KISS is a design principle, originally used by the US Navy, for the basis of designing spy planes. It was subsequently adopted by the US military for the development of other technology and in particular, military software.
In this article, we analyse the power of simplicity for brands. We provide compelling evidence that demonstrates the value achieved by ruthless focus and control over all of your communications and your brand experience.
From emails, ads and Google listings to internal training, customer service experience and website messaging, we look at how the world’s most valuable brands simplify their communications.
And in the spirit of taking our own medicine, we have included this entire article written in six lines.
And then in one.
The paralysis of plenty
Thanks The New York Times
It struck one of us, on entering a coffee shop, bewildered by the choice of coffee, source of the beans, roast method, types of milk, flavourings, frothiness, temperatures and additions, that the recent, award-winning work we have been doing to simplify client brand communications was worthy of discussion.
The (over)complexities of building businesses and brands are an eternal challenge for entrepreneurs, their investors and their product, marketing and communications teams.
Simplifying brand and customer experience creates massive value, through increased engagement, conversion and customer retention.
Here’s why. And how.
Simplifying the complex
It may be clichéd to use Apple as a brand to study in the power of simplicity. But comparing it to Amazon, Microsoft, or Google, it’s arguable that the power of Apple’s brand, combined with their ruthless focus on delivering simplicity for their customers has enabled them to create value not just in their balance sheet (through earnings growth) but also tangible value in their brand. And partly why they are the most valuable company in the world.
Source: addmustard analysis/ Apple and Amazon NYSE 10-K filings
Although Amazon’s sales were 30% higher than Apple’s, Apple’s value to sales ratio is 300% higher than Amazon’s. (there can be many factors that affect a firm’s valuation. Brand is invariably a very significant one).
Amazon grew out of being a bookseller, expanding into international markets and now sells everything from streamed video to disco balls to cloud storage.
At one stage, it seemed that Amazon might be able to sell anything to anybody. Through a slick and seamless brand experience, encompassing one-click purchasing, rapid delivery and a no-quibble returns process, they were able to seemingly add any product line and dominate that category in months.
With the advent of Google shopping, Apple Pay and simple payment and delivery widgets like Shopify and Klarna, brands are able to bypass Amazon and offer (almost) the same buying experience.
Is Amazon’s brand, with its poorly perceived employee policies and aggressive tax avoidance structures (both of which seem fundamental to its margin and pricing advantage), able to stand up to the loss of its functional advantages in purchasing, delivery and customer service? Or will Waterstones, or even Penguin, be able to offer as good a customer experience with the nascent authenticity of their brands?
Maybe Yolanda ‘Yo Yo’ Baker will be able to dominate the direct-to-consumer market for disco balls.
A penny for your thoughts, (and words)
There are other, seemingly inexplicable disparities in the value of comparable companies and their brands:
Ryanair (love or hate them) is valued at approximately £15bn, 5X more than EasyJet’s £3.3bn. (Albeit that Ryanair has 1.6X more aircraft than EasyJet).
Booking.com is valued at $109bn, compared to Expedia at a mere $14bn.
Google is valued at $1.7trn, versus Meta’s (née Facebook’s) $845bn.
Tesla’s market cap is $806bn, Volkswagen $57bn.
Whilst there are differences in scale, markets, balance sheets and margins between seemingly similar businesses, the explanation of the vast deltas in the worth of these companies is in large part explained by the value of their brands. And brand value is underpinned by simplicity of proposition, differentiation of message and consistency of communication.
Interbrand, a global branding agency, estimates that the value of brands averages approximately 25% of a company’s total value. And that brands are becoming more and more valuable, presumably owing to increasing competition; more prevalent economic risks and shocks, combined with consumers and buyers looking for certainty and trust.
Thanks The Economist
Companies like Ikea, Tesla, Intel, Fedex and Lego have created massive value, through simple and consistent brand communication.
A model of focus
In 1909, Henry Ford is alleged to have focused the Ford Motor Company on one car model, the Model T, offered in one colour, black.*
Ford went on to dominate the US motor industry for decades and to this day, remains a material player in the global auto market, with no hint of a major rebrand or change to Henry Ford’s idea of simplicity.
Thanks Inkbot Design and Hatchwise
Build your business, brick by brick
The great global depression reached its nadir in 1932. A Danish carpenter called Ole Kirk Kristiansen decided he needed extra income and set about making wooden toys. This evolved into making toys that could be constructed from wooden bricks.
Kristiansen, his son and his grandson steadily perfected these bricks and as technology progressed, transformed their bricks to be made from wood to plastic, making the idea scalable, but holding onto the simple idea of making toys from bricks. The idea developed global appeal.
Today, there are 75 bits of Lego for every person on the planet.
Stick to the knitting
25 years ago, the Lego business lost focus and developed what were trendily called “adjacencies”: businesses like theme parks, learning labs, films and television programmes, watches and clothing. The business went through years of dismal financial performance until 2004, when Lego returned to its roots of making plastic bricks that would enable everyone to become a master toy maker. With this renewed focus on its core proposition and brand message, The System of Play, Lego’s value has doubled recently (thanks Statista). There is even a global market for second hand Lego sets, with the average sales margin of 5.3 X the cost price of each set.
“The main thing is to make sure that the
main thing remains the main thing”
There is some dispute about who this quote should be attributed to, but sources suggest that it was either Jim Barksdale, COO or Fred Smith, Founder and CEO of Federal Express. So thanks to both of you.
Consultants from Bain, a respected strategy firm, argue that companies can more easily survive the threat of disruption by preserving focused business models and dumping extraneous activities. They also argue that unnecessary complexity distracts management from responding to drastic changes to their markets, environments and supply chains.
Imagine going on a date for the first time. If your date tells you twenty things about themselves, the chances are that you’ll remember nothing.
If however your date focuses on one, simple thing that makes you curious, smile or surprised, you might well remember what they said and more importantly, who they are.
The same is true of brands: in our MAN-MESSAGE-MEDIA brand development model, we help clients to focus on a single, simple idea that we can use to consistently and ruthlessly communicate their differentiation across every form of internal and external communication. The results from this work are evident in the accelerated valuations our clients are able to achieve in financings and exits.
We have tools that measure the value of your brand and benchmark it against your competitors.
Confuse and you will surely lose
Look at and read your sales and customer emails. Your website. Your ads. Your door drops. Your social posts. Your search listings. Listen to your podcast and radio scripts. Tune into the responses of your sales and customer service teams. Compare your chatbot responses, FAQs and help guides.
Ask this of all of your communications:
If you’re not sure, ask your customers. They’ll definitely tell you, directly and simply.
If you believe that brand affects the value of your business, as we do passionately (see our article The Bottom Line), the simplification of your communication, marketing and your brand message becomes really compelling. In these days of rapid technological development, industry disruption and consumer capriciousness, the need for a clear, simple and compelling brand proposition is essential.
If complexity is your enemy and is standing in the way of brand awareness, engagement or conversion, we’d love to help you strip back to basics.
Want help to keep it simple? Join us for a beautifully simple coffee in Lina Stores in Soho (London) and we’ll help you simplify. And unlock value.
And finally, a challenge
Simplification is not easy. From the great minds of Cicero, Blaise Pascal, Friedrich Nietzsche, Mark Twain, David Hockney to Steve Jobs, they all found attaining simplicity devilishly difficult.
So we set ourselves a challenge: to write this article in six lines.
We humans are often bewildered by the complexity of choice.
To simplify complexity requires skill, work, patience and commitment.
The power of simplicity has been universally recognised by great minds to unlock understanding, acceptance, trust and value.
Great brands like Ford and Lego, Apple and Ikea are built on the power of simplicity.
Simplicity enables brands to conquer markets, attain extreme efficiency and withstand disruption.
But most importantly, simplicity creates exceptional value.
The whole (sp.) in one
We then summarised this article in one, simple line:
From potent spy planes to Lego bricks and Apple devices, simplicity in a complex world protects brands and unlocks unimaginable value.
*Full quote from Henry Ford’s biography
“Therefore in 1909 I announced one morning, without any previous warning, that in the future we were going to build only one model, that the model was going to be “Model T,” and that the chassis would be exactly the same for all cars, and I remarked: “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”
In case you missed them, some recent and related articles are here:
All around us doom and gloom. Investors tightening funding, boards cutting budgets, CFOs trying to preserve cash.
The good news? Your competitors are running for the hills.
Ever had a chat with data over a pornstar martini?
We were having a debate with the CEO of a thirty-year-old, successful business recently about his brand. He is preparing for an investment round and we were discussing how to grow the value of his business. We asked him when he had last spoken to a customer. He looked a little surprised. And then slightly embarrassed.
In this article, we explain the value in talking directly and listening to customers: how it is a sure-fire way to unlock insight, differentiate your brand and increase marketing performance.
Get in touch
The ChatGPT 4.0 screen video version of this article is here:
And here is the ChatGPT 4.0 transcript:
addmustard: How does the simplification of brands, communications, messages and the customer experience create value in businesses and which brands have achieved simplification to achieve added value?
ChatGPT: Simplification in brands, communications, messages, and the customer experience can create value in several ways:
Clarity of Message: Simple messages are easier to understand. When a customer quickly grasps what a brand stands for or what a product does, they are more likely to make a purchase decision.
Consistency: Simplification often leads to consistency across all touchpoints, whether it’s in advertising, packaging, or online experiences. This consistency can reinforce brand recognition and trust.
Cost Efficiency: By simplifying processes or designs, companies can often reduce costs. For instance, simplifying packaging might lead to decreased production costs.
Improved User Experience: A streamlined and simple user experience can lead to higher customer satisfaction. If a website or app is easy to navigate, for instance, users are more likely to use it and recommend it to others.
Differentiation: In a marketplace crowded with complex offerings and messages, a simple, clear value proposition can stand out, attracting customers and driving loyalty.
Brands that have achieved simplification to add value include:
Apple: Known for its minimalist design in both products and user interface. Apple’s simple and intuitive designs have become its signature.
Google: The search engine started with a simple, clean homepage in contrast to other cluttered search engines of its time. Its straightforward design and function have been key to its success.
Dollar Shave Club: This company disrupted the razor market with a simple value proposition and clear, humorous messaging.
IKEA: With its simple, functional designs and clear, step-by-step assembly instructions, IKEA transformed the furniture market.
Warby Parker: Simplified the process of buying eyeglasses by offering home try-ons and straightforward pricing.
Southwest Airlines: Known for its simple pricing model without hidden fees, it has differentiated itself in the airline industry.
In essence, simplification can lead to both tangible and intangible benefits, from cost savings to increased brand loyalty
And in the interests of fairness and impartiality, here’s the Google Bard response:
(Google Bard would not let us copy and paste the results, so apologies for the screenshot).