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I was just made aware by Alec Maki of Insights Now, Inc. that there was a corroborating blog on this subject in Forbes last year.  Here is an except:

Have you noticed that more and more companies are marketing “simplicity” as a reason to buy their products or services? For example, Philips Electronics advertises “Sense and simplicity” while Bank of America promotes “ Clear, easy-to-understand products.” Simplicity also is the subtle message that Schwab conveys when it says “Talk to Chuck” and that Fidelity suggests when it says just “ Stay on the line.”


Marketing organizations should embrace Simplification as a pervasive strategy for competitive advantage.  Life has become too complex with overwhelming numbers of choices at every turn. Complexity leads to frustration, anger, and people making bad choices that make them feel stupid.

In a recent Corporate Executive Board(CEB) study, marketing simplicity was quantified using a “decision simplification index,” which gauged “how easily consumers can understand (navigate) information about a brand…a 20 percent increase in decision simplification resulted in a 96% customer loyalty increase, and made brands 86 percent more likely to be purchased… (Source: Huffington Post).

You can imagine a CEO saying to each direct report, “We are going to do everything possible to simplify our offer and brand experience. How are you going to change your team’s priorities to fulfill this mission?”

Besides the prima facie case, consider the success of three firms who are in the simplification business, pure and simple.

  • Google.  No company has simplified life more than Google, making search the way we find information, navigate to websites without having to remember the URL, and marking the beginning of how we shop.  Yes, Google has simplified the shopping process among an overwhelming array of offerings.
  • Amazon.  Who has simplified the complex task of shopping more than Amazon? It remembers us, our preferences, and our wishes.  It shows us what others think of the products we are considering.  It has made the access to “print” materials instantaneous by eliminating print. It is open 365/24/7 so we choose the store hours. It is always the closest store (right on our lap.)  It even gives us apps so we can buy the product we see in a store at a lower price online (called “showrooming”).
  • Apple. Apple has led the greatest movement of reinventing how something works to make it simpler with the emergence of touch interface apps on smart phones and tablets. No more complex websites, we now have the essence of a website distilled down into the most intuitive UI imaginable.

NBC made their Olympics programming accessible however and wherever someone wants, and guess what?  TV viewing went up. Simple!  Staples advertising is based on “simple” but then runs deals that can only be redeemed online vs. in their stores…not simple…it’s one brand, guys!  Try to buy Robitussin or Visine with all the confusing variants on the shelf…simple or not simple?

Wherever there is choice complexity, an opportunity for marketing simplification exists. One of the biggest areas is TV viewing.  The average person watches TV over 5 hours per day.  Many of us have access to hundreds of channels, plus our DVR, plus VOD plus Hulu and/or Netflix; with overwhelming choices what do we do? We restrict ourselves to a small number of alternatives (data I’ve seen suggests that we view 10% or so of the channels we have available.)  Imagine how Google search or perhaps Facebook log-in that remembers your preferences and makes suggestions could revolutionize TV program navigation.  TV will be a big battleground for Google, Facebook, and Apple. I urge them to compete by simplifying choice rather than badges or some other nonsense.

Finally, let’s think about shopping again.  In a supermarket, there are 45,000 products but the average shopper only buys 400.  In a Home Depot or Lowe’s, the chances are what you are there for that day is somewhere distant in their massive store. Can we reinvent marketing approaches to simplify shopping?  Absolutely! Tesco turned Korean subway stations into grocery stores where you order using your smartphone from virtual products displayed on the back wall.  You can imagine less futuristic approaches that would also be demonstrable improvements. Some examples:

  • A brand and retailer might use signage and mobile apps to let shoppers know what the best sellers are in a category (a brilliantly simple idea I first heard from Herb Sorensen)
  • A cross-functional team of shopper marketing and social media might drive visual integration by reinforcing package graphics with photos in Facebook updates to make it easier for shoppers to find the product that matches their needs on a given day.
  • Retailers could seamlessly link online, mobile, and offline shopping with the use of unifying profiles, to create digital shopping lists that are brought into the store. Such a system could push reminders to shoppers based on likely purchase cycles. This is only a step or two beyond what you already see with ScanIt in Stop and Shop.

Marketers need to embrace simplification. Insights teams need to learn how to bring this insight to marketers, developing a model of what “simple” looks like and what’s its impact is on customer action.

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3 Responses to “Marketing simplification”

  1. Joel, your call for simplicity is spot on. People may say they want more choice; but behavior says otherwise.

    From Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise: “The instinctual shortcut that we take when we have ‘too much information’ is to engage with it selectively.”

    That said, simple is easier said than done; it’s got to be the “right” simple. If you deliver the wrong simplicity, you could be simply out of luck.

    Sometimes the execution required to deliver the “right” simple is, well, not so simple. As you mention, all instruments of the brand experience should should resonate, in consonance, with one another. The end result of this orchestra may be simple harmony. But getting the the orchestra to play well together is anything but simple. It requires everybody to be on the same page, playing to the same beat, with the right emphasis.

    One way to simplify this orchestration is to ensure go-to-market teams are all viewing the consumer through same lens of behavior: what motivates her to act within and across moments of life. Then align digital, shopper, and consumer touchpoints with this lens. This is predicated on achieving keen market insight, which serves as inspiration for the orchestra’s music to be written (or, more appropriately, co-written by marketing and insights teams).

    Simple, right?

  2. […] To create and deliver meaningful customer experiences, we need a shared canvas upon which each specialized function can jointly paint this picture. Each function should work to create a single portrait — and all should mutually benefit from its use.  This canvas can (and should) unify insight functions, marketing, sales, and R&D with a common purpose: create and deliver value for the full customer, regardless of where she’s at, what she’s doing, what she needs, wants and desires. This common purpose, rooted on a shared view of the customer, is the basis of what Joel Rubinson calls simplicity. […]

  3. Many companies have a vested interest in complexity. They believe that simple is naive and uneducated. They need complex to justify jobs, organizational structure, budgets, etc.

    Simple is really clear thinking, a holistic approach to problems and a realization that we sell/market to human beings not targets, segments or demos.