‘People only talk about things worth talking about’: Michael Goldthorpe’s checklist for creating captivation

I dropped in to a Marketing Association function last week to celebrate the finalists in their upcoming awards. It was a good night, made better by an interesting Q&A with four senior marketers. One thing in particular struck a chord with me. When asked about the secret of ‘content marketing’, Foodstuffs’ Steve Bayliss spoke about the importance of great creative and the simple fact that ‘people only talk about things worth talking about’. It was a great monologue. I clapped. It was awkward because no-one else did. Apparently you don’t do that at those things. But his point was brilliant. And salient.

It took me back almost 15 years to ad school. Back then all that computer stuff was kind of new. BMW videos had just won big at Cannes. The John West bear was a marketing hero and “let’s do a viral” was the most exciting (and ridiculous) of briefs on the table.

Fast-forward to today and we now understand that “let’s do a viral” is no more of a marketing strategy than “make an app” or “create a game”. Any of those outputs can help drive engagement or build awareness. But the brass-tacks of Steve’s point brings us back to basic principals. If it ain’t good, it won’t work. If it isn’t achieving a sales metric, it doesn’t belong in marketing. And if people don’t talk about it, it’s dead. Same rules apply to content marketing, social marketing … any marketing.

So that’s all good. But how do you actually do it? That’s the million dollar question. I reckon Chip and Dan Heath produced a pretty good summary in their book Made to Stick. This is a checklist we use to make sure our content ticks the boxes to cut through clutter and actually get remembered. It’s pretty much the building blocks of any useful brief—and it’s nattily built around an acronym: SUCCES(S).

  • Simple – find the core of any idea. The one simple thought.
  • Unexpected – grab people’s attention by doing something different.
  • Concrete – make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later.
  • Credible – give people a genuine reason to believe.
  • Emotional – connect on a personal level so people feel engaged.
  • Stories – make it easy to share by building an idea around a narrative.

I’ve paraphrased a little here and there, but the above gives us boxes to check when we’re creating stuff people might talk about. The same rules apply in just about any marketing brief.

For my money, the best recent example was Tui Catch a Million. It’s simple, no-one expected it, it’s a straight up, concrete idea with a million dollar reason to believe and plenty of emotionally engaging stories of people giving it a go. There’s plenty more examples out there—and even more that don’t quite fire.

So if you want people to talk about your thing, it’s worth checking back before you hit the green button. Are you giving yourself the best chance of SUCCES? Or is it more likely your thing will just SUC?

It’s a tough question to ask and a harder one to answer. But it’s worth the extra pain when it works. That’s what I reckon, what do you think?

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