Let me admit- simplification is a complex process. Especially in current markets where we see unprecedented clutter of ideas, markets, competition and customers. Was this also not the case in 1899, 1937 and 2002? (By the way there is nothing unique about these years, they are just randomly picked  ). Yes it was. But guess it is harder now and will get even harder progressively.

There is one thing every brand is competing for-catching the attention of customers with a simple message. Just why is this so? What makes simplification difficult? How does one pick up the courage and the will to still go about doing this? These are discussed further.

Why Simplify?

  • Simplification helps clarify the purpose of a brand to internal audiences: I deliberately put internal audiences first. The marketer first needs to have the clarity in her mind as to why she the brand exists before clarifying to others. For example, the role of Maruti 800 was to help customers graduate from two-wheeler to a four wheeler. Because of the low price and ubiquitous after sales servicing, the brand over decades became the entry level car for Indian customers.
  • Customers understand why they need to buy the brand: Amidst all the clutter of messaging coming from different brands, customers prefer to listen to and buy brands which provide a few but strong Reason (s) To Buy (RTB). Customers are also clear why the brand is doing what it is doing in terms of the product design, pricing, utility etc. For example, Mercedes Benz is clear on why customer need to buy the brand – luxury through engineering excellence.
  • Simplification is an optimization tool: Media costs are going up while media efficacy is going down. Digital and social media are only contributing to the clutter and not really simplifying it. In this scenario, the brand which is simplified stands to gain because in the multitude of the mediums, it is repeating the core message. This will not happen in the case of a brand which is not simplified. Complex brands confuse themselves and give sub-optimal messages. For example, Indigo Airlines, a low cost airline talks about new destinations and being on time in all the communication channels.

Why Simplification is so complex?

  • Lack of internal clarity: Oftentimes there are multiple stakeholders for a brand, each one of them believing, with reasons, that the brand should be positioned on a particular axis. The marketer seems to have ‘to balance’ the demands of the varied stakeholders – leaders of the organization, distribution channels, sales teams etc. So she tries to have one size fit all or have multiple positioning, or talk differently to stakeholders. These are recipes for disaster. Progressively the messaging gets very diluted and complicated to manage. The marketer, if she stills keeps is job, will spend an enormous efforts in synchronizing these messages, most often unsuccessfully. For example: Political parties in election times are good illustrations. Many times the parties which lose are the ones which were not clear what they want to harp on and why someone should vote for them.

  • The Tarzan approach: Brands get mired into the benefits and features they offer too often. This is an easy trap to fall into. Why? Most brands behave like the legendary hero Tarzan. If you recall, Tarzan comes out of tree houses and thumps his chest with a loud shriek. Brands are very similar. They thump their product features so loud that they do not often hear what the customers have to say about the challenges and problems they are facing and want the brand to solve. How does this add to complexity? There is no end to this list of benefits and features that the brand has and the marketer is so enamored about these that he does not stop talking about this adding to the complexity. If you have a neighbor or friend or gods forbid a spouse who is an Amway dealer you will know what I am talking about!

  • Language: Reading user manuals and web content of some brands makes one wonder why the branding message is so complex. Billboards of some brands look like brochures. There seems to be a ubiquitous disease which is rather infectious of the need to be ultra-creative and abstract. Many times this can be attributed to the language used. Use of simple sentences in plain language which can be best understood (even by the uninitiated) is the best way to communicate brand messages.

  • Irrelevant/disconnected information: Customers absorb information in stages. When the brand is new (in existence or to the customer) then customer seeks information to learn more about the brand – who are the makers of the brand, what does the brand do etc.? Similarly in subsequent stages of the brand development cycle, the customers seek information around how the brand differentiates itself etc. The marketer should be cognizant of the type of the information that it should provide, nothing more or else. It is tempting to dump a lot of the information on the customers assuming interest in consuming the same.

  • Everybody feels that somebody should do it: In several organizations, there is no ownership for the simplification. If one reads management literature and corporate talk, there is one theme which seems to be on the radar – simplification. But how many organizations event start to do this? This lack of organizational simplicity leads to lack of simplification of the brand. This is a fairly obvious fallout.

How to Simplify
Wish we had simple answers to this question as well  The deterrents mentioned above are very strong as any practitioner would have realized. But some actions could help this situation:

  • Need for an intense debate: I have strongly believed that the task of simplifying a brand is wholly the responsibility of the Chief Marketing Officer of the company. Period. This is at the heart of the marketing function and the determinant of the all other marketing activities which follow. It is the task of the CMO to precipitate discussions around how to de-clutter the brand. These are not going to be easy discussions. There are huge legacy factors which will be preventing simplification. But the ROI on this not so pleasant effort is tremendous (as per the benefits mentioned earlier)
  • Is the customer getting it?: A litmus test to check if the brand message is sufficiently simple or not is to ask her to repeat her understanding after hearing the brand messages. If she has got the key message(s) then this is a good job done. Else, back to the drawing board to re-craft the messages.
  • Hammer the same messages: From multiple perspectives, the brand needs to re-enforce the same messages. The employees, customers, distribution channel members and all other stakeholders need to hear the same messages. This requires intense training of all the communicators for the brand including branding and communication agencies, sales teams, channel partners.
  • Use design elements: Visual elements – brand identity, taglines, colours, packaging etc. all help in simplifying what needs to be communicated. Use these profusely.
  • Draw and redraw communication plans: As time passes, brand messages tend to fade. The entire effort needs to be redone as there are new stakeholders who enter the scenario from time to time.

I have already confessed that all these are difficult to achieve and it is easier said than done. But it is every marketer’s dream to create a simple and impactful brand. But as Paulo Coelho’s says in The Alchemist, there are four obstacles/fears to achieving our dream:

1. Fear that it is impossible to achieve our dream
2. Fear of hurting someone we love
3. Fear of defeats in the path
4. Fear of realizing the dream

Sounds familiar?

One brand which has done an exceptional job (err Jobs!) of simplification is Apple, no surprises. If you evaluate all these discussion points mentioned above, you will see them in action at Apple.

Sunder Madakshira is the Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communications at SAP India. He is a recognized speaker in industrial forums such as NASSCOM and CII. Published with permission from madakshira.com

Article image courtesy google


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