Made To Stick: Product Management Book Review

What do the urban legend about the babysitter getting phone calls from the killer inside the house, and Subway spokesman Jared Fogle have in common?

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath has the answer–and the answer could help explain why some products succeed while other comparable products fail.

Why do you recognize that story–even in LOLcat form?

Did the actor who played ‘Mikey’ in Life cereal commercials die from consuming Pop Rocks and Coke at the same time? Did you hear about the guy who woke up in a tub of ice–and missing a kidney?

Urban legends are all around us–they’re warnings, or sometimes misinformation–and they’re told and retold, generation after generation. Why?

The brothers Heath ascribe several characteristics to these urban legends and suggest that these same characteristics can make your own ideas more memorable, more “sticky”. Those characteristics are…

  • Simplicity. The core of the idea. Think proverbs, not sound-bytes–a one-sentence statement so profound you could spend a lifetime understanding it.
  • Unexpectedness. Be unpredictable but satisfying. Your surprise must be germane to the message being communicated, not weird for weird’s sake.
  • Concreteness. No buzzwords, no abstractions. Focus on concrete images–eg, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.
  • Credibility. Ask questions that let the listener test themselves. Disarm them with funny questions and striking stats: Which is more likely to kill you: A Shark or a Deer?
  • Emotion. Make people feel, then they’ll care. What’s the benefit of the benefit? People don’t buy nails; they buy nails to hang pictures of their children.
  • Stories. How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell compelling stories that get those ideas across and make them take root.

Why is the idea of “Subway Jared”–the young man who lost a ton of weight on a diet composed of Subway subs–so memorable? Look at the characteristics:

  • Simple: Eat subs, lose weight.
  • Unexpected: Fast food can help you lose weight.
  • Concrete: Size 6XL pants. A diet of sandwiches.
  • Credible: We’re hearing from the guy who went from 425+ lbs to 180 lbs).
  • Emotion: Jared achieves his potential.
  • Story: Hero overcomes great odds. Inspires us to do the same.

Why do some products succeed while comparable products fail? Why do compelling arguments about your product fall on deaf ears?

Sometimes the problem isn’t the content that’s being presented–sometimes it’s about the context of how the information is being presented.

Made To Stick is an entertaining, engaging book about the essentials of communication with plenty of examples from the worlds of business and advertising. If you’re in the business of presenting ideas–and if you’re a PM, you most definitely are–then this book is worth your time.

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