When it Comes to Marketing, Nothing Succeeds like S.U.C.C.E.S.

No, I spelled it right: S.U.C.C.E.S. stands for the six principles that Dan and Chip Heath discuss in their marketing book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. The book is a fun yet practical guide to effective communication offered in terms of an idea’s "stickiness" being a measure of that idea’s survivability. According to the Brothers Heath, to be sticky, a marketing idea needs simplicity, an element of surprise, believability, an emotional touch, and it has to tell a compelling story. 

S for Simplicity

George Carlin once did a bit on flabby language. He told us that during World War I, they identified a condition in many troops subjected to artillery attack that they termed “Shell Shock.” Basic and straightforward, the term told you all you really needed to know. By the time of the Korean War, the term had morphed into the slightly more technical “Battle Fatigue.” It doesn’t have quite the selling power but you still have an idea of what is going on. Today, this same condition is referred to as “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” and all the humanity and pain is swept away before a sea of complex jargon. 

Simplicity in language and delivery is always best. Avoid jargon, avoid verbiage that talks down to, or worse at, your audience, and avoid information overload. Trying to cram as much information into your pitch or your website as you can will simply confuse your audience and retard your progress. Get your message across cleanly and do it in a way that people can relate to intuitively and easily. If they need an explanation of your pitch, or have to mine it for the information they need, it’s time to start over. 

U for Unexpected

Always expect the unexpected, or so says the old adage. The problem is that we almost never get the unexpected. In the world of writing they say that fiction has to make sense, life doesn’t. In other words, if you stray too much from accepted norms, that can be trouble and, true enough, once they have mainstream success very few writers stray off the reservation. 

Does that mean your marketing has to follow the same, dreary path of conformity? No, it doesn’t, but be careful about what you do. That high-concept campaign where illuminated images of characters from Aqua Teen Hunger Force (ATHF) were placed under bridges is one prime example of what not to do. People thought they were bombs, legal action was initiated, it was a mess. Still, you have to do something unexpected that captures the attention of your audience and holds it. 

According to the Heaths, the way to do this is to plant ideas that naturally lead to questions. Questions hold people’s interest, so use them. Of course, the ATHF campaign certainly planted ideas and made people ask questions, but it neglected to plant the right ideas, or lead the audience to ask the right questions. Finally, the questions the campaign did generate it failed to answer. When that happens, people tend to make up their own answers, such as “it’s a bomb.” However you make your marketing unexpected, it has to guide the customer to the obvious conclusion that your product or service is what they need to solve their problem. 

C for Concrete

This goes back to simplicity. Solid images and simple words are best. Don’t make your audience think about the meaning of what you are trying to say, say it in a way that anyone can understand. Which of these sounds better (they mean precisely the same thing): “Farm fresh seedless red grapes” or “recently harvested reproductively inert carmine vitis vinifera?” 

C for Credibility

While you munch on your carmine vitis vinifera, we can discuss the issue of credibility. It doesn’t come from statistics or number-laden tables demonstrating that, pound for pound, the red grape is better than the green grape. It comes from communicating to your customers in a way that they can relate to. If you want to see this in action, just turn on the news and watch the presidential race. Both sides are trying to relate to you, to make you feel as if they are the one with your best interests at heart and the plan to make your life—yes, YOU, reading this now—better than it has been for the past eight years. When they succeed in relating to you properly, they are credible. When they don’t, then what they are saying is bogus. 

The question, though, is this: What goes into being credible? In terms of your marketing efforts, credibility comes from several sources:

  • Honesty . Political marketing aside, What you say has to be factually honest. If your red grapes won’t allow someone eating them to see through walls, then that claim shouldn’t appear in your ad copy.
  • Empathy . The most famous four words from the Clinton presidency are these: I feel your pain. With that phrase, Clinton opened up with the American people in a way rarely seen. He was a president that related to people’s struggles and that counted for a lot. When you are working with a customer, or reaching out to an audience, make sure they feel—not just know, but feel—that you are there for them and that you want to help them
  • Choice. To buy from you or not to buy is the choice of the customer. You cannot force that choice so do not even try. Rely on your service to the customer, your honesty and your empathy, and the product itself, to sway your customer’s decision. Relying on a hard sell approach will not only drive people away, but it will also make them wonder what you are really trying to sell. 

E for Emotion

Puppies and kittens sell, snakes and spiders don’t. There is a reason for this: We have a positive emotional reaction to a cute golden Labrador puppy or a big-eyed orange tabby that a big, hairy tarantula just doesn’t evoke. You need to be aware of the power of human emotions and attachments and you have to use them. Imagine a lemonade ad with a little girl in a nice sundress and hat selling lemonade on a hot day, and throw in a puppy playing with a ball just for good measure. Unless the focus group is being kept in a really hot, stuffy room for hours on end, they will certainly have a better emotional reaction to the ad with the little girl than they would with an ad that featured the lemonade and a voice-over, even if you could see the girl playing with the dog in the background. One ad focuses on something emotionally positive, the other doesn’t. It is as simple as that. 

S for Stories

Whether you tell a story about your product, or use your product to tell a story, the results are usually very good. Narratives draw people in and engage them, and once your customer is engaged in some meaningful way with your product, associating the tale with other aspects of their life and so associating with your product as well, then closing that sale becomes much easier. 

The Bottom Line

It is always easier said than done, and everyone has their own way of doing things; but however you do it, coming up with a winning marketing program is possible and the results of that hard work will be very rewarding for your business. Other than the production of marketing collateral, there is nothing about marketing your business that, as the owner of the company, is over your head. You can pay for advice or glean it from books, but ultimately your business will rise or fall on your decisions. That shouldn’t bother you, because you know more about your business than anyone else. You know your company, you know your products and you know your capabilities. More than that, you know what first interested you in your business, why you chose to sell the products or offer the services that you do. These things, why you selected your business, are as important to your efforts as any story you might tell and I think it might be worth adding that last S to complete the word: SUCCESS with S for Selection. What sold you will sell others. Bet on it.