Book Review: Made to Stick

I picked up Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, because for years now I have seen it on bestseller lists. Now, that I’ve taken the time to read the book I see why.

The authors, Dan and Chip Heath, are two academics with an interest in behavioral economics. The book explores principals that help people remember and be persuaded by ideas, making them “sticky” ideas.

According to the Heath brothers, a sticky idea can be described as an idea that:

  • Makes people Pay Attention
  • Helps them Understand & Remember
  • Leads people to Believe & Agree
  • Makes people Care
  • Makes people Act

Made to Stick is a great book because it not only highlights the anatomy of a viral idea, it gives incredible real world examples. These examples show exactly how sticky thoughts can be applied to different industries and types of businesses.

Here are some sticky idea techniques in the book and how I like to apply them in my marketing.

Go with the Simple Explanation

Understand & Remember

An extremely common principal of both marketing and in making ideas “sticky” is to find your core message (your core value proposition) and then simplify it to be easily digestible for your audience.

I have a whole post about the importance of messaging and how to clarify your message: Messaging 101 .

A good way to simplify your message is to do what the Heath brothers refer to as, “anchoring”.

Anchoring is a way of explaining a new idea by relating it to ideas your audience is already familiar with.

Examples of anchoring include, teaching math to students using MnMs or explaining optimism/pessimism with a half-filled glass of water.

I personally use anchoring to compare new products to those already well known in the market. This strategy not only makes your pitch/sales copy/ website more sticky, but it also highlights how your product is better than the competition.

For Example, if you’re creating a movie streaming app that better organizes movies. Your copy could go something like:

Tired of Scrolling for Hours on Netflix?

Well now you don’t have to… Movie App brings the wide range of shows on Netflix to your phone and organizes them into categories you’ll love based on your Netflix viewing history!

Download MovieApp HERE for your next Movie Night.

Because your audience is already familiar with Netflix, you don’t need to explain that Netflix streams a lot of shows but its annoying to scroll through. People already know this information. By relating a new idea, like MovieApp, to a well established idea, like Netflix, you greatly increase your chances of creating a Sticky pitch.

To Recap: In order to utilize the Simplification Strategy:

  1. Find your core message
  2. Anchor your message to information your audience already has

Be Unexpected

Pay Attention

This principle probably isn’t a surprise because marketers are constantly trying to get people to pay attention to their content. If you can’t grab your audience’s attention, it doesn’t matter how good of a product you’re selling. This principle is best applied in headlines, sub-headlines, landing pages, emails, or wherever your content/room to pitch is especially brief.

The Heath brothers present a couple ways to apply this principle. My favorite way presented is by creating curiosity, or asking questions your audience would like the answer to.

Before trying to create a sense of unexpectedness and curiosity, it’s important to have a good idea of what your audience already knows and is interested in. The best way to do this is with a buyer persona: The Importance of Buyer Personas.


  • Have you ever wondered why people have Deja’vu?
  • When is the last time your favorite app improved your life?
  • According to the news, solar energy is everywhere, when was the last time you saw someone installing solar in your neighborhood?

By asking questions, you automatically create curiosity in your audience’s mind. If your Buyer Personas have served you well, that curiosity will result in them reading the rest of your content, going to your website, or whatever desired action you’re looking for.

What isn’t mentioned in the book, but is my personal opinion, is that people can have curiosity about themselves (hence question #2 above). This method also draws on emotion which makes ideas sticky (emotion is down page).

Concrete Concepts

Understand & Remember

This principle is similar to the Simplification principle in the sense that they both suggest grounding new ideas into ones that are already well established in your audiences’ minds.

Concrete Concepts add sensory experiences. The Heath brothers give the example that its easier to remember a song than a credit card number because a song appeals to the audio sensory experience, making it Sticky.

In my opinion this is one of the better principles, because I agree that people remember feelings more than words or passing thoughts.

I don’t know if I’ve been able to apply this kind of technique in my own marketing efforts so far, but I definitely plan to in the future. Here are some links with ideas on how to create concrete concepts that stick:

Be Credible

Believe & agree

As a marketer, I think it’s immensely important to establish credibility with your audience. This can be done through any kind of social proof, case studies, testimonials, or organic PR.

I often see companies doing everything wrong, bad website, bad social media presence, bad messaging, but if they have a lot of case studies, for many customers that’s all they need.

When you have social proof, its like you have an actual person indirectly recommending your company. Your first time customers will always trust the opinion of other people over your messaging, website, and any other marketing techniques.

This is why its often a good idea to sell your product at a discount or give it away for free to rack up case studies and testimonials before you go to market.

Emotional Triggers

Make People Care

Appealing to peoples’ emotions to make an idea stick is so effective that its a technique blatantly used everywhere. We not only see this in advertisements but also in politics, charity, and all sorts of media.

Where I have often used this principle is in creating messaging that appeals to my audiences’ needs (you must create a buyer persona). Audience’s needs always have to do with:

  1. Saving/Making Money
  2. Saving Time
  3. Making Life Easier


Make People Act

The structure of stories, the main elements being a plot, villain, and hero, is extremely familiar to most people. Movies have a huge impact on society because a story naturally draws people in, creating curiosity, mystery, emotion, and credible characters all in one.

I use stories in blog posts, case studies, social media, and basically everywhere I can. Part of creating a story is being authentic and sharing that authentic self with your customers.

This is another reason that social media is so important, especially for new businesses. By sharing more of yourself (to an extent) with your audience, you can make yourself the “hero” in your audiences’ eyes, which can help drive sales.

Building a Story Brand, by Donald Miller is a very useful book that defines how to use Stories in marketing. I highly recommend it and if I read it (again) this year I’ll definitely do a review.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Made to Stick”

  1. Pingback: Marketing Strategies You Should Know – renee holden marketing

  2. Pingback: Messaging 101 – renee holden marketing

Leave a Reply