Written by Michael Dale
In a marketplace of increasing complexity, an enlightened breed of organisations have found that embracing simplicity can deliver far-reaching results. For them, simplification has become an overarching philosophy that influences everything they do. It shapes their entire brand experience, along with the internal processes that drive it.
Simplifying almost anything feels deliciously cathartic, but when applied in business, the rewards are reflected directly on the bottom line. The 2014 Global Brand Simplicity Index  has measured the effect since 2009 and has calculated that those brands that have adopted simplicity outperformed market averages by 170%.
Organisations actively involved come in three types: Established brands that have retained sharp focus throughout their growth. Then there’s the bloated behemoths that have been compelled to focus, clarify and rationalise. And finally the emerging 'disrupter' brands, often founded within complex markets, providing a simple solution to an audience need.
The disrupters have seen spectacular growth. Netflix, for example, has simplified the experience of film rental by creating a no-frills subscription service. GoPro has put high-quality action film-making within reach of casual users. Nest has spearheaded a class of intelligent controllers that has made the management of our home climate a doddle. And Doddle provides a convenient option for parcel collection for time-pressed commuters. Uber, AirBnB, Groupon, Spotify… the ‘lean’ list goes on. Each growing rapidly by providing a simplified product or service alongside a value proposition that is easy to communicate.
So, if you wanted to do the same with your brand, how do you get started? Simplification can work in most areas of your business. Here’s three:
Short of chucking a bucket-load of money into marketing, many undifferentiated brands struggle to find a way of standing out in a sea of competitive noise. And even if that is achieved, they can soon be yesterday’s news.
Imagine a customer’s mind divided into pigeonholes. If you want to own that little slot labelled ‘mp3 player’ (for example), the answer is to simplify. Get to the essence of what you do. A well-defined purpose, strong differentiation and clear positioning will allow you to connect with your prospects effectively and permanently. For more, read the Simplification Funnel.
Start by creating customer journey maps, because understanding each and every point of interaction with your brand ensures you can maintain a seamless experience. It may seem obvious but it doesn’t make great business sense offering spectacular holidays, if your potential customers are struggling to navigate your booking process.
The natural human tendency is to assume that more is better. Although, anyone who has struggled to find a basic function within Microsoft Word might challenge this assumption. Simplifying the customer experience could include providing plain language information and clearly signposted documents. It may require data visualisation or infographics. Or perhaps a streamlined website architecture and a more intuitive checkout process.
Yes, simplification requires a concerted effort, but it’s clearly better that you do the hard work than expect your customers to. Make it easy for them to deal with you, and they'll keep coming back.
Progressive organisations thrive on a culture of innovation and simplification should be a dominant strand of this process. Often it’s the people at the coalface that are best placed to spot efficiencies. To harness this potential think-tank, employees need to be part of the brand story and to understand their role in fulfilling its purpose.
Marty Neumeier, in his excellent book The Designful Company, suggests creating ‘free-speech zones’ where all contributions are encouraged. Not only do they yield a broader range of concepts, they also destroy the barrier between those who come up with the ideas and those who implement them.
You could dip a toe in the water… simplify a web form and witness an increase in enquiries. Or you could decide to jump in with both feet and enjoy new levels of visibility and engagement from a simplified brand strategy. Either way you’ll be joining a growing movement that confidently recognises the value of ‘less is more’.