Archive for the ‘Best Practices’ Category

How to create a random A/B/n split in Excel

October 9, 2013 Leave a comment

I took over a test earlier this summer and one of the tasks I had to do was to validate the A/B/C split. I had to evaluate if my counterpart that proposed the original split had developed a random split with little to no bias between the data sets. In this post I’ll provide you with some quick and easy formulas you can use to automate the a/b/n split process as well as how to create a table that will help you know if there is bias in the split.


The RandBetween function in excel allows you to generate a random number between two variables. If you are doing a simple A/B split, you can set the fuction to =randbetween(0,1) and Excel will automatically divide half of of the rows of data to 0 and the other half to 1. If you need a three way split you can use the function =randbetween(0,2) down all rows of data you want split and you’ll see a 33% between 0, 1, and 2.

A few things to note with this function:

  1. The random split will automatically reset everytime you press enter within the workbook or make any updates. If you find a split you like, copy and paste special the variables into a new column so you don’t loose your split.
  2. The random element of the split does not guarantee that your split is unbiased. You still need to validate the split by creating a report that compares A/B/n to make sure that the variance is within your tolerance range. I’ll share a quick and simple example of how I did this so that I could hit enter until I found a split that appeared to be non-biased so I could do further statistical analysis.
  3. The randbetween function doesn’t allow you to develop a stratified split. If you need to develop a stratified split then you’ll have to embed the randbetween within an IF function and you’ll want to validate that both the split is random and valid and that the stratified variables are also evenly split between the test and control.
    What do I mean by stratified split? Check out this great article about Stratified Random Sampling by
    1. Evaluating the A/B/n Split for bias

      Everytime that you create a split you want to evaluate the split to see if there is any bias in the data sets. I discovered that I could use SUMIFS and COUNTIFs functions in XLS to create a table that would let me look at the output of the split to determine if the random sample appeared to be unbiased so I could then do my statistical analysis on the data set.

      Every time you enter a value into any cell on the tab that is calculating the SumIFs/CountIFs excel will randomly reassign 0,1 to the rows, giving a new potential split. Continue entering a value into a cell until the split is within your tolerance range. I try to keep my primary KPI variables of the test group within 0-5% variance to the control. A quick and easy way to visually tell if you’re split is less than 5% is to set conditional formatting for the cell background to “Green”,”Yellow”, “Red” based on the variance of test to control. Here is an example of what the A/B split table might look like and the formulas you would use to create it.

      Example of the table with the CountIF/SumIF formulas shown and conditional formatting set:

      Make sure you know what your test KPIs are because it can be difficult to find a random split where all metrics are within 0-5% variance between the groups. In this example I wanted to run a test to improve my Revenue and TXN volume, so the metrics I care the most about are Revenue, Transaction, and Return on Ad Spend. My goal is to find a split where these metrics are as close as possible, and then control paste values the split before I accidentally reset it by hitting the wrong button/cell. The screenshots below are a few examples of me hitting enter multiple times to go from an okay split, to a bad split, to a better split, to the best split.

      Split 1: Revenue variance is to large. I might copy and paste values for this split into a separate column to the far right just in case after 20-30 splits I can’t get a better combination, but since Revenue is one of my evaluation KPIs for the success of my test I should keep on looking.

      Split 3:Bad. Notice the large variances between Test & Control metrics

      Split 8: Still too much variance in Transactions

      Split 16: Best Split! Copy and Paste Values into a new column NOW. Notice in this split the variance in all of the core KPIs I’m going to use for evaluating my test performance appear to be within 5% of each other. Use this split for the statistical analysis.

      I’ve mentioned multiple times to do a separate statistical analysis post split. I’m not a stats guru so I work with a much smarter individual and team than myself, but they run multiple statistical significance calculations to determine if the split is valid. There are times when that amazing split that we saw at the end when analyzed to the mean and STD DEV are actually not valid the means are too far apart and so we have to resplit again until the means are very close together.

      I know that this won’t answer the question, “How do I determine if my split is valid?” or “How do I do the statistical calculations?” That’s not my area of expertise so I’ll try to find some links to post to help us all learn!

Categories: Analytics, Best Practices, Excel Tags: ,

How to respond when you’ve made someone upset or angry

I’m getting back into my leadership and mentoring mindset now that I’m going to be leading a team again. It’s an exciting thing to move from being an individual contributor to a manager– and one that I’ve missed since the dissolving of the iSEM team back in 2009. I’ve gotten back into reading management and leadership blogs and came across the article What to Do When You’ve Made Someone Angry on the Harvard Business Review.  It’s a great reminder for how to handle and deal with difficult situations where someone has gotten upset or angry and pertains to both your professional and personal life.

The article contains two examples that make it easy to relate and understand who to apply the easy principals to defuse the situation: an individual is 30 minutes late for a dinner date and a angry spiral of emails that stem from a work meeting gone bad. Both of these are use cases that apply to real life and that almost everyone has experienced in their personal and professional life.
A few highlights and quick reminders: a lot of strife comes from misunderstandings of intention vs. consequences.  While we mind not intend to upset someone our actions can, and instead of focusing on the intention we should focus on the consequences of our actions.

As it turns out, it’s not the thought that counts or even the action that counts. That’s because the other person doesn’t experience your thought or your action. They experience the consequences of your action.

So what do you do when you’ve angered someone?
Simple. So simple, that we over look it most of the time because we’re trying to get the other party to agree to our intentions, instead of acknowledging the consequences of our actions.

When you’ve done something that upsets someone — no matter who’s right — always start the conversation by acknowledging how your actions impacted the other person.

You can put it into three simple steps to create your response to the situation. Don’t attempt to justify. Apologize, accept responsibility, and attempt to change.

1. Regret
2. Responsibility
3. Resolution

(1) I’m sorry because (2) [action you are responsible for & consequence of action]. (3) How can I make it better?

Next time you see yourself going in the downward spiral of anger. Try to respond with the simple 1.2.3. answer and see if your need to justify your actions dissipates.

Robots.txt for Subdomains

April 18, 2013 3 comments

Do I need a unique robots.txt for each of my Subdomains?

The quick and dirty answer is yes. Spiders treat subdomains as separate website, and similar to how you create a unique robots.txt for each domain one should also be created for the subdomain.

When a spider finds a URL, it takes the whole domain name (everything between http:// and the next ‘/’), then sticks a ‘/robots.txt’ on the end of it and looks for that file. If that file exists, then the spider should read it to see where it is allowed to crawl.

In the case of multiple websites and sites with subdomains, the spider should try to access each of the sites, example: and The rules in each robots.txt file are treated as separate and unique so disallowing robots from should result in being removed from search results while would remain unaffected and could still appear in the index. In some cases you can disallow an entire subdomain via the main websites robots.txt file, but if you notice pages appearing into the index it’s time to go back to best practices and place unique robots.txt files at the subdomain level.

Here is an excerpt from Bing Webmaster Tools speaking exactly to the example above:

Note that the host here is the full subdomain (, not nor This means that if you have multiple subdomains, BingBot must be able to fetch robots.txt at the root of each one of them, even if all these robots.txt files are the same. In particular, if a robots.txt file is missing from a subdomain, BingBot will not try to fall back to any other file in your domain, meaning it will consider itself allowed anywhere on the subdomain. BingBot does not “assume” directives from other hosts which have a robots.txt in place, associated with a domain.

Best Practice for Robots.txt

Placing a robots.txt on every domain and subdomain, every time.

Free Robots.txt Tools

Resources for more information about Robots.txt

Examples of valid robots.txt URLs from Google WMT

Information for this table is taken from Google Webmaster Tools Guide for Controlling Crawl Index

Robots.txt URL Valid for Not valid for Comments This is the general case. It is not valid for other subdomains, protocols or port numbers. It is valid for all files in all subdirectories on the same host, protocol and port number. A robots.txt on a subdomain is only valid for that subdomain. not a valid robots.txt file!   Crawlers will not check for robots.txt files in subdirectories.
http://www.mü http://www.mü IDNs are equivalent to their punycode versions. See also RFC 3492. Google-specific: We use the robots.txt for FTP resources. (even if hosted on A robots.txt with IP-address as host name will only be valid for crawling of that IP-address as host name. It will not automatically be valid for all websites hosted on that IP-address (though it is possible that the robots.txt file is shared, in which case it would also be available under the shared host name). Standard port numbers (80 for http, 443 for https, 21 for ftp) are equivalent to their default host names. See also [portnumbers]. Robots.txt files on non-standard port numbers are only valid for content made available through those port numbers.

Search Queries and User Intent

January 2, 2013 Leave a comment

Search engines have evolved and are getting smarter at providing search results based on user intent. Understanding your brand and how the different keywords and queries that searches use to find your site and products can help you with everything from developing keyword silo’s for organic search, creating paid search bid optimization strategies, creating a paid search campaign hierarchy, developing site content strategy.

There have been a lot of studies dissecting search query information to gain further insight into user intent. The fundamentals from each research study identified between three to five main ways to categorize user intent.

Types of search queries based on User Intent

  • Informational
  • Navigational
  • Transactional
  • Multimedia

Below are links to a handful of the core studies. Feel free to read up and learn more about the research done to come up with the various classifications of search queries and how they can be tied to each category.

Breakdown of Query Intent

  • Informational queries: The user wants to obtain information, such as the weather forecast, phone number for a company, to an actors filmography.

This type of query can be satisfied through articles, images, videos, infographics and other media that offers a good balance between information, entertainment, education, and inspiration.

  • Navigational queries: The user wants to find a specific website. These are typically brand focused queries.
  • Transactional queries: The user wants to perform an action, like sign up for a newsletter, compare products during purchase research, or purchase an item.

Transactional queries can also be segmented into two types of intent: intent to research (pre-transaction) and intent to purchase.

Segmenting by intent to research can be valuable if you can gain interest and engagement. Any opportunity to add multiple touch points to the relationship can provide future conversion opportunities. A good way to do this is by offering free information through email subscription, polls, surveys, feed subscriptions, product comparisons, or a series of specialized articles.

For most companies the queries for purchase intent are the most valuable, competitive, and the easiest to lose if you don’t provide a simple and easy way to convert. On-site engagement, uncomplicated conversion funnels, and obvious next steps all contribute to intent satisfaction.

Look at the keywords and the search queries that drive traffic to your site. All websites have a mix of each type of search queries. In my SEO campaigns I consider it a success when my site optimizations move the needle of search query mix from Brand related search queries (Navigational) driving the majority of traffic to my site to have a blend of traffic and search volume from Informational and Transactional queries. Increasing the mix of informational and transactional queries means that I am building up my sales funnel and reaching users across each stage of purchase intent.

Evaluating your Search Query Mix to build your Sales Funnel

When I came to Harry & David in the summer I used our web analytics data to look at the mix of search queries, both paid and organic, to determine our strengths and weaknesses of our search query mix. I found that a significant portion of our organic traffic came from branded queries whereas paid search focused across informational and transactional queries. Our largest opportunity for growth could be gained by diversifying  our search portfolio by expanding into more informational and transactional queries to build up our sales funnel.  Once you know the differences between your paid search and organic search campaigns, you can start optimizing your campaigns accordingly.

The four stage buying funnel (Awareness, Research, Decision, and Purc hase) with explanations of each stage of the funnel. Taken from the research paper: 'BIDDING ON THE BUYING FUNNEL FOR SPONSORED SEARCH AND KEYWORD ADVERTISING' by Jansen & Schuster

As you start to evaluate your website and your SEO / SEM strategies here are a few questions for you to think about:

What is the mix between informational, navigational, and transactional queries for your website?

Does more than 50% of your search traffic come from branded search queries?

Do consumers find you online for queries and keywords related to your lines of business? Are there specific elements of your business that are under represented in the search query mix?

Are you building up your sales funnel by targeting users across multiple stages of purchase intent?

Which segments of search queries does your business need to develop and expand?

What queries are you ranking for within on the top page of the search engine results?

How does your search query mix across each of the categories of user intent compare to your core competitors?

What are the differences between the mix of search queries from organic and paid search traffic?

Is your paid search campaign cannibalizing your organic search traffic for branded queries?

Categories: Best Practices, Keywords, SEM, SEO

Launching an App: App Marketing Tactics & Best Practices

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

At this point in time your app should be well defined and quite possibly it should be past the design phase and on it’s way to being fully developed.

If you followed my last few posts then you should have defined your launch goals AND you should have done your SEO research for your app to write your title, description and select the keywords for your app store listing. You should have also started to think through your mobile app support plan; by started to answer the top FAQs and possibly created some simple how-to video guides. If you are ahead of the game then you might also have developed your storytelling guide to help your message stick as well as all of the data you’ll need for your press release kit.

You are ready for launch, right? Maybe, but maybe not.

There are still a handful critical steps, like developing your marketing plan and tactics, that you’ll need to take to get your app out there and attract users. In this post I’ll provide some guides for different marketing tactics along with the best practices for each tactic. Use any combination of these tactics to develop your app marketing plan.

App Marketing Tactics

This is just a reminder to think through the strategy you are developing and find the right combination of marketing tactics for you app launch.

At Decide I was tasked with having marketing drive 40K – 100K app downloads in the first 45 days after the app launch. Although this might be easy for well-established like Microsoft, Ebay, Amazon, or Nordstrom because it involves reaching out to the existing user base who know and already use their product. For a brand like Decide which was less than 6 months old at the time of the app launch it was a big task that involved us utilizing every marketing resource and tactic possible as well as having a very strong PR strategy to expand our brand reach. Below are the various tactics we used, but just because we used them doesn’t mean that they are right for your brand or your launch. Also, stay tuned after this post for the final post in the series about the timing (work back schedule) for the various app marketing tactics.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, here are the recommended app marketing tactics:

Decide Where You Want To Be:

What type of app are you launching? Are you launching across multiple app stores, focus on the key stores that get the most volume for the initial launch. It is easier to centralize your user base to go to a single app store based on device. This will also allow you to focus on getting reviews, as well as higher ratings and better visibility within a single app store.

Should you develop a strategy around focusing on a specific app market? As I mentioned before the iTunes marketplace is the most developed marketplace and getting an app into the top 10 ranking/ratings in iTunes can lead to hundreds of thousands of app downloads. Although Apple won’t put this in writing, they do incentivize app developers who do exclusive iTunes launches based on our conversations surrounding the app launch. Consider what the impact would be to your app launch if you were to do an exclusive iTunes launch if you think that you have the product + PR push to become an editors pick, app of the week, new & noteworthy app, or top 10 app pick selection.

Best Practices:

  • Launch only with the official smartphone market (iTunes, Windows Phone Marketplace, Android App Store, Blackberry App World). After your app is launched and well established expand into other marketplaces.
  • Make it as easy as possible for your users to get your app in the fewest clicks possible.
  • Create an App landing page that makes it simple for the user to get your app for their device. I really like Bing’s App download experience (seen below):SMS Text to App Download Page

App Store Ratings & Reviews:

I spent a lot of time talking to different marketers who worked on app launches and one thing that came across from each marketer was that the ratings and reviews are key for higher rankings within the app store. It is key to get at least 25-30 five star reviews along with positive comments within the first 24 hours of launch. This will enable you to appear for your search keywords more quickly and will also help you appear in the recommended apps. (FYI, it can take 24 hours to appear within the app store but it they are still used for the rankings algorithms.) So what can you do to help get quick ratings & reviews?

Best practices:

  • Ask beta testers, employees, family, friends to provide their reviews ASAP once the app is live. DO NOT incentivize reviews if you get caught the app store can blacklist your app.
  • Create a plan around soliciting reviews from your active users. Ask for feedback
    • Use social media to ask your fan base who have downloaded the app to provide ratings & reviews. Ask for feedback, but be prepared for the good and the bad. Make sure that if you get negative feedback that you address it in a timely manner– and by timely I mean for the consumer not for you and your schedule.

Be Social:

Leverage social media to drive brand awareness and to engage your current fans and user base with your app. These are individuals who have already come forward to say, “I like your product.” Don’t be afraid to ask your users to download your app, however, be prepared to send quick and timely responses via your social media outlets when users ask answers to questions about your product. You want to make sure that there is a two-way dialogue going on and that you aren’t using social media to just push content out on your fan base or you will run the risk of individual unliking your business and decreasing the size of your fan base.

Best Practices:

      • Create a social media launch plan in advance of the launch.
      • Draft, review and finalize between 1- 2 weeks worth of Tweets and Facebook posts at least one week before your app launch.
        • Plan between 4-6 tweets/day around the app for the first 5-7 days post launch, and then reduced the push down to 2-3 tweets/day during the second week.
        • Plan for no more than 2-3 facebook posts per day surrounding the app launch unless you are integrating a contest or asking for questions and input from your fan base.
          • Intermix tweets & posts surrounding the launch with your typical content. Do not just push content in conjunction with your launch. Set up a variety of posts that include asking questions, telling users about the app, sharing any top tier media coverage your app might be receiving, etc.
      • Publish content when content is most likely to be consumed and schedule posts into your social media publishing tool (e.g. Hootsuite/TweetDeck).
        • When are users actively viewing the content on social media sources. Is it first thing in the morning before they start work, on their commute, during their lunch break, or on their commute home?
        • Are the bulk of your consumers in a specific time zone? Test sending out tweets/posts at different points in time to know when you should push content related to your app to get the biggest user base. i.e. We’re based out of Seattle but have a big following in Boston, so we schedule posts for between 8-9 am PST so that it is viewed early in the work day for the west coast and lunch time for the users east coast. We learned this via testing in the months prior to our app launch.
      • Contests & Giveaways can be a good way to get your app to go viral to incentivize users to download your app; however if app downloads is your ultimate goal ensure that you have some sort of tracking mechanism in place to verify that the users have downloaded your app for contest entry. Examples of types of contests:
        • StumbleUpon gave away a free iPad to one lucky FB fan. The entry mechanism: Share with us where you would use our app?
        • GoPro Video cameras gives away 1 item of everything they make each day and users can re-enter daily. Why is this working? Users enter the contest either via their FB page or the GoPro website, and are required to check back daily on FB or Twitter to see if they were the lucky winner. People are coming back daily to the site and GoPro has done a great job at fostering a community where their users upload the videos they shoot with the GoPro cameras daily.
        • Amazon had a contest that enabled app users to win up to $500 for items on their wish list.
        • Groupon/Livingsocial incentivize social sharing by offering a free daily deal to users who share the link with their friends and 3 of their friends make a purchase. If you can figure out the tracking code system based off of users you could do a similar type of giveaway that would enable users to earn rewards or entry into a giveaway for sharing the app.
        • Pinterest is another under utilized network. I wanted to run a contest where individuals would go to and create a board of the gadgets on their wish list, link it back to Decide or tag Decide in each of their posts, and we would randomly choose one individual and buy them everything on their board.

Start thinking outside of Facebook and Twitter for ways to expand your social media reach. There are other websites that, depending on your product, can be used to reach new audiences or engage your existing audience in new ways.

    • StumbleUpon can be a good source for expanding reach of your content. Submit all mobile app pages to StumbleUpon.
    • Pinterest was used by both and AMD to create holiday gift giving guides. It’s been used by clothing retailers to create style & mood boards to help shoppers put together outfits. Think about how you can use Pinterest to create a board to help drive awareness of your app.

There really are hundreds of ways to leverage social media to help increase the awareness and downloads of your app. I would make the caveat around the idea if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Up until April 2011 app developers could leverage programs like Tapjoys to incentivize app downloads which helped apps get higher rankings within the iTunes app store. Apple fought back and started to deprioritize rankings of apps that were using Tapjoy related programs to increase app downloads. The morale of the story, if it’s too good to be true it most likely is AND keep an eye on your app listing if you do choose to go down that path so that if you start to see your app downloads decrease substantially you can quickly take steps to stop and get back on the right track.

Email / Database Marketing:

Your email marketing database can be one of your biggest assets in a drive to push app downloads. These users have opted to receive communication from you and are more likely to download your app, use it, and spread the word to their networks.

Best Practices:

  • Email marketing plan should include the following components: Day of launch announcement, new user/welcome email should be updated to include the app download link, secondary push 5-7 days post launch to remind users of the mobile app
  • The launch email should have a single call to action of download the mobile app. Keep the mail short and sweet, highlighting a few key features at most with the main call to action being “Get it now.”
  • Are you leveraging software the allows you to remarket and retarget individuals based on opening and/or engaging with your emails? Here are some thoughts on how you can use this:
    • If a user hasn’t opened the message within 3-5 days automate a secondary App Introduction email.
    • If the user opened the email but didn’t click through to your website, you can retarget them via display ads across the web highlighting the features of your app.

Blog Post

Does your company blog on a regular basis? If not, consider creating a blog that can be used for specific media events like launches or to help keep your users informed with updates and changes happening within the product. Blogs are great for SEO purposes in addition to keeping users informed. As it pertains to your app launch, create at least one blog post about the launch of your app that is informative (what devices does the app work on, where can I get it, what is the cost, what are the benefits of me using the app, etc) and has the single call to action of download/get the app.

PR plan

A strong PR plan can be just as effective as a good advertising/social media plan and should be a part of your app launch. Decide offered me a chance to get inside of the PR machine and understand what goes into developing a PR plan for a product launch. PR turned to be the area I learned the most while working at Decide. I knew that PR individuals smoozed with the media often and frequently, and that it also involved writing press releases, but what I learned was what goes on in between.
I am going to make a few assumptions as I get into the best practices below. Those assumptions include the following: You should already know who your target audience is both in terms of the actual consumer and a handful of media targets, you should have an understanding of how to write a press release, your goals should be defined and identified, and you should have a way to track media coverage. You should also have decided if you are planning for the press release to be embargoed prior to launch or not.

Best Practices:

  • Draft, Review & Finalize your Media Press Kit
  • Include your embargo release date and time, press release, professional images that should include screenshots of the app, links to the app within the app store, and any other pertinent information that the media would need to write a story about your app like a product review/features guide.
    • Develop your Media Target list
      • Make sure you know who the right contact is at each publication. Find the person who will be the most excited about your app launch so they are more likely to cover your launch.
      • Leverage social media to build relationships with your PR targets 30-60 days prior to launch.
        • If the media target doesn’t know you from Adam they most likely won’t answer your call or return your email. We developed private twitter lists for each launch/push and engaged directly with our core targets by posting intelligent comments on their articles, tweeting or retweeting the articles, and engaging them directly in dialogue.
      • Offer a sneak peak of your appIf you can offer a sneak peak, do it. If you have decided to do an embargoed launch of your app, be careful with the sneak peaks and make sure that you work with reputable media who will honor your embargo.
        • Give media access to a ‘beta’ version of your app. Allowing them to play around with the app prior to release will allow them to develop a more robust article. If you don’t have the ability to give them a beta version at a bare minimum set up a live demo either in person or via phone with video capabilities to walk them through your app.


Use one of many smartphone screen emulators like Simfinger or Screencast-o-matic to create a series of How-To-Guides and videos to highlight key features, user flows, and troubleshooting guides. With these free and easy to use screen emulators you can save a lot of money by making the videos yourself and not hiring a creative agency to develop similar content.

Best practices:

        • Create a script that you want to follow for your video post highlighting the key things that you want to cover & any specific phrases you want to say.
          • Edit and revise your script as necessary. Cut out unneeded motions/movements to keep the video crisp and clean.
        • Keep it short and sweet. Instead of creating a single 4-5 minute long video showing everything under the hood, think about creating a video for each main component or feature that you are highlighting.
        • If you are creating videos for the Troubleshooting guide create a different video for each “Problem” you are trying to solve.
        • If you are speaking during your video make sure you are in a quiet environment without background noise. If you do it in an open office space it might sound like it was created at a Starbucks due to the background noise.
        • Practice your demo using the screen emulators 2-3 times. It took me 5 takes to get the right cut for our videos due to unexpected phone calls, internet failure, etc.
        • Embed videos into your help site, share them via social media (Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Pinterest… etc) Reach your users where they are.

FAQ’s and How-to-Guides:

It might seem like an obvious insight, but FAQs are commonly overlooked during the app development and launch process. Over the course of two months I reviewed the top apps and featured apps of the week within iTunes and almost all of them had some sort of FAQ and How-To-Guide available for their users. At a bare minimum you’ll want to have some simple information available and linked to from your listing in the app store. Not sure what to do? Go back and check out the post I wrote about the Best Practices for developing your app support and FAQs page.

Storytelling: How to Make Your Message Stick

December 24, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the benefits of being a Microsoft employee is that they do have some pretty amazing training and development sessions available for their employees. One of my favorite sessions put on by the Marketing@Microsoft team was about Storytelling and making your message stick. The storytelling course resonated with me because it forced me to think through how I was presenting my ideas to other across my team and business group (BG) so that the ideas would be easy to understand and would be memorable at the end of a 60 minute meeting.

This session also became helpful to me think about the PR side of marketing while at Decide. PR is all about storytelling and pitching a product or an idea. Using the SUCCES framework helped me to make sure that my idea would stick and that individuals would remember our value proposition. It also lead to me creating better submissions for award nominations and helped us to win a handful of awards for our website and newly launched iPhone app. SUCCES works.

This Cheat Sheet/Reference guide is based on the SUCCESS framework introduced by Chip Heath & Dale Heath in their 2007 book “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.” New York: Random House

Simple. Unexpected. Concrete. Credible. Emotional. Story.

The antithesis of the SUCCES frame work is “the curse of knowledge.”

You don’t always need all 6 elements to be present to develop a sticky message, but if you build in more of these traits they are more likely to make your idea stick.

SIMPLE. Simple is about focusing on what is most important. An example of keeping the message simple can be seen with Linux. Steve Ballmer didn’t give complex arguments about “total cost of ownership”, he said “Linus is free like a puppy is free.” The message was simple to understand and stuck with the audience.


    • Tell your audience everything you know about the subject. If you provide too much information “decision paralysis” can set in and people will delay or resist to making a choice or decision.
    • Substitute a list or set of features for a compelling narrative.


    • Find a simple statement that captures the essence of your story. Simplify as much as possible so decision paralysis won’t set in.
    • Follow journalists best practices and start with the “Lead”. Don’t bury the “lead”, lead with it!

UNEXPECTED. Get people’s attention. Focus on ways to break through the clutter by creating surprise.

Don’t evaluate products on a feature by feature basis, people won’t remember feature by feature comparisons. They will remember something distinctive.


    • Highlight the uncommon sense in your message: what is novel, distinctive, unusual, new.
    • Create a classic high concept pitch that combines “Simple & Unexpected.”
      • Anchor on an idea that is already in people’s mind and then pivot to what is new and or distinctive about your idea/product. Examples of anchor/pivots: Jaws /On a spaceship, Carriage/Horseless, Shopping App/Recommends when to buy to get the best price.
    • If you want to generate word of mouth, build or highlight a feature that is 300% better rather 110%  better than your competitor.

CONCRETE. Is about helping people to understand and remember. Audiences remember things that appeal to our senses.

Dig through the data to get concrete details to tell a great story.  The distinguishing trait of concrete ideas is that you can picture them in your head.

Aesop’s Fables are great examples of abstract moral truths made concrete (e.g., the abstract lesson to “tell the truth” becomes “The Boy Who Cried

Wolf.”) The “Velcro theory of memory” says that the more “hooks” we can put into an idea, the stickier it will be.

CREDIBLE. Is about making people believe your ideas. Use the Sinatra test — if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere (New York, New York!)

Most people try to do this by citing either statistics or external authorities (i.e. ComScore, Gartner, Forrester) but real credibility can be gained by blending specific concrete details into the DNA of the story.

Weave credibility throughout the message.

Make it easy for people to understand and keep scale in mind. For example, an anti-nuclear-weapons group used sound to represent the world’s nuclear arsenal: The sound of one BB, dropped in a bucket, represented Hiroshima. The sound of 5,000 BBs, ricocheting around in the bucket, symbolized the massive expansion in nuclear scale.

Another instance: is the first and only website that recommends when to make your next consumer electronics purchase. Consumers who use Decide save an average of $54 on their purchases and the Decide’s price predictions are accurate 74% of the time.

EMOTIONAL. Is about making people care.


    • Bury the What’s In It For You (WIIFY). Appeal to an individuals self interest, either socio-economic or identity based.
    • Focus only on socio-economic self interest. While one of the two ways people make decisions is based on the economics model of rational self- interest focusing on the identity model can help drive a strong emotional tie to your idea/product.


    • Use techniques like talking about the consequences of the idea for an individual. i.e. Mother Theresa said, ““If I look at the one, I will act. If I look at the mass, I will not.”
    • Use techniques that cause the individual to identify with the product: Who am I? What kind of situation is this? What does someone like me do in this kind of situation?

Examples: Apple has done a great job getting an emotional connection to their gadgets. Everyone wants to be the cool kid who has the latest and greatest Apple product. Similarly, instead of using slogans like “Keep Oregon Green” to keep people from littering Texas adopted “Don’t Mess With Texas” which has a much stronger emotional appeal.

STORY. Stories prompt people to act via simulation—showing people how to act—and via inspiration—providing the energy and motivation to act.

Good stories describe barriers and how people overcome them. Think of any fairy tale Princess, her prince had to overcome obstacles to win her heart.

Stories have the power to inspire. Think of Jared, he ate all of those low-fat subway sandwiches to loose hundreds of pounds and keep it off.

DO: Use one of three types of plots to help inspire your story

    • The Challenge Plot, where a protagonist overcomes big obstacles to succeed. I.E. David & Goliath
    • The Connection Plot, where two dissimilar people overcome social barriers to share a special moment. I.E. Lady & The Tramp, Shrek
    • The Creativity Plot, where an individual or team use resourcefulness and gumption to solve a problem in a novel way. I.E. Richard Dean Anderson as MacGuyver

There you have it. SUCCES for storytelling. At the beginning of the post I mentioned that there is an antithesis in storytelling and it is one that I struggle with at times.

THE CURSE OF KNOWLEDGE. Is when you have a hard time culling down the story because it’s difficult for you imagine that other people might not know what you know.

Sticky messages are simple, but most people are fascinated by the complexity and nuance of an idea. Remember  KISS – Keep It Simple Silly/Stupid – when developing your story.

Sticky messages are concrete, but it’s easy to think about an idea or product in an abstract way. Remember to be concrete allowing individuals to visualize your concept.

Sticky messages are emotional, but it’s easy to already think technology is cool and so you don’t have to try to convey it to others. You do! In the 90’s it wasn’t cool to own an Apple Product, in 2010, everyone has at least one if not two or three.

Good luck developing your story or your pitch.

Categories: Best Practices, PR