August 4, 2015
“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, is creativity.”
– Charles Mingus
The biggest challenge that enterprise B2B organizations face is how hard it is to talk about what they sell in simple language. There’s few resources to help B2B companies maneuver through this quagmire, which is why Margaret Molloy, Global CMO and Head of Business Development at global strategic branding firm Siegel+Gale, is such a standout. I had an opportunity to talk to Margaret about simplicity, innovation and how brands can get there.
What led Siegel+Gale to focus on simplicity and ultimately, create the Siegel+Gale Simplicity Index?
Over 46 years ago, our founder, Alan Siegel, recognized the potential of clear, compelling communications. He was a pioneer in plain language writing. He realized that an invoice could serve as a relationship-building tool with a customer. We have learned that plain language transcends customer transactions to create memorable brand experiences. This is especially relevant in today’s digital era, as the world of branding has evolved from words and pictures to experiences. We conducted the study to quantify what we believed intuitively to be the case—simplicity pays. In addition to the qualitative and quantitative information on brands around the globe, we developed a ranking of each brand on the simplicity/complexity of their interactions and communications relative to their industry peers. Our research indicates that consumers are not only seeking simpler brand experiences, but they’re actually willing to pay more for them. Ultimately winning brand experiences create memorable brands. Simplicity is at the centerpiece of the strategies we develop, so it was a natural progression for us to explore the benefits of simplicity on a global business scale.
Why is simplicity something that B2B marketers should pay attention to? Are B2B brands more prone to needing simplification?
The buyers at B2B companies are human too. In our view all humans crave simplicity. Our global research sheds definitive light on the value of building simple B2B brand experiences that can even engage and be relevant to customers. At Siegel+Gale we define simplicity as the intersection of clarity and surprise. For example, clarity comes from distilling a clear message, designing a striking logo or creating a useful experience. The surprise element comes from reimagining experiences in useful and distinctive ways. Often this can come from our fact-based approach to research. So the core components of simplicity, as we define it, are as relevant to B2B as B2C marketers.
B2B sales cycles tend to be complex, with many buyers and influencers in the process. B2B products tend to have more features and typically work as part of an ecosystem—they are not an end product, and so these layers can breed complexity.
How does simplicity in a consumer experience impact B2B expectations?
There are more service providers and technology devices than ever before; as a result, the simplicity of B2C experiences is definitely raising the bar. Today, customer experiences are shaped by experiences across categories—customers expect a simple experience in one industry to be adopted by others. You must take a multi-sector view of best practices and apply them to make customer experiences not just simple, but delightful. The B2C and B2B sales cycles may be different, but the role of simplicity is universal. In a B2B scenario, for example, the cloud computing software you are selling may be complex, but you must be able to distill your offering in a clear and concise manner.
Why does simplicity impact stock performance?
It comes down to customer preference. Our research shows that 75% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand that provides simpler experiences and communications. Our study also concludes that consumers are willing to pay a premium for simpler experiences. Simple brands stand to gain increased revenue, deeper trust and greater loyalty. Customers prefer simpler brands and ultimately that is reflected in their stock performance.
In the report, it says that simpler brands foster innovation among employees. How is that?
The answer is surprisingly simple—it all comes down to purpose. Employees who fully understand and are committed to their organization’s purpose find innovation simpler. A clear purpose is critical to creating a culture of innovation. With the exception of asking for a raise—nothing was more complicated in the workplace than promoting innovation.
How can a complex B2B brand truly simplify its customer experience to something that parallels Airbnb or Uber?
Airbnb and Uber are part of a new breed of emerging brands that are disrupting the status quo, changing consumer expectations—and, in many cases, reshaping category definitions. Though they span different industries, they possess a common characteristic—simplicity at the core of the experiences they deliver. B2B brands often have legacy processes and systems in place that make it difficult to be as nimble as these disrupter brands. However, they can learn from disrupters by doing the following four things to deliver simpler experiences:
+ Empowering people—they sidestep traditional industry protocols and shift power to customers.
+ Reimagining experience—they turn underwhelming experiences into moments of delight.
+ Removing friction—they identity pain points in everyday processes and remove them.
+ Saving time—they value people’s time and provide services to them where and when they need it most.
If a complex company wants to move toward greater simplification, where do they look to begin that process?
A good place to start is by asking, “Do we have a simple road map for our customer journey?” Too many companies focus on the “what” instead of the “so what?” Don’t fixate on internal problems; first analyze the pain points customers are experiencing. Focus on removing friction between anything that gets between the customer and their desired outcomes. For example, Uber has come to the aid of pedestrians who can’t hail a taxi by sending them cars directly after just a couple of taps on their mobile phones.
How do global brands prioritize the need for simplification across geographic regions, and how do they decide where to start?
The crux of the issue is that many brands don’t prioritize it. If you’re going to effect change, it must come from the top down. It requires a mandate from that CEO. For global companies, their customer journey can get complicated quickly, which is why simplicity is essential. Start by asking the right questions. Mapping your customer’s decision-making process will help you frame and present your story in a simple way that resonates with people from vastly different cultures with distinctly different needs.
Carla is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author. Having lived, worked, and studied on five continents, she's partnered with top brands and conferences to train thousands of people how to rethink the work that they do and the impact they can have. Her visionary expertise has inspired and equipped leaders at all levels to embrace change, welcome new ideas, and transform their business.
Her work with Fortune 500 brands served as the foundation for many of her books. Her tenth, RE:Think Innovation, is a #1 new release that busts the myth that innovation is something that requires a specific degree or special training. In fact, Carla explains why, to be a successful company in today's hyper-competitive, customer-driven world, innovation must be everyone's business. Her goal is to teach one million people how to become innovators by 2025.
Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking. Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.