01 November 2010

Simple messages that stick: use schemas people already know

One of the ways to ensure a message sticks and is comprehended is to explain it with knowledge people already know (schemas). For example: most people don’t know what is an açaí. I can describe it in 2 ways:

1) The fruit, a small, round, black-purple drupe about 1 inch (25 mm) in circumference, is produced in branched panicles of 500 to 900 fruits. The açaí fruit has a single large seed about 0.25–0.40 inches (7–10 mm) in diameter. The exocarp of the ripe fruits is a deep purple color, or green, depending on the kind of açaí and its maturity. The mesocarp is pulpy and thin, with a consistent thickness of 1 mm or less. It surrounds the voluminous and hard endocarp, which contains a seed with a diminutive embryo and abundant endosperm. The seed makes up about 80% of the fruit.


2) Açaí is a fruit that looks like a darker purple grapes and its taste and consistency is more like a berry.

The first description is exactly what the Curse of Knowledge does to people: when you are a specialist in the subject, you want to be accurate. Accurate, yes, understood, no. Isn’t it a too high price to pay?

Using schemas, on the other hand, is not accurate, like the 2nd description, but it is easier to understand. Schemas are what people already know (you know what is “fruit”, “purple grapes” and “berry”, so it is easier to picture.

Have you ever tried to follow a recipe that said something “stir until you get a good consistency”. What the hell is a good consistency? Tell me how many minutes to stir this! Or simply use a schema I already know “stir until the consistency feels like hot mashed potato”.

A famous example of schemas are the high level concept Hollywood pitches: a one phrase that explains the movie. For example, Speed’s high level pitch was “Die Hard on a bus”. Bingo, you get the picture of what the movie will be about, which actors to chose, which director to pick - it is easy to understand because I already know Die Hard, this allows me to make the right decisions.

Another example of schemas are analogies that can be extrapolated. At Disney, for example, they call their employees “cast members”. If they are cast members, not employees, there is a range of assumptions you can make:

- Cast members don’t interview for a job, they audition for a role
- It's not an uniform, it's a costume
- Walking around in the park is being “on stage”
- People visiting Disney are guests, not customers

Just with a simple analogy, Disney make sure that no employee is smoking dressed in a Pluto costume or is just being random at the park, because you wouldn’t be random on stage during a play or you wouldn’t go smoking in your theater costume clothes.

If you want to make messages understood, make it simple: use schemas and analogies that people are comfortable with.

This and much more appears on Made to Stick, an outstanding book about building messages that stick to people’s brains.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.