For Tiffany Derville’s Advanced PR Writing Class, my peers and I have been asked for this post to write a response to chapter three of Chip and Dan Heath‘s book, “Made to Stick.” Fortunately, we have been assigned to read this book for our class (I say fortunately because it is VERY helpful. If you haven’t read it yet, get it here.)
Chapter three of the book talks about whether or not a message is “concrete.” As a summary, this chapter explains how abstract language is similar to abstract learning in the way that it makes it more difficult to visualize what is being talked about. One example they use is of a key message of Nordstrom. To say Nordstrom has “world-class customer service” is abstract. To tell the story of a Nordstrom employee ironing a customer’s shirt is concrete. By giving the reader, or the viewer, a “concrete,” imaginable example of what someone means by “world-class customer service” is much more valuable than the initial phrase itself.
Examples of abstract language may be found everywhere, especially including public relations work. The mistake is commonly made in shareholder letters. The following is an excerpt from a letter by Bob Ulrich, the CEO of Target, to his shareholders: “We will also remain committed to providing a workplace that is preferred by our team members and investing in the communities where we do business to improve the quality of life.”
This sentence is too vague and far too abstract to be a “sticky” message. This sentence doesn’t mean anything. However, if he had had given specific examples of how they provide a preferable workplace or how they invest in their communities, the message would be memorable. However, I guarantee that by the time you’ve reached the end of this blog post, you’ve already forgotten what that quote was.