The Secret Way to Make Your Marketing “Stick”

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip March 27, 2007

Why is so much marketing money flushed down the toilet? And what could be done to make it work a lot better?

Chip and Dan Heath are the authors of Made To Stick

I talked with Chip, a Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, and he shared the secrets.

Chip, how can radio stations create ideas and messages that connect with listeners and “stick”?


It was an emotional idea – it inspired people’s passions. We wanted to achieve the next frontier; we wanted to pull together as a nation. It was a credible idea because it was coming from the President of the United States, and it was a little story in miniature: We’re going to adopt this challenge, and we’re going to succeed at it.

Together, those six principles form the backbone of the book. We found over and over again as we studied sticky ideas that they used at least some of those six principles, and the more sticky ideas tended to use more of them.

We boiled the formula down to an acronym: S-U-C-C-E-S.

Give me an example from the marketing world.


Nobody remembers Subway’s campaign before Jared – it was called “seven sandwiches under six grams of fat.” Now, that’s like the information a lot of us put into our PowerPoint presentations or into our appeals to listeners. The numbers behind it are factual, you know, we do have seven sandwiches under six grams of fat, but it’s also pretty abstract. It fails almost every aspect of the S-U-C-C-E-S framework. No wonder the Jared campaign worked and caught on like wildfire, and why “seven under six” is something most of us can only vaguely remember, if at all.

In general, we consumers are not good at numbers. So when we’re talking about numbers in a marketing context we often have no clue what those numbers mean. That’s why we must translate them into very concrete terms. For example, a medium-sized buttered popcorn contains 37 grams of saturated fat, and a group of nutritionists was trying to get that number to stick with the American people. What they did was brilliant. They made it very concrete and unexpected, and tangible. They said that medium- sized buttered popcorn has the same saturated fat as a bacon and egg breakfast, a burger and fries for lunch, and a steak and potato dinner with all the trimmings – combined!

So if I say there are a a few million HD radios in the hands of consumers, that’s fairly fuzzy. But if I say the average consumer is more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident than to own an HD radio, this concrete fact becomes unforgettable?

Exactly. We’re going to be better off getting facts and numbers across by making them tangible, by making them human scale, by translating them into everyday terms that all of us can relate to.

What do you think is the biggest mistake radio broadcasters make in their marketing to listeners?

The message is too superficial. Don’t just tell people what you do, but help them understand the identity they have that should make them care about what it is that you do.

Here’s an example: The State of Texas Department of Transportation wanted to get people to litter less. And lots of research had found their target litter-bug was an 18 to 30 year old truck-driving male. They called that “customer,” affectionately, Bubba.

But how do you tap into Bubba and get him to care about roadside litter? As it happened, they coined one of the most famous taglines in Texas advertising history: Don’t Mess with Texas. How do you get an 18 to 30 year old truck-driving guy to care about litter? You make it a matter of patriotism. And Texans, above all, are very patriotic: I was born in Texas, and we believe in the United States of America and even more we believe in Texas.

With “Don’t mess with Texas” you’ve told “Bubba” that “litter is unpatriotic.”

So what does “40 uninterrupted minutes of music” mean to you as a listener? Maybe it means you’re a pretty sophisticated music lover, you’re not content with a bunch of talk and a bunch of DJs there yapping at you, you love music. And so, instead of just telling me “40 minutes of music,” help me get a sense of what that says about myself. Texas solved that problem with “Don’t Mess with Texas,” and the litter on Texas roadways dropped 81% in five years. That’s a pretty remarkable achievement for a public service campaign.

Your radio station must form an association between what kinds of songs you’re playing and the identity your listeners want to have of themselves.

You need to boil down the marketing-speak into a very concrete image of who your customer is. That mental image will help you make very clear decisions that are consistent with attracting the kind of customers you’re trying to attract. Everyone in your organization will get a common mental image about who that person is like.

But radio is bought and sold largely on demographics. What’s wrong with that?

As long as we’re stuck with demographic information, I don’t think we’re going to be as creative as we could be, because we’re really not feeding into our brains the kind of material that our brains work best with, which is concrete images of specific people doing specific things.

Here’s a great exercise for radio station managers. Ask yourself who is your prototypical listener, the primary listener for the kind of station you’re pitching?

Let’s say he is a graphic design artist who works downtown, who reads the local independent paper and tends to have more varied taste in books and music. Tell me what he reads during his lunch break, tell me where he gets his coffee. Tell me who his favorite music groups are. And so on.

Pretty soon, you’ll have a very concrete image of that customer, where to find him, and how to appeal to him. And the more concrete you can make this image of your customer, the better you’ll be at making key business and marketing decisions.

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