Natural Search Blog


Dan Heath, 5th Keynote at SES San Jose 08

Dan Heath, one of the co-authors of the book, “Made to Stick“, spoke on the last day of the Search Engine Strategies conference, last week. Dan is a Consultant to the Policy Programs for the Aspen Institute.

SUCCES - Sticky Idea Hallmarks by Dan Heath
Dan Heath presenting Made To Stick’s hallmarks of sticky ideas:
Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories.

Dan presented the main concepts from his book, covering why some ideas survive and spread while other ideas die. As with a number of SES conferences in the past, many attendees apparently decided that this last day of the conference would be of lesser worth, so the audience for this keynote was a lot sparser than on previous days. This was a shame, because, aside from the Orion Panel discussion, this preso was likely the one that would’ve been of the highest worth to marketers.

How do you introduce an idea so that it may catch fire and spread? What are some characteristics of sticky ideas that make them viral and persistent?

Dan Heath - Indian Anti-Pollution Ad Campaign
The classic antipollution ad campaign with the weeping Indian.

Many companies try in vain to introduce new ideas in the form of products and services, and it’s challenging to promote those ideas into the marketplace. So, how does one improve the chances that a worthy idea will catch consumers’ interest and spread? This is really the basic problem that marketing seeks to solve. Made to Stick analyzes the components of sticky ideas and provides methods for making concepts or stories viral.

The book was co-written by Chip Heath, Dan’s brother and professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. (I went to school with Chip and knew him to be a really savvy guy.) The brothers have received a lot of critical acclaim since the book published in late 2006, including positive reviews from Guy Kawasaki, major newspapers (it’s a New York Times bestseller) and various TV interviews such as The Today Show.

One really interesting exchange between them and Guy Kawasaki is as follows:

Question: “Can a slick marketer apply your principles and make a piece of crap stick—or does the intrinsic value ultimately decide stickiness?”

Their answer: “Slick marketers are already using most of these principles. We wanted our book to serve as an equalizer. Because you’re right—instrinsic value counts…” and “The problem is that ideas with intrinsic value don’t always win…” and “We can bemoan the fact that dumb ideas win out. But we can also reverse-engineer them. We can figure out the principles that make them stick and teach them to people who have worthwhile messages. Slick marketers know a lot of these principles already. Urban legends have them baked in. But no one teaches engineers or entrepreneurs or chemistry professors how to make their ideas stick.”

Dan’s presentation of the book’s highlights at SES was excellent and well-polished. Here’s a pretty good recap.

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