Sticky Messages: How to Influence Decisions

Effective Messages

People who know how to create and deliver sticky messages have more influence! How many times this year will you try to get someone to understand your ideas? How many times will you succeed in making your ideas stick so that others accept and act on your advice? Creating and delivering Sticky Messages is the key to selling your ideas and influencing others. The truth is that if people do not quickly use the ideas and information you share, they will lose it and forget it! Therefore, you need to know some solid Sticky Messaging strategies and the principles of “The Forgetting Curve”. I have nicknamed it “The Forgetting Curse”. 

The Forgetting Curve

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus was experimenting with memory in the late 19thcentury when he discovered “The Forgetting Curve”. Ebbinghaus tested memory over various periods of time. He realized that information leaves quickly if it is not used quickly. Others have tested his experiment with a few variations, but the ‘curve’ has stood the test of time. You can see Ebbinghaus’ results from the graph below. The Forgetting Curve says the longer information is not used or acted upon, the less it is retained for actual use. So, the challenge is to package your ideas in a way that makes people want to act on them more quickly.

The Forgetting Curve shows how quickly information is lost if not acted upon.

Using Sticky Messages

Today the world is awash in great information! We were recently helping a worldwide consulting firm fine-tune their marketing messages when I came across a compelling quote by Bill Gates. Gates said, “How you gather, manage and use information will determine whether your organization wins or loses in the competitive marketplace.” The key is to influence people to act more quickly on your information and ideas. Otherwise, you risk having your ideas sucked into the black hole of “The Forgetting Curve”. The following are some ways to create Sticky Messages to increase the odds of people acting on your information and advice.

1.  Sticky Message Storylines – To influence decisions you must create a thoughtful and convincing storyline. One of my favorite storylines starts by meeting people where they are in their reality. This supports the saying, “Once you accept the other person’s reality, everything becomes easier.” When your ideas go against an existing reality, it is crucial that you provide both “away from” and “toward” motivators in your storyline. First, align with your audience’s current reality and what is good about it. Then, give them solid evidence that shows why they should consider moving away from that reality. Finally, provide ample evidence to move toward what you are proposing. To effectively influence others, your storyline must offer ideas that either solve something or make things better. 

2. Sticky Repetition – You are competing for brain space when you sell your ideas. Today people are overwhelmed with information. You are also competing with shrinking attention spans. This is why is it so important for you to refine and clarify messages! Then repeat them in many forms. You can repeat your messages in many ways: PowerPoint, videos, props, infographics, handouts, white papers, stories, podcasts, testimonials and spoken word. Use many tools to repeat your Sticky Messages, so they are memorable – and so people will act on them before “The Forgetting Curve” curse wipes out your momentum.

3.  Sticky Message Stories – People love stories and the brain is wired for stories! Therefore, stories are crucial to Sticky Messages. I will never forget the first time I started exploring the world of storytelling. My husband and I went to a week-long storytelling camp in Oregon. My husband is somewhat of a shy guy, so I was surprised when he offered to go first and show off his new storytelling skills. I wondered, “Where is my husband?” His inner storyteller brought out a whole new side I had never witnessed. He is a great storyteller! When you choose the right story, your passion comes out; that is like icing on the cake for Sticky Messages. You will be hooked! Also, your messages will help connect your ideas at an emotional level once you learn the art of storytelling!

4.  Sticky Message Visuals – Research confirms that the brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text! This means that visuals are paramount to Sticky Messages. While corporations are using more visuals to sell their ideas, most of them are still choosing boring visuals. Dare to be creative! Recently we were helping a Fortune 500 group sell customers on adopting digital technologies. We chose a photo of ragged roll of duct tape to make this point. It was strange and unexpected – and it made their core message sticky! We replaced their boring message of, “You should adopt digital,” to a sticky message of, “Digital or duct tape?” Calling an organization’s existing (non-digital) technologies “duct tape” is sticky! 

Creating and delivering Sticky Messages is the key to selling your ideas and influencing people. By honing your skills, you can develop and deliver some great Sticky Messaging strategies. When you do, you can overcome “The Forgetting Curve” and reap rewards that stick around for a long time!


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