Why Sticky Notes Are Stronger Than Employee Experience

Two years ago, I was interviewing a product developer for an article we’d be writing about their software, which automates a lot of what mortgage lenders used to do manually.

“What’s the alternative to using your software?” I asked. “Like, what do people do without it?”

“Sticky notes,” he said. “Dozens of sticky notes, all over their computer.”

And just like that, I had my hook.

This client wasn’t creating a better employee experience (🥱). They were freeing loan officers from the tyranny (and data breach potential) of sticky notes.

A few clickety clacks later, and that article was live, flicking on lightbulbs over the heads of people who needed the software.

Screenshot 2024-02-15 at 2.05.54 PM

The Power of the Concrete

I am not the first to laud the power of the concrete in writing.

In fact, I’m pretty late to the game: in your first fiction class, your teacher will no doubt tell you to use details that are concrete and significant. (Janet Burroway has one of my favorite explanations of why this works.)

But in a lot of business writing – and especially B2B writing – you’re much more likely to find abstractions.

Not just abstract details, either, but abstract claims like "our software enhances the employee experience." And the verbs. Oh, the abstract verbs:

  • Optimize
  • Transform
  • Empower

These words sound nice, sure. They lend that haze of authority that suggests the speaker (or writer) knows what they’re talking about. But guess what? That very haziness also works to obscure your meaning and therefore prevent your claims from clicking into your audience’s memory.

If you want somebody to remember you, you need to create images. You need stories. You need concrete.

I’m going to tell you how to get there, but first let’s talk about how to get away from those abstract nothing words that feel so safe.

Ditch the Abstraction Umbrella

In my estimation, people tasked with B2B writing choose abstractions for two reasons:

  1. They’re safe. If you don’t make specific claims, you can’t be wrong. It’s much safer to say your software will enhance employee experience than to say it will improve employee experience. Because, hey, it could enhance the experience by making it more experience-y, I guess. So enhancing.

  2. They allow for complexity. Guess what: that mortgage software didn’t only solve the problem of sticky notes. It also solved a dozen other problems, but if I spent the intro of this article listing them, you’d have clicked away ages ago. Abstract words are less specific, so they can mean more things.

    “Employee experience” can mean the experience of digging through the trash for a sticky note that fell and it can mean the experience of spilling coffee on your shirt. It can mean the experience of scheduling meetings. Of wondering who your HR contact is. It’s so big and includes so much that a reader has no idea what you’re actually talking about when they read it.

And here’s the thing: when you’re writing marketing content, your job is not to create an umbrella that covers every possible scenario where your product might apply.

Your job is to help potential customers see how you can help them.

And, literally, we see images. A literal picture forms in our head. We can’t see abstractions.

Try for yourself:

  • Abstract: The game experienced a weather delay.
  • Concrete: The game was postponed because a tornado ripped out the left-field seats.

Guess what: the tornado also blew some shingles off the structure’s roof, knocked over a few trash cans, and dumped a bunch of rain on everything. But we get that gist by that one memorable detail. It unlocks a universe of associations in a way that “weather delay” does not.

So. How can you channel the power of the concrete to zap your marketing content to life and snag the attention of your distracted audience?

Do two things: zoom in to one image and know when to fudge the details.

Zoom In & Fudge: The Brenna Lemieux Approach to Getting People’s Attention

Confession time: I don’t actually remember who first gave me that sticky note comment. Or when it happened. I don’t even remember which client they worked for! (We’ve worked with several mortgage tech companies.)

I say that to prove two points:

  1. Images stick! (Like sticky notes.)
  2. Fudging unimportant details makes for a better story.

This is something my sister Danielle understands implicitly.

To hear Danielle tell it, I once added roughly eight ounces of mayonnaise when making deviled eggs for a Labor Day party. Whenever deviled eggs come up in our family, Danielle says,

“Don’t let Brenna make them! She’ll add too much mayonnaise!”

And everybody laughs and laughs.

Some details don’t matter to the outcome of the story (for example: it was more like an extra tablespoon than an extra eight ounces).

If you fudge those details such that the story is more memorable, you are doing your job better because one of your jobs as a marketer is to increase brand awareness.

For example, you’ve probably heard your resident Numbers Guy™ say something like, “We saw traffic double the day the news hit,” but when you look at the graph, you see it only increased by 93 percent. So traffic was 1.93 times higher than usual – not double! And they call him the Numbers Guy™!?!?

But everyone else in the room just went with it. In fact, now they’re all looking at you as if it is your turn to speak! Eek!

The lesson: this kind of fudging is fine because it doesn’t substantially misrepresent what's happening. It’s also faster to say “double” than “one-point-nine-three-x” (glasses-up-the-nose shove).


And just so nobody gets the wrong idea: there are some details you absolutely cannot fudge. Don’t make up what your product actually does, for example. But if you’re telling your startup’s origin story and the founder doesn’t remember where they were when they had the idea that led them to hang a shingle, put them somewhere!

Put them in front of Sue the T. Rex at Chicago’s Field Museum! Put them mid-lap at the rec center, dripping their way out to the front desk to ask for a pen! Put them in an old-timey night cap, waking up and yelling Eureka with a candle stub in one hand!

Fudging a detail like this does not change the important part of the story: that they had an idea that led to a new company. It only makes that story – and its stickiness – stronger.

Push Past Your Discomfort. Say Something Real.

Okay, one more confession. I am guilty of using words like “optimize” and “streamline” and “enhance” (shudder). I’m not proud of myself, but there it is.

Using those words felt nice because I knew nobody could prove me wrong. Not even Danielle!

But guess what? They also didn’t help me do any of the things I proclaim to do as a marketer. So here’s what I’ll leave you with. Take a risk. Say something real – even if it might be wrong.

You can be unimpeachably and very literally correct, you can be safely vague, or you can be memorable. But you have to choose one.