The Blogfather reflects on simplicity in marketing, always inspired by Dave Trott and, surprisingly, Norway.
The Blogfather recently had the fortune to visit Norway for the first time, the land of mountains, Vikings, fjords, reindeer hunting, seaside towns, tinned mackerel and, for some unexplained reason, brown cheese (which is caramelised dairy goodness… but I digress).
While staying in a mountain cabin without any of life's basics (electricity, running water or Netflix), I started to consider simplicity.
What do you get when you go back to basics? Well, in Norway, it’s a mountain haven. In marketing, it’s the foundation of strategy and effectiveness. There are many things that get in the way of simplicity, in life and in marketing but lets focus on two for this rant. First, is the number of available media and the second is the allure being trendy rather than communicating.
Media has evolved and changed over the years, from physically nailing a decree in the town centre to posting an update on Facebook. There are so many variations, but the end user (you, me, him, even her) hasn’t changed. But for some reason, with sparkly, new platforms, marketers have decided they need to communicate in sparkly new ways. Marketing freaks are varying parts Magpie after all; attracted to shiny things.
"Stupid people think complicated is clever. But smart people know simple is clever. Because you have to go beyond complicated to get to simple." – Dave Trott (of course).
Look past the glitter of new platforms and remember that despite radically fast changes in technology, humans change slowly. Very slowly. But we’re ignoring it.
Remember Bill Bernbach’s wisdom (we share alarmingly frequently), “a communicator must be concerned with the unchanged man”. But it’s sadly more exciting to obsess with the idea of the changing man.
We seem to think that just because a brand is on Snapchat that we need to get on Snapchat. That because they’re using VR we all need to wear stupid things on our faces as we sacrifice our self-respect to the Gods of marketing future. While it may represent an opportunity, it equally may not. Certainly not in isolation of a full Strategy. And that’s the key word, Strategy, missing from so many marketing departments as “Tactification” runs amok.
Get realistic with your view of the world. Embrace it as it is, not as you, a marketing freak, thinks it is. Get in touch with what the general population is doing, and we are quite certain it isn’t talking about how much they love a brand on Instagram. This idea isn’t new. It just isn’t put in to practice enough. Remind yourself of Neil Buchanan’s mantra, “Draw what you see, not what you think you see”.
Secondly, quit focussing on trends. Ignore the desire to be ‘disruptive’, which is just an ambiguous way of saying something different. Don’t use a ‘trendsetter’, aka that fourteen-year-old making YouTube videos. If your message isn’t clear and straight forward then communication will be completely lost. “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself,” suggested Albert Einstein. And he was well clever.
The goal of all marketing is persuasion. You can’t have persuasion without communication. And good communication, again, starts with knowing who your customer is. Being a good marketer requires empathy. Imagine yourself as your customer and realise that no one wants to read your shit, so you’re lucky if you get 15 seconds of their time. And when you do get those precious seconds, speak in plain English. Live by the famous words of George Orwell, “Never use a longer word where a short one will do”.
Here’s the science, facts and evidence: a sentence of 8 words or less will be understood by 100% of the literate population after reading it once. If a sentence is composed of 32 words or more, 0% of the population will understand it in one go.* By that logic your copy should be between 10-12 words. Get rid of your word bloat and save it for that rack of bbq ribs. But how monotonous would that be? And therefore how ineffective. Everything in moderation is, frustratingly for some, great advice that applies to so much. Gary Provost demonstrates that better than most…
Don’t use a ‘trendsetter’, aka that fourteen-year-old making YouTube videos.
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
Whilst this blog has saught to follow an appropriately simple, linear, thread I fear it hasn’t. Instead, akevitt (the local, Norwegian grog) has taken us on a merry if slightly incoherent moan. So, hic, my conclusion is this. Get back to basics. Communicate in plain English (or Norwegian) and do it on traditional outlets where your customers are. Don’t get enticed by the shiny. If you work in marketing, spend a weekend pretending to be a real person, because you aren’t. You are a freaky marketing enthralled, jingle humming, brand recognising freak. Pretend to get in touch with your real human side. And you just may learn how to talk to them.
That’s all for now, freaks.
*I heard this once, and believe it enough to regurgitate it back to you.
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