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Creating a message that sticks and spreads like wildfire is every marketer’s goal and dream. However, if you have ever tried to condense an idea into a memorable line or create a viral campaign, you would know how tough that can be.

That’s when the combination of 2 books – Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick – can be extremely powerful.

In The Tipping Point, Gladwell identifies 3 prerequisites to creating a tipping point of any epidemic – that moment when things take on a life of their own and start spreading like wildfire. The pre-requisites are: (a) The Law of the Few, (b) The Stickiness Factor and (c) The Power of Context. In Made to Stick, the Heath brothers dig deeper into the second factor of stickiness – how to effectively deliver a message and make it stick.

If you find these ideas useful, then we strongly recommend that you get more details from our book summaries, or better still, pick up a copy of the books so you can go through the powerful examples inside… those case studies can really get the gears in your head cranking and your creative juices flowing!


How do you make your messages spread like wild fire and leave a long-term impact?

1) Apply the Law of the Few:

The Tipping Point_Law of the few

Gladwell recommends that you focus the bulk of your initial resources on the small percentage of people who can single-handedly build enormous momentum at the onset, due to their special social gifts. These are the Mavens, the Connectors and the Salesmen.

• Mavens naturally accumulate and share knowledge about the ins and outs of the market. They are the ideal information brokers to create your messages.

• Connectors naturally know and connect people from all walks of life. They are perfect for spreading your messages.

• Salesmen intuitively influence and persuade, convincingly others when they may otherwise have been undecided.

2) Find the Stickiness Factor:

The Tipping Point_The Stickiness Factor

Gladwell points out the not-always-obvious issue that there’s no point reaching many people if your message doesn’t stick to begin with. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite so easy to create a message that sticks in people’s head. That’s why Made to Stick is such a life-saver. In their book, the Heath brothers further expand on this idea of stickiness, to provide 6 principles or the SUCCESs checklist for creating or identifying ideas that stick. These are:

Made to stick_Simple1To be truly simple, the message must be core and compact, with a lot of meaning packed into a short, succinct message. It is “a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a life-time learning to follow it”. Proverbs like “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush” are perfect examples of messages that are so profoundly simple, they stick for thousands of years.

How can you possibly pack so much information and wisdom into one line? Use flags and generative analogy to tap into the audience’s existing schema, hence calling up information that you need not explicitly list.

Made to stick_Unexpected1To get our audience’s attention, we need to evoke their emotion of surprise; Then, to keep their attention, we need to trigger and sustain their curiosity and interest.

The best way to surprise them is to break their guessing pattern with something relevant yet counter-intuitive to our core message. For example, Nordstrom surprised their customers by wrapping presents bought at Macy’s (a competitor store) or refunded money for a set of tires (even though they don’t sell tires) – those actions really left an impression about their level of customer service.

However, surprise is fleeting. To sustain the audience’s interest, we need to create a mystery, tease them to ask questions, constantly opening and closing their knowledge gap.

Made to stick_Concrete1Abstract concepts are hard to grasp, are open to different interpretation, and are tough to remember. To make our ideas clear and concrete, we need to set the context, build on ideas that our audience can already identify with, to call up sensory information like sights smells, feelings, etc.

Loving these tips? Download 2 FREE book summaries and infographics here!

Made to stick_Credible1Credibility can come from both external (authorities / anti-authorities) and internal sources (factors inherent in the messages). To build internal credibility, provide convincing, vivid details and statistics that follow the human scale principle (i.e. people can use the statistics to relate to things they are familiar with, like “the size of 5 football fields”, or “100 times the speed of a bullet train”). Urban legends of how people’s kidneys are being harvested while traveling overseas have been circulating for years – people can’t get the ice-filled bathtubs, blood-soaked mattresses and authorities’ warning out of their heads, and they continue to believe and share these stories precisely because they stick.

Another powerful method to build credibility is to create “testable credentials”, by allowing people to test the ideas for themselves.

Made to stick_Emotional1People won’t take action unless they care. Form an association between something that they care about and something they don’t yet care about (your idea). Rather than just address their self-interest (“what is in it for me?”), also appeal to their identity and loftier goals – who they are and who they aspire to become.

Made to stick_Stories1Stories provide both simulation (to teach people how to act) as well as inspiration (to give them motivation to act). By creating stories that are life-like and rich in details, we help our audience to mentally rehearse the idea and prepare to take action. Choose the right plot to also inspire the right type of emotions and action – be it confronting challenges, connecting with people, or thinking differently.

3) Use the Power of Context:

The Tipping Point_The power of context

Gladwell points out that people’s personalities and character may not be as firm as we think; Rather, behaviours are often shaped by the environment. The same person, when confronted with different environments and contexts, will react differently to the same stimulus. Hence, to influence mass behavior, the best way is to change the details of the context or environment. To maximize social influence, apply the “rule of 150” by keeping group sizes below 150 and deliberately connect people and groups.



“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford

Cool as these ideas are, they do take time and effort to internalize. Of all the elements above, finding the core of the message is probably one of the hardest, but most critical elements.

As you apply these tips to your business or work, you will probably find it useful to revisit the summaries/ books to seek inspiration from their examples and case studies.

Feel free to share your comments and insights so others in our ReadinGraphics community can also benefit! If you wish to pick up a copy of either of these books, here are the links for The Tipping Point and Made to Stick.

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If you enjoyed this article, do also check out these useful links and resources:

Get the book ” The Tipping Point” online.

Get the book ” Made to Stick” online.

Download the book summaries and infographics of these 2 books here.

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