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September 11, 2007

K-I-S-S vs. Complexity

As an Account Planner, I've always been schooled to "boil it down to the simple essence."  Because brands should stake out their turf and defend it, right? Because creativity begins with a single-minded proposition, right?  And because consumers like it simple. 

The K-I-S-S principle (Keep it Simple Stupid) is a substantial part of our culture, including marketing.  Just to show you, there are 34,911 books associated with the term "keeping it simple" on amazon.com.  Sorry for the Kama Sutra book on the front page...who knew?  And before the Internet revolution, marketing was pretty simple.  It was really easy to reach a hundred million people with a sales message...expensive too.

Enter web 2.0, the empowered consumer, the abundance of good products, the fragmentation of consumer interests, the proliferation of content and the scary influence of social media.  Now, the message is "embrace complexity." 

So which is it?  Simplicity is key, but complexity is reality.

Albert Einstein suggests: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler."

You know, that guy is pretty smart.  Doubt if he had any intention of effecting how we look at marketing brands, but then again, he had little intention of effecting half of the things he indeed did.  As marketers, we have to embrace complexity, but keep it simple because that's how people are naturally behaving.  Consider my kindergarten-looking chart below:


I know it's complicated (ha) so I'll walk you through it...

1. BRAND:  Simplicity in thought and purpose is and will continue to be really important.

Here at the CWORD we believe the goal of marketing is befriending consumers.  Ever try to befriend someone you really can't put your finger on? Someone who's complex, confusing and downright difficult to understand?  Well, it works the same way when brands try to befriend consumers.  Brands have to be clear and simple about who they are, who they serve, what they do and what they believe.  Great brands are simple in purpose and meaning: they solve a specific problem or meet a specific need and they have a point of view that people can buy into. 

2. PEOPLE:  Embracing complexity, fueling conversation and letting go are the new credos of marketing

Marketing today = more.  More distinct people groups, more conversation and dialog, more technology, more avenues of communication and more experimentation.  The one thing there is less of is control.  This is where marketers have to embrace messiness and put their brand into the hands of their friends and advocates.  Gareth Kay, a planner for which I have much respect and admiration for, does a masterful job at giving inspiration to those who need to embrace the complexity. His advice is "do lots of stuff, learn, and do lots more stuff" and "create brand energy." 

This advice reflects natural human decision making called "herd behavior", which is fueled by the explosion of social media and web 2.0.  Mark Earls reviews our natural tendencies to not make decisions in a vacuum, but to get the advice, perspective and approval of our respective social groups.

Many marketers look at this complexity and short circuit.  Here's the thing, you don't manage it, you participate in it.  Great brands become one of the people in the conversation, putting all of their intuitive knowledge to work when it comes to talking WITH people and befriending them.  A great example is a recent post from Greg Verdino on Saturn.

3. CUSTOMER:  In the end, it has to be simple for the individual

Despite embracing the complexity of marketing in today's fragmented/conversational environment, brands must produce a simple and compelling advantage to the individual.  Simple to understand, to experience, to buy, to relate with, to feel, to integrate into your life and to talk about with others.  If the product experience is complex, if the buying experience is complicated or if the brand produces a diluted/convoluted feeling, then it will likely be cast aside for one of the many other options available to the customer.

So, branding and befriending consumers today means keeping it simple at certain times while embracing complexity at other times.

by Brandon Murphy

UPDATE:  Check out this post by Russell Davies.  His seventh point addresses the tension of simplicity and complexity head on.



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