There is plenty of advice on how build a brand. And yet, brand building is more complicated than ever, in part due to the competitive environment, but also the strategic decisions brand owners make.
A look back at some of the most successful brands shows a commonality that can be summarized in a single word: simplicity. Successful brands are simple brands.
Simple brands have most chances of being noticed, remembered and preferred.
Netflix allows you to access thousands of titles with a click of the mouse. Google uncluttered the screen of all the unnecessary information and presented us with a single obvious option: to search for the information we need.
Keeping it simple works.
Simple Brands Demystified
It’s not uncommon for Brand Managers to demand simplicity when developing a brand’s identity: clean and simple logo, modern and uncluttered website. Many brands stand out through visual simplicity.
Unfortunately, that’s as far as most companies are willing to go in building a simple brand. And it’s not enough.
A simple brand makes it easy for its customers to understand its purpose and interact with it.
A simple brand minimizes the decision making process.
A simple brand offers a great customer service experience.
A simple brand is honest.
How to Build a Simple Brand
Building a simple brand requires vision and strategic trade-offs. It requires saying “no” when saying “yes” means better short term sales and profits.
Here is what simple brands do:
- simple brands communicate clearly in a language that its customers understand. Often times we refer to an offer as being “too good to be true”. Upon reading the fine print, we discover that indeed it is. That complicate our relationship with the brand, and we rank it low on our simplicity scale.
- simple brands present information that is complete and easy to find. In case of eCommerce, the buying process has to be fast, simple and without unexpected surprises. Amazon built is otherwise complex business on a simple idea: allowing users to shop online fast, with a few clicks of the mouse (one-click ordering).
- simple brands offer a product assortment that minimizes consumer choices, and makes products that are easy to use. Apple excels at both. Their huge success in the phone market was achieved with a single product: the iPhone. Steve Jobs was also keen on designing an interface that is so intuitive that even small kids can use.
- simple brands welcome and makes communication with its customers easy. We all hate calling big telecom companies because we know how bad the experience is: waiting on hold, than being transferred from agent to agent until you find the right person who is competent enough to assist you.
- simple brands offer a great experience. I used to think great customer service has become a point of parity, and not a differentiation strategy. However my real-life experiences tell me that in most categories there is still room to differentiate on making it easy for customers to deal with your brand.
All these elements on which a simple brand is built are interconnected. A narrow product line allows staff to be more knowledgeable, and answer questions quickly. A seamless online shopping experience generates more orders and less cart abandonment.
Staying Simple is Complicated
Unfortunately most brands start simple, but in time tend to complicate things. Growth and complexity seem to go hand in hand.
Brand and line extensions are the two most commonly used strategies to grow sales. Any new addition to the existing assortment is a step away from simplicity.
Even Apple, a brand that was revived by a return to simplicity, fell into the line extension trap after Steve Job’s disappearance.
A smaller and a bigger iPad, a bigger and a cheaper iPhone, an Apple TV that can be used to play games-all options that complicate the Apple brand, and don’t necessarily make it more successful (for the first time in a decade Apple predicted a decline in sales in the second quarter of 2016).
Stealing competitors’ positioning is another strategy that leads to confusion.
The Volvo brand has always been associated with safety. That’s the reason my wife and I decided to buy a Volvo-so our kids will be safe.
However, in recent years, Volvo’s communication strategy has shifted to promoting engine performance, including direct comparisons against BMW and Audi. At the same time, the German brands are highlighting the safety features of their vehicles. Confusing, isn’t it?
Simplicity Gets Noticed
The biggest advantage of a simple brand is its ability to compete against category giants.
Dollar Shave Club has managed to build a successful business competing against category giants such as Gillette by delivering simple (and funny) brand experience. The brand has been named the biggest disruptor in the US market by Siegel+Gale’s 2015 Global Brand Simplicity Index.
We all love simple brands that make our lives less complicated. Therefore, no matter what strategy you go for, your goal as a brand owner should always be to build a simple brand.
Cheers to simplicity!