Simplicity. In a complicated world, it sounds good, doesn’t it? As a strategist, one of our constant challenges is turning complexity into simplicity. That’s what I tell people I do at work all day. But what does that really mean within business and marketing? Why is it needed? And how do you achieve it?
I recently read a story based on David Ogilvy’s interpretation of a life-experience from Jacques Prévert. The story began with a blind man sitting on the pavement in Central Park, begging for money. His sign read:
“I am blind, please help.”
He was ignored, until one day his sign caught the attention of an ad man. The man approached the sign and altered it to say:
“It is spring and I am blind.”
Money started pouring into the blind man’s hat. But what did the man really change to the sign?
He sparked inspiration and emotive responses by enabling people to reminisce on their own springtime memories while passing by – in seven words.
And the right combination of words can transform industries and societal structures – we see it in politics, poetry, art, drama, and business. When something is expressed in its clearest, most succinct form, it can be extremely powerful. But simplicity isn’t…well, simple. It takes time, perspective, and as Bertrand Russell calls it, “the painful necessity of thought.”
As a strategist in the B2B marketing industry, achieving simplicity can feel unattainable at times. Especially among the variety of complexities associated with our clients’ business challenges. And as we navigate the labyrinth of change around us and our clients, mastering simplicity – while offering a solution that’s worthwhile – is extremely valuable. Jeremy Miller, Brand Strategist and author of “Sticky Branding,” gives us a clear explanation that expresses simplicity in terms of branding:
“Simple clarity is the ability to describe your brand
and what makes it unique in ten words or less.”
Ten words or less. That means we must battle against the urge to create 100-page decks, and instead aim to write succinct, more concise, focused stories. Funny enough, writing shorter stories takes a lot more time than longer ones. Which is why we must always be learning from the brands that have mastered simplicity in order to master it ourselves.
In messaging, customer experience and vision, these are the brands that are getting it right today. Each of these companies is a challenger in their space because of unique, consistent, and simplistic approaches.
The entertainment subscription service streams around 250 million hours of video per day and is leading the streaming service game. Why? A few reasons:
As Julia McCoy, content marketer and bestselling author, puts it, “Nobody says, ‘I’m going to stay home and watch Amazon’ when asked about their plans for the night.” Netflix is known for a specific service, and it stand outs because of its niche offerings and clearly articulated value.
The 20-year-old search engine is consistently offering simple, user-friendly options, while continually innovating both its brand and offerings. Unsurprisingly, Google stands as a continued challenger in the tech space. A few notable strengths include:
Google shows us that simplicity pays off. In fact, 64% of consumers claim they’ll pay more for a brand that delivers a simpler experience, while 61% say they’ll recommend a brand with simpler experiences and communications (Source).
The Swedish entertainment company launched their streaming service in 2008, filling a gap in the market by giving users complete control of their musical journey – a gap that other distributers saw as a problem. Some success factors:
Karin Dames, Editor of Teal Times, notes, “Their vision is clear, actionable, and specialized. It’s not unrealistic or vague, rather, it is very focused, precise and actionable.”
How to keep it simple
At Omobono, we challenge ourselves to ask the right questions and create guidelines that combat against complexity in our work.
Here are a few “Omo” tips for simplicity:
Assign a high value to simplicity
Jonathon Palmer, Global Head of Strategy, says that, “Companies should assign a high value on simplicity and explicitly pursue it. It should be a stated goal for an organization.” If it’s embedded from top down, the likelihood of it permeating different areas, projects, business objectives, etc., becomes more realistic and actionable.
Don’t confuse quick with simple
Quickness is a wonderful quality, but it can often equate to clutter in the execution. CEO Ben Dansie notes that, “Quick and simple are two completely different things. Quick is about speed, and simple is about quality. And the job of communication is nearly always about less.” No matter the project, it’s important to keep in mind the value, uniqueness, and distinct differences associated with both attributes.
Sacrifice (challenge and discard)
Einstein said it best: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” which speaks to this idea of challenging what’s in front of you and discarding details and content when appropriate – especially if it’s detrimental to the reader’s ability to comprehend the content. Jonathon Palmer notes that, “You should always seek to reduce things down, but we need to be careful that simple doesn’t become too simplistic.”
Ask yourself, “So what?”
Why should “they” care? Whatever you produce for a client, if it doesn’t answer this question, you haven’t really reached the root of the problem. And when the root isn’t addressed, you’re essentially offering fluff or repeating noise within the industry. When you can find a niche, interesting POV and answer to offer, that’s real value for the reader.
What’s the headline? (i.e. a newspaper)
Trying to articulate the headline reason can sometimes be the most difficult part of the strategic process, especially when there’s multiple layers associated with a client’s problem. US Head of Strategy, Philip Black, has a 3-question philosophy that helps him condense his thoughts into clear, headline actions:
What am I saying that illustrates a deep understanding of the root issue?
What am I saying that will really stretch the clients thinking or imagination?
What am I saying that will energize and envision the client?
Asking these questions can help breakdown the problem into manageable parts, ensuring your communication is purposeful and to-the-point.
Simple is hard. It takes time, energy, intention, and skill. But we must strive to get it right – especially as marketers in a world full of never-ending noise and change.
If you’re interested in learning more about us and what we do (or how we do it), please feel free to reach out or check out our website at www.omobono.com.