Less Can Be More

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A young brand manager faces his vice-president of marketing, ready to present the first strategic plan he has ever created. He is nervous, but also confident in the fact that he has done a thorough job. The two fat binders that sit on the veep’s desk are proof of this.

The brand manager launches into his spiel. His presentation is a dazzling, overstuffed collection of words and pictures. Charts follow graphs. Data tables precede more dense data tables. At one point, the young man sets a world record for “most words crammed into a single PowerPoint slide, ever.”

The meeting, which was meant to be a half-hour in length, crosses the 60-minute mark. But the brand manager forges ahead, certain that his boss is impressed by the flurry of information. (The veep’s body language is apparently not registering.)

Finally, the young man concludes his presentation. He takes a deep breath and asks his superior if he has any questions. There is a pause.

“Just two,” comes the reply. “What does this all mean? And what the hell should we do now?”

Where the Brand Manager Went Wrong

The brand manager had made an all-too-common mistake. He gathered a boatload of facts, but failed to find the story in them. He failed to simplify.

More years ago than I care to mention, I was the young brand manager in this tale. And that afternoon’s events taught me one of the most profound lessons of my business career: Namely, that simplicity is critical to most brand successes.

I’m not saying that some business challenges aren’t complex. But the ability to simplify, to clarify, is often what separates a great brand leader from the rest.

How Simplicity Helps You to Lead

It’s not enough to just generate data. Certainly, the more good information you have, the better your decisions should be. But once that data is gathered, it’s your task, as a brand leader, to make sense of it all – and then to make clear what must happen next. That’s what strategy is.

You don’t build brands by yourself. The sales team, the purchasing department, your customer service reps, your agency partners – all of these (and many more) will have a hand in the success or failure of your initiatives. So when you simplify, these partners are better able to help you.

Specifically, simplicity results in:

  • Ease of understanding – When you can clearly communicate what needs to happen and why, others can quickly grasp it (and share it with others, as they often must).
  • Focused execution – Simplicity enables your team to prioritize, and to make better decisions against these priorities.
  • Greater motivation – Confusion is not an energizer. To the extent that you can make clear the vision and the key action steps, your team will be more motivated to turn them into reality.

Later in my career, I once attended a company meeting in which the president presented, to his 80 employees, a corporate strategic plan with 19 key platforms. Nineteen! People can’t remember 19 new ideas, let alone do 19 things well. And there is no scenario in which 19 strategies should have equal priority. The president had failed to choose and to clarify.

A Challenge for You

These days, I strive to define a client’s entire brand strategy on a single page. Sure, there may be dozens of pages of support behind it, but at the end of it all, the core brand strategy must be that concise if I want my clients to act on it.

I challenge you to do the same. If you can capture your current situation, your desired future, and the steps from here to there on a single page, you’ve done a good job of simplifying. (No cheating – 12-point type or larger only!)

In closing, I leave you with something else my VP stated on that fateful afternoon: “If you can’t simplify it… you haven’t understood it.”

Want to bring your brand to a higher level of clarity and simplicity? Find out how Three Deuce Branding can help at this link.

A version of this post appeared in the Business Courier of Cincinnati column “That Branding Thing” on September 18, 2009, and appears here with permission.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2009 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.

2 Replies to “Less Can Be More”

  1. Spot on.Branding more than ever is about actions more than words. The actions of the people that represent your business in impressions with customers, media and the world work together to form the impression of your brand, and to shape the direction your business will grow.Complexity creates confusion in these actions and impressions. Simplicity helps those impressions work together, and guides the actions of individuals to steer a business towards its goals.

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