of going to moon stuck in people’s minds, and kept the goal in place at NASA.

What you need to do:

Be specific with your ideas


Ideas need to have emotion, but they shouldn’t have negative emotion. Showing negative emotion will cause people to shut down and tune out. Showing this Vine to smokers wouldn’t help, because it’s negative and doesn’t help them quit. They already know smoking is harmful.

Instead of something like this, you should create hope in your message.

A car wash had a loyalty program that provided a free car wash. After you bought eight car washes, your ninth was free. They created two cards and distributed them evenly to customers. One card had eight sections, and after each section the car wash would stamp one of the sections. The other card had 10 sections, but two of them were already stamped. It’s the exact same amount of car washes needed, but one gave them the illusion of having a jump start.

The result?

The card that already had two sections stamped got nearly double the customer loyalty than the ones that didn’t have any stamped.

This is because it gave the customer a sort of emotional hope. They were much more likely to complete the loyalty card knowing that it had already been started. Get one car wash and you already have three sections stamped!

What you need to do:

Connect emotions to ideas to make them more sticky.


People bond by telling stories to each other. They’re not just entertainment, they are ways to exercise our abilities. Hearing a story, we often think how we may act if we were the person in the story. Stories are flight simulators for our brains.

One of the most successful marketing campaigns was run by Subway, where they told the story of Jared Fogle, who weighed over 400lbs. After eating Subway for 15 years, Fogle lost over 200lbs. This story exercised people’s own abilities – eat Subway, walk a lot, and lose weight. Even if you’re not interested in losing weight, you’ll still get a healthy sub. This story stuck with people and led to a 20% sales jump for Subway after the first national commercial.

What you need to do:

Add a story to your ideas.

The Curse of Knowledge

The curse of knowledge is what works against you. If you’re an expert in your field, you’ll have a difficult time creating an idea that’s sticky. You think in abstract and complex ways, which makes it difficult to prioritize and create a simple idea. Speaking abstractly helps when you’re talking to other experts – but if you’re speaking to non-experts, you’ll lose them quickly. Crossing the boundary from expert-to-expert to expert-to-beginner becomes the challenge.

To beat the curse of knowledge, follow the principles in the SUCCESs framework. This will help align and focus your idea to make it more sticky.