Skip to main content

In marketing, simple is the new black

Today, we have more choices than ever. However, people still only have 24 hours in a day. In times of abundance, simplicity is the scarce resource.  People are looking for brands that make their lives simple, painless without complexity.

Simple does not mean dumbing things down. On the contrary, it takes hard work and discipline to be simple. To quote Mark Twain “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”  Simplicity forces us to define boundaries and set priorities to get things done faster, cheaper and better. 

In marketing, simplicity comes in two flavors: storytelling, what you say, and storydoing, what you do.

Storytelling simplicity is about distilling highly complex business concepts into simple consumer propositions.  In his book Brand Simple, Allen P. Adamson makes a strong case for why Google, Apple, and Intel are three of the most valuable brands in the world. Google’s breakthrough insight was to make everything about its brand and user experience clean and simple, unlike Yahoo and other search engine companies that thought more content on the landing page communicated more value.

Another great example of storytelling simple is McDonald’s versus Chipotle’s menu. McDonald’s has overcomplicated its menu with its never-ending introductions of items such as Mighty Wings, Premium McWraps, Steak & Egg Burritos, Fish McBites, steak breakfast sandwiches, new Quarter Pounders and so on.  On the other hand, Chipotle’s menu is dead simple, focusing on a handful of items. Complexity has hurt McDonald’s, perhaps contributing to its declining sales over the last two years. Meanwhile, Chipotle has experienced impressive growth.  

Storydoing simply is about learning, building and measuring simple, which is the lean startup methodology.  Startups don’t have the cash invest for months building a service without knowing if people would like it.  Perfection is not the goal. It is about survivability.  Lean requires testing and validating before building. Startups start with a simple proposition that solves a consumer need with the essential feature(s).  To establish the proposition, they talk to consumers, make assumptions and assess the potential risks. They build a minimum viable product as quickly and cheaply as possible to test their riskiest assumption and get the learnings. Then, startups will iterate in real time as they find a product-market fit. 

Zappos tested its foundational hypothesis that people will buy shoes online by taking pictures of shoes at the mall and putting them online. Once an order was placed, They would run to the local shoe stores, buy the item, and then ship it out to the customer.  Yipit tested its riskiest assumption, which is that people don’t want to sign up for multiple deal sites, by manually inputting deals from many sites. Once they had 50% day-to-day growth, they got the funding to build the back-end and automate. 

In summary, simplicity wins in a complex world.  People don’t have the time and don’t want to figure out how things work. As marketers, our challenge and opportunity rely in having the discipline and focus to be simple and consistent in what we say and do.


Popular posts from this blog

The Irrational Power of Nudge Brands

Nudge brands are brands built on interactions, not attitudes. They are mostly defined by experiences, not TV campaigns. They are designed around people's inconsistencies and errors, not for machines. They are simple, not complex. They like to break things into small chunks that are less daunting than big tasks. They focus on changing behavior, not generating awareness and interest. The Paris metro system card is a nudge brand. It is designed against human errors. You can use the card in any direction. IKEA is a nudge brand. It uses the power of personal investment. The more involved people are in creating something, the better they feel about the end product. Ryanair is a nudge brand. It chunks the whole purchase process. They lock you in with a low 'seat price' first to get a mental commitment. Then, they start to add the extra charges in bite-sized 'chunks.' Hare Krishna is a nudge brand. It is built on the reciprocity rule by giving away daisies. People should …

The Curse of Advertising Resources

With more platforms, more products and more content who are trying to reach a disengaged audience, it is becoming harder and harder for brands to stand out. Conventional practices are no longer working. People don't watch TV as much as they used to, so they don't see commercials.  They don't click on banner ads. They don't pay attention to billboards ads. And they don't trust brands' messages. Part of the problem is that we are too dependent on traditional ad resources, which limits the realm of our creativity. To thrive in this new environment, we, ironically, need the freedom of a tight brief: what can you do with no budget for mass media?  Or limited marketing communications dollars?  To make a comparison, traditional advertising is a lot like countries and economies that rely on oil. This reliance handicaps innovation. Countries with a vast amount of natural resources tend to have (1) less economic growth and (2) worse development rates than other countrie…

The Engineering of Digital Consent

Today, we build brands through social interactions. People opinions online shape our decisions on what brands should we buy or endorse. 90% of customers said that online reviews influence their buying decisions. Our challenge is that consumers don't pay attention and trust the message coming from brands. So, how do we affect the opinion of others in this environment? In marketing, we spend a lot of time and money creating advertising with the hope that it goes viral. However, most of the campaigns have little influence in today's consumers. Many campaigns have even the oppositive effect, with consumers sharing negative opinions or blocking advertising altogether. Changing behavior is hard. I don't think we have a silver bullet to influence people online, but we can learn best practices from behavioral science to increase our chances. Getting a little better in predicting behavior can make a big difference. Here are four behavioral principles that we should consider when c…