“If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.”
The famous quote is variously attributed to Blaise Pascal, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin and several more.
Irrespective of who said it, the quotation says a lot about the value of keeping things simple.
Making complex concepts easier to grasp is highly valued and admired. The outcome can be inspirational or as cool as an intuitive, easy-to-use product from Apple.
Brands live in a complex world, making simplicity in marketing even more important.
The brand owner must live the purpose of the brand, must ensure the product works and can be readily used, must make it available to the market, demonstrate and communicate the brand’s value and simultaneously engage with customers across multiple channels.
The task may be complex, but that doesn’t mean the brand has to be.
Ultimately, the brand should be an antidote for complexity because consumers are typically looking to reduce complication and clutter.
They want solutions that respond with a minimum of fuss to their needs and lifestyle demands.
Unfortunately, marketers tend to lose sight of simplicity as their ultimate objective.
They are suckered into the wrong fight.
They face pressure on all costs associated with the marketing function.
They have to prove return on investment.
They must make a business case for their budget in the face of scepticism from the financial gatekeepers.
To justify budgetary allocations versus other disciplines, marketers therefore stress the complexity of the marketing function and point out that skills in such a complicated field don’t come cheap.
In effect, they say to competitors for funding “our field is just as complex as yours” when they should be spotlighting our industry’s key benefit – the power of brilliant simplicity.
They fail to make the point because they fear that marketing will be deemed simplistic.
Clearly, ‘simple’ does not get the respect it deserves.
The marketer’s lament has become:
“Everybody in my company thinks they can do marketing.”
“Everyone thinks they are an ad guy.”
The worth of other specialisations is implicitly acknowledged because no one in the organisation blandly assumes they can perform brain surgery or work as a lawyer or create IT solutions.
Marketers, in contrast, are experts whose expertise often goes unacknowledged.
The finer workings of the profession may be a complete mystery to outsiders, but the brilliance of what we do is not adjudicated by a panel of experts.
At the end of the day, the decision rests with a layman – the consumer.
Everything a brand does, every interaction between brand and customer, is out there to be judged by everyone.
For any brand, the judge and jury are the people who will be inspired by it, shocked, provoked, made to laugh or delighted.
Should we be surprised, then, that the very people we are trying to influence have an opinion on what is influential?
They demand a voice.
The more we simplify the proposition, the more they have to say because the issue is made clear and unambiguous.
This is proof that simplicity is engaging while complexity is off-putting.
Those who think what we do is simple are bestowing a great compliment.
It means we’ve done our job and made everything look easy.
With this in mind, we should stop being defensive about our skills as killers of complexity.
We have to inspire consumers with simplicity time after time.
If this gets complicated that’s our problem.
We should also shed the persecution complex. Marketers aren’t the only ones who face difficulties when communicating the value of their contribution.
The digital age creates its own cries of frustration; this time from new media hotshots.
They complain that “clients have their heads in the sand about digital” or “clients are living in the 80’s” or “these guys don’t realise digital is not like traditional”.
When digital experts engage with clients the results can be illuminating.
Often, the meeting is characterised by frustration on both sides.
Question follows question as clients strive to understand this seemingly complex, ever-changing, overwhelming, difficult to fathom, jargon-filled, fast-paced communication platform.
A little simplicity would go a long way to breaking the deadlock.
The true mark of an expert (in the digital or any other space) is the ability to simplify the language and concepts.
Unless, of course, complexity is a business strategy.
I have heard some leaders of digital agencies propagate the mantra that mystery equals margin.
This is rather startling in an industry that repeatedly tells brands there is nowhere to hide, they must be authentic, they need to open source.
On the other hand, I have met some inspiring players in the digital space who break down apparently complex propositions so beautifully.
These are the true experts. They are highly creative, strategic brand builders who happen to know digital and are happy to make that knowledge accessible.
Similar considerations apply in the traditional marketing space.
Some practitioners come up with convoluted marketing concepts to impress a client or an audience.
However, the truly impressive practitioners appreciate that great ideas are always simple.
Being simply the best is not easy. Only the most outstanding performers manage it.
Needless complexity is dross we can do without. A quote within a quote gets the point across.
Bob Hoffman in the AD CONTRARIAN quotes the following from a leading client’s Marketing Faculty at the School of Management.
“The word brand has a tripartite etymology. One emphasis clusters around burning, with connotations both of fiery consummation and of banking the hearth.
“A second emphasis clusters around marking with connotations of ownership and indelibility, as well as paradoxical allusions to intrinsic essence, whether merit or stigma.
“A third emphasis clusters around the delivery of or deliverance from danger. The brand embodies the transformative heat of passion, properly tended.”
Does anyone get that?
Experts are not driven to show how smart they are. They communicate love for their subject. They ignite passion. They create enthusiasm.
And they do it simply and easily.
The final word on the subject comes from Mr Albert Einstein who said: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
By Ivan Moroke, TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris CEO