New PictureHey Personal Trainers, Bootcamp Operators, and Fitness Industry Entrepreneurs – listen up …

There’s a book that I’ve been seeing in the book stores for years and I’m sure you’ve noticed it too: MADE TO STICK.  You know it; it’s the bright orange book that looks like it has a piece of silver electrical tape wrapped across the front of it.

Well, on recommendation from some people I respect, I picked the book up recently, and it was an extremely worthwhile read.  If you’ve had trouble getting into the story telling, verbose, emotional nature of long copy and direct response marketing, this book will train that muscle in you.

The take home message of the book?  Tell stories through your marketing and communication if you want your ideas to stick.  Tell unexpected (ie interesting), believable, emotional stories that tap into people’s own wants and needs.  That’s all people remember – everything else is a waste of time.


Dont be afraid to get into their heads a little; David Blaine made a small fortune at it.

Don’t be afraid to get into their heads a little; David Blaine made a small fortune at it.


If right now, you’re not comfortable marketing through stories that entrance the prospect and capture the mind, I don’t blame you.  If you’re tied up administering the day to day activities of your business, ie doing all the work, then you may have little time and energy to focus on this part of the business.

But as you extract yourself from the daily grind, delegate that to your employees, and become the leader of the business, you also become the chief story teller.  Your full time job becomes spreading the gospel.

You’ll need to identify your niche (ie your specialty; the market your service; who you want to train – if you haven’t figured this out, stop reading and get on it now) …

You’ll then need to create an experience, from first visit to the one hundreth, that reflects it – it’s all storytelling, in some form or another.

To find out how to really do this, read another book, POUR YOUR HEAR INTO IT by Starbucks founder Howard Schultz. And if you remember Starbucks back when they were getting big, it was done perfectly.  I remember about 10 years ago when they started sprouting up all over Manhattan; they had a certain mystique that made you just want to go inside – that’s never by accident.

Okay, back to MADE TO STICK … what the authors Chip and Dan Heath were exploring is why some stories and ideas spread like wildfire and people remember them, while MOST marketing messages and information in general doesn’t stick at all. If you’re at a stage where you’re spending thousands on advertising and are depending on how it converts to make your next move, you should pay attention to this.

The authors boiled down every story that sticks to having the following elements, to varying degrees:


1.  Simplicity

2.  Unexpectedness

3.  Concreteness

4.  Credibility

5.  Emotions

6.  Stories

They then demonstrated how most marketing messages that stick have these qualities in different proportions, over those that don’t.  Since the authors are both college professor types, they performed actual studies  to determine the retention rates of certain messages, not just on backwards rationalized hunches.

One story that they covered that we can all relate to and has a high level of relevance to our marketing is the Jared from SUBWAY story from the SUBWAY franchises.   This message and ad campaign that launched the company to huge growth is one we can all match, and it obeyed all of the rules of the formula.  Here’s how they talked about it in the book:

It’s simple: Eat subs and lose weight. (it may be oversimplified, frankly, since the meatball sub with extra mayo won’t help you lose weight.)

It’s unexpected: A guy lost a ton of weight by eating fast food!  This story violates our schema of fast food, a schema that’s more consistent with the picture of a fat Jared than a skinny Jared.

It’s concrete: Think of the oversized pants, the massive loss of girth, the diet of composed of particular sandwiches.  It’s much more like an Aesop fable than an abstraction.


It’s credible: It has the same kind of antiauthority truthfulness that we saw with the Pam Laffin anti-smoking campaign. The guy who wore 60-inch pants is giving us diet advice.

It’s emotional: We care more about an individual, Jared, than about mass.  And it taps into profound areas of Malow’s hierarchy – it’s about a guy who reached his potential with the help of a sub-shop.

It’s a story: Our protagonist overcomes big odds to triumph.  It inspires the rest of us to do the same.

One way that we can all take advantage of the same effect is through our testimonials.  When you tell your testimonial stories, stuff like “my trainer is a nice person” isn’t good enough.  You want your clients to spill their guts, you want to tell the stories, and you want your prospects to read about it.


Being a publicity whore can make you rich.

Being a publicity whore can really grow your assets.


And it’s not just your clients that should be the stars of your stories –put yourself front and center too. Back up all your statements, from your certification, to why you got started, with a story.

Do you have any particular special experience?  Were you in the military?  Are you a CSCS?  Was getting a training business strarted a dream of yours?  Better make all of that clear.  Back it all up with a story or it’s meaningless. Your story allows them to connect – it makes things real and three dimensional.  It allows them in.

In addition to everything mentioned above, here are a few more take home messages from the book:

Keep interest levesl up: people are tempted to tell everything with perfect accuracy up front, when they should be giving you just enough information to be useful – then a little more – then a little more.

The first problem of communication is getting people’s attention.

The most basic way to get someone’s attention is to break a pattern.  Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns.

Unexpectedness rules.

Obey the gap theory of curiosity – when creating a story, don’t tell the punchline up front.  Create some interest, build momentum, and at the end, allow the release.

Concreteness is key: focusing on a smaller area makes life easier ( this goes back to the idea of finding a niche and specializing; it allows certain people raise their hand and say yes, allows you to say you’re number one at something, and allows everyone else to go bother someone else.)

Know what your listeners care about, so you can tailor your communication to them.

Use repition, repetition, repetition.

Celebrities carry tremendous influence (have you trained a celebrity or been associated with one?  Better damn well make it clear in your marketing).

Getting analytical will actually hurt you: talking about figures, dollars and cents, shuts down the emotional centers of the brain – it is the emotional side that makes people take action.

And here are a few more examples from the book:


Those TRUTH ads are just freaking brilliant.  When I was a kid, smoking was cool.  Now, you just look like a sleezbag doing it.

Those TRUTH ads are just freaking brilliant. When I was a kid, smoking was cool. Now, you just look like a sleezbag doing it.


The excellent TRUTH anti-smoking campaigns: remember when people used to rebel against “the man” by smoking.  These ads made the brilliant move of showing that the tobacco companies are “the man”, making it cool not to smoke.  Do you remember how WRONG the old tobacco ads were when they tried this?  They were always very rational, talking about statistics.  But the TRUTH ads lay 300 body bags on a crowded street – they clearly know how to make a point.

The top direct marketing headline of all time:

“They laughed when I sat down at the piano – but when I started to play …”

This headline works because it conjures up all kinds of mental images – embarrassment, pride, and vindication.  It’s the detailed, emotional, and storytelling nature that makes it such a powerful classic.

And now a personal story:

When I read the book, it reminded me of a friend of mine, a mortgage broker named Antonio, who I learned a lot about salesmanship from.

He’s a master salesman, makes boku bucks, and obeys every rule here.  Hanging around him flipped the selling switch in me, and just goes to show the importance of hanging around other winners.


Flashing some cash works every time.

Flashing some cash works every time.


If you ever ask him what he does for a living, he reaches into his pockets, pulls out a thick wad of hundred dollars bills, and the jangling key fob to his BMW, and he says, with a big smile on his face:

“I get people cash and keys.”

He’s always selling.  And the fact he could afford to rent out the hardwood sweet for three days when we went to Vegas shows that it’s working.   On an intuitive level he understands everything the authors here were talking about – the unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, and emotional part of the sale.  And he didn’t tell you what he did, he made it a non-factual, physically real story – freaking brilliant.

Although I’m not the showman Antonio is, the message was very clear to me, and it allowed me to open up, believe in myself, and feel comfortable, confident, and deserving when I asked people for money.   This is a skill most trainers aer missing, and a lesson most need to pay attention to.

So get into that habit – you’ll get more referrals, more word of mouth, greater conversions for your website, and will just have more search engine friendly content on your website, when you use it to tell stories.

It gives you greater potential for sales of ancillary products and services. You’ll get greater participation during your promotions. And you’ll gain a bigger following, bottom line.

If you’re having trouble picking up this habit, pick up the book – definitely a good read.