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Making it Stick: Lessons for Communicators

Andrew Cross

You might have heard of the “SUCCES” acronym before. Each letter refers to a principle of effective communication, or more specifically, a way to get your message and its meaning to stick in the minds of your audience.

Those six ideas—Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and Stories—are also the chapter titles of the 2007 bestseller, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Die and Others Survive, by Chip and Dan Heath. Here’s how you can apply these ideas to your job as a communications professional:

Simple. If simplicity isn’t a virtue, it should be. An effective communicator takes a complex idea or set of ideas and reduces it to something easier to digest—a sound bite, if you will. Southwest Airlines has executed this principle perfectly with their promise to be the low-cost airline. Its message is simple, and customers know what to expect.

Unexpected. How do you get a reporter to open your email? How do reporters attract eyes to their story? Unexpected headlines (or subject lines) are often the answer. Think about the news stories you remember days, months, or even years after they occur. They’re likely the ones that violated your perception of normality.

Concrete. Before you submit a press release or hit “send” on an email, ask yourself if your message is clear and concrete. Use simple language whenever possible. Provide examples when necessary. Don’t be afraid to practice your message on a friend or colleague before showing up for that big media appearance.

Credible. Credibility is a matter of perception, and if your audience doesn’t perceive you, your organization, or your message to be credible, you can kiss goodbye your chances of getting your point of view across.

Emotional. While watching TV, your program cuts to a commercial. You suddenly find yourself staring straight into the soft, sad eyes of a German Shepherd while soft strains of “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan hit your ears. Although you might not vault over your couch to grab the phone and donate to the ASPCA right away, chances are the commercial made you think twice about animal cruelty.

Stories. As bad as politicians can be at so many things, they do tend to be great storytellers. Throughout the election cycle, listen to President Obama’s short stories of the successes and struggles of those he’s met with on the campaign trail interspersed throughout his speeches.

Made to Stick lives up to each principle it preaches. It’s essentially a compilation of real-world examples with clever banter interspersed throughout. Give it a read. Actually, give the first three pages a read. If you’re not able to put it down, you won’t be the only one.


*A version of this story originally appeared on PR Daily.