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In search of simple, meaningful marketing

I found this quote on David Meerman Scott’s blog a few weeks ago:

Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.

The quote isn’t David’s – he was talking about one of John Maeda’s Ten Laws of Simplicity. John is a designer and thus his laws are aimed at visual communications, but I agree with David that this law should apply to all aspects of marketing.

So for the last few weeks I’ve been testing a hypothesis about why most marketing content is completely out of compliance with this law — why it is almost always complex and meaningless.

I have a good benchmark for my test. For years now, I’ve been asking people who attend my seminars a simple question — what does your company do? If the company is well known, I ask it differently — which products do you market and what do they do? I almost never get a straight answer. In fact most people can’t look at me directly when they respond. They divert their eyes to the ceiling or floor, as if the words might be written there, sparing the speaker the agony of making them up on the spot.

Since I saw this quote I’ve altered my approach. Now I start by asking people to tell me who their buyers are, and only after I’ve heard their response do I ask which problems they are solving for their buyers.

I think I’m on to something. I’m noticing that there is a direct correlation between the level of detail in the description of a target buyer and the simplicity of the words someone uses to describe their solution. Marketers who know their buyers really well even look me directly in the eye when they talk, conveying confidence in the truth of their statements.

I mentioned this test near the end of my Effective Product Marketing seminar last week and finally learned why so many obvious, non-meaningful words appear on every website and corporate brochure. One of the participants said that he was told to read every competitor’s website and ensure that any descriptive phrase on any other site was also included in his own web content!

My preliminary conclusion (which will continue to be subjected to, ahem, intense qualitative and quantitative scrutiny) is that internally and/or competitively driven messages are pure rubbish and impossible to communicate. And if we could just develop persona-powered messages, we could convey simple, meaningful thoughts to real people.

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