Is Simple Always Smart?

In a complex world, the desire for simplicity is understandable. But there's a fine line between simple and simplistic.

A leading energy consulting firm had a proprietary methodology for significantly reducing energy costs (think seven-figure savings, each year). Though the company’s proprietary solution was extremely powerful, it was communicated in such a seemingly straightforward manner, that many prospective clients thought – mistakenly –they could build a comparable energy-savings program on their own. This misconception was the number one objection during the sales process, and a major roadblock for the sales force.

The solution to this DIY dilemma? A brand that made it simple for prospects to see just how complex the solution really was. After the brand launch – and with the sales force empowered with new messaging – the we-can-do-it-ourselves objection ceased to be a major issue in closing sales.

Simple vs. Simplistic

It has become a mantra in the branding world – and even in the world at large – that simple is better. Time Inc.’s Real Simple magazine has more than two million subscribers. And the desire for simplicity is understandable. We live in a complex world in which we’re bombarded by messages 24/7. Cutting through the clutter is easier when you have a simple message.

But there’s a fine line between simple and simplistic. In the B2B world, where the purchase decision can be a lengthy process involving multiple influencers, touchpoints and inputs, a simple brand message can dilute the impact of what you’re selling.

Consider a company we recently partnered with in the identity management space. Its main competitors are big, global enterprise software providers that include identity management as part of their overall bundle of solutions. The company focuses exclusively on identity management and communicates a much more sophisticated approach. Essentially the big enterprise companies are telling the market “Identity is no big deal. That’s why we include it as a minor component of a much larger offering.” The brand for our client communicates just the opposite: “Identity IS a big deal, it’s complex, and only a complex solution can handle it.” The brand makes it simple for prospects to understand just how complex identity management – and the right solution – really is.

Branding Along the Spectrum

How do you communicate complexity without overwhelming your audience? The key is knowing whom you’re speaking to. Engineers like to lift the hood to understand how a product works; a brand targeting them needs to focus on the “how.” If the CFO is the decision maker, or even an important influencer, the brand needs to communicate an acceptable ROI – the “what.” If the CEO or marketing team is in the mix, the brand needs to convey a powerful benefit, even a sense of purpose: the “why.”

In B2B, where all of these audiences can be involved in the decision making process, a brand needs to work across the spectrum, from “what” through “how” all the way to “why.” That’s a tall order, and one that can’t be reduced to a simple catchphrase or slogan.

Think Big

Now, we’re certainly not arguing against clarity and focus. But too often B2B companies attempt to boil their value proposition down to the lowest common denominator in the name of simplicity. For example, we partnered with a global consulting firm that tackles the most complex challenges imaginable, including cybersecurity work for the US government and mission-critical projects for major utility companies. In the interest of “simplicity,” its legacy brand downplayed the scope and scale of the issues it tackled and the human capital behind the work it undertook. As a result, prospects (and even clients) didn’t appreciate or understand all that they did or the true value behind their offering.

The consulting firm’s new brand focuses on “big” things – the game-changing transformations that only supremely intelligent, deeply experienced and relentlessly dedicated professionals can bring about. Brand messages make it crystal clear – even simple – to grasp the incredible complexity of the work they do.

We live in an ever more complex world. But it’s important not to let the lure of simplicity shortchange your brand by watering it down to something that may be simple to grasp – but communicates, to put it simply, very little.

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