The 10% Message: A Science-Backed Way to Make Content More Memorable

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The 10% Message: A Science-Backed Way to Make Content More Memorable

Think about any business meeting you had last week.

What do you remember from it?

Do you remember the action items from the call? An interesting stat? The funny thing your coworker said?

You probably don’t remember everything, and what you do remember might feel arbitrary.

It’s not just you. People naturally forget 90 percent of the information they consume within 48 hours. And the little they do remember tends to be random.

This isn’t only true for meetings—it applies to all content you consume, everything from books and movies to webinars and marketing collateral, even conversations you have with a friend.

That’s a problem for B2B professionals who rely on meetings and other content to communicate vital information. Whether you’re in marketing, sales, or customer success, you don’t want people to just remember something­ from your content—you want them to remember the most important thing.

How do you make sure what people remember from your content is what you want them to remember? The answer is identifying and using a memorable 10% message.

What Is a 10% Message?

The 10% message is a crisp and concise statement that emphasizes key takeaways from your content that you want your audience to remember and act upon.

By identifying and using an effective 10% message, you can better control what your audience remembers and influence their buying decisions in your favor.

People Will Forget 90 Percent of Your Content

A psychological concept called the Forgetting Curve suggests that people forget information over time when they make no effort to retain it.

This was first observed by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in the 1880s, but what he found has been replicated in more recent studies. The research shows that within the first two days after you’re exposed to new content, you’ll forget most of it—90 percent on average.

Our ongoing research studies conducted by cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Carmen Simon also confirm that people remember only three to 12 percent of the content they consume after 48 hours.

The exact percentage varies, but as a general measure, we refer to the small amount of information people remember as the metaphorical “10 percent.” Thus, it’s important to identify the most important 10 percent that you want people to remember, and then present that information in a way that influences their decisions.

How Do Memories Influence Decisions?

People make decisions based on what they remember. In her 2016 book, Impossible to Ignore, Dr. Carmen Simon describes how memories influence decisions from a neuroscience perspective.

In the process of making a decision, the brain predicts the rewards of a choice based on the information it remembers from the past and then uses that information to make the most favorable decision for the future.

In other words, the brain is a prediction engine. And memories are the fuel that helps it make better decisions.

Ultimately, the problem is not that people remember very little. The problem is that they remember very little at random. Unless you take control of the 10 percent that you want people to remember, your content is susceptible to random memory.

For example: Imagine you’re speaking to a group of decision makers. If your 10% message isn’t clear or memorable, each person might take away a different understanding of your message, and it becomes difficult to gain consensus around the decision you’re trying to influence.

How to Identify Your 10% Message

How do you identify and build an effective 10% message?

Most importantly, your 10% message should be focused on your buyer and phrased as a rewarding action you want them to take.

Don’t talk about your product or features, but rather the solution to your buyer’s situation. In other words, your 10% message should tell your buyer what they can do better or differently because of your solution.

Think of your 10% message as one big idea that’s supported by 3–4 “do” statements. Identify the main action your buyer needs to take to solve their business challenge, and then present a few specific steps they can take to achieve that goal.

Here are some specific guidelines, based on findings from our neuroscience research studies.

An effective 10% message is:

  • Focused – Identify the main takeaway from your content and include no more than 3–4 supporting points.
  • Rewarding – Link your message to something your audience finds rewarding, like a better business outcome or learning how to do something new.
  • Differentiated – Make sure your message is unique to you, and that another competitor in your field can’t claim the same statement.
  • Repeatable – Create a 10% message so it’s easily remembered and simple for your buyer to repeat to other people.
  • Actionable – Phrase your message as an action you want your buyer to take to achieve a beneficial goal.

Your 10% message will be different for different buying situations. There is no one message for your solution—your 10% message will vary based on where your buyer is in their buying journey, and what kind of decision you’re trying to influence.

For example, if you’re talking to a new prospect, you need to disrupt their status quo and persuade them to choose a new solution (yours). But when you’re talking to an existing customer, you need to reinforce your position as their status quo while also persuading them to renew or buy more.

How to Use Your 10% Message (with Examples)

Once you’ve identified your 10% message, you need to use it effectively in your content. Here are some tips to make your 10% message stick with your buyers.

1. Replace Your Agenda or Table of Contents

In sales presentations, one simple way to emphasize your 10% message is to replace the typical agenda slide with a more concrete, action-oriented 10% slide.

Two powerpoint slides, one is the before slide with a typical agenda and the second is the after version which feature a new 10% message slide

Typically, the agenda slide lists the order of events during a meeting. But those steps aren’t actionable or memorable.

The same is true for other content, like e-books. Instead of including a table of contents at the beginning of the e-book, include an actionable, repeatable 10% page to articulate your main message.

This anchors your key takeaways and guides your buyer through your content.

2. Use a Distinct Design

Your 10% slide or 10% page should stand out as visually unique from the other ones in your content. Making it stand out in the content makes it stand out in your buyer’s brain, which attracts more attention to the most important information.

People’s brains are built to notice patterns, it really likes them. A visually distinct 10% message, when repeated through a piece of content, provides a pattern for the brain to follow. That, in turn, feeds familiarity and makes your message more memorable.

3. Don’t Detract from the Text

You should make your 10% message stand out from the rest of your slides or pages. But resist the urge to add overly-distracting visuals to try and capture people’s attention.

Research indicates that text can be strong enough on its own to positively impact how buyers process information. Photos of people or complex images can distract people from focusing on your message. Using a text-only approach can help you draw buyers’ focus to what’s important, keep them relaxed, and improve comprehension and recall.

4. Repeat Your 10% Message Often

It’s no secret that repetition improves memory. When you repeat something often enough, your audience’s brain starts recognizing a pattern. The pattern indicates that the information is important and should be retained for the future.

How much repetition is enough? Our research studies show that, as a general rule, you should repeat your 10% message at least 8–12 times during a 20-minute presentation.

A view of all slides in a PowerPoint presentation that shows the 10% message slide has a distinct look from the rest of the slides and is repeated often throughout the presentation.

In an e-book, use your 10% pages as distinct waypoints, providing a clear and easy-to-follow guide through the content. If you have three supporting points, repeat the 10% message five times—once to introduce the overall 10% message, once for each supporting point, and one more time as a concluding 10% page to wrap up the key points in more detail.

When you use 10% slides and 10% pages well, you’ll repeat your 10% message multiple times without making it seem forced.

The Bottom Line

People make decisions based on what they remember, not what they forget.

The problem is, your buyers will forget 90 percent of your content. And the little they do remember will be completely random—unless you intentionally control your 10% message.

Ultimately, your goal isn’t just to get your buyer to remember something. You want them to remember the right thing.

The next time you create marketing and sales content, include a 10% message, repeat it often, and you’ll make your message more memorable and persuasive.

Dig Deeper

Here are some science-backed resources to learn more about the 10% message.


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