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June 2020

Marketing communications: making the complex simple

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B2B businesses are complex beasts, so marketing them effectively can be tricky – how do you reflect the complexity without overwhelming audiences? How do you pick out what really matters when everything seems important, particularly to you on the inside? Keeping focused is easy to say but hard to do.

Here, we’ve pulled together our six top takeaways to help you determine what can be left out, whilst making sure that what’s left behind is as compelling as possible. We focus on making your brand, marketing and communications say what your audiences want to know, and not just what you want to tell them. How to strip it all back and get it right. Whether it’s a short-term campaign, collateral, redesigning your website, taking another look at brand architecture, or getting your brand to work harder, it all boils down to this: keep it simple.

1. If you only remember one thing, remember this

You’ve got a great product or service you can’t wait to tell customers about. You devise a campaign to promote it and you’re really excited to launch. It’s an opportunity for you to tell your audiences all the ways this is going to make their business easier / faster / more productive. But with all the excitement, and the detailed knowledge gained after months of development, it’s so easy to get bogged down in the intricacies rather than really focusing on what’s relevant.

Remember, more often than not, your audiences only have a very short time to read your message. They might be walking past your billboard, only reading the headline momentarily as they focus on getting to work on time. Or sat at their desk spotting your digital banner pop up as they google something business- critical (or check Facebook). And yours won’t be the only one vying for their attention. In such haste, your audiences won’t have time to absorb more than one headline, and if you give them too many messages at once you’ll lose the impact of all of them.

We believe a campaign works best when it contains one clear, brief message. When you distil your product or service down to the barest minimum, what does it do and how will it help your customer? Ultimately, what’s the one thing you want them to walk away and remember? Make this one takeaway stand out visually and you’ll have a winning campaign. You might decide to back up your message with a supporting customer quote – like those eye-catching ‘5-star’ film ads – and that’s fine (we’ve done it, and it works), but focus on one main message to remember, and you’ll win your audience’s attention.

2. Be clear and single minded in your purpose

This is about getting to the very heart of the purpose of your project. What’s the brand problem you’re trying to solve? How can you make your brand work harder, even if what you have already isn’t quite working? A campaign can provide an opportunity to rework and stretch your brand within its current guidelines, particularly when you don’t have the appetite or budget for a full rebrand. We call it a ‘brandpaign’.

So, what is a brandpaign? It’s a brand that’s done through the medium of a campaign. If you’re clear about what you’re trying to say, and who you’re saying it to, we believe they can work really well. The key is to have one overarching theme. Find a single, unifying way of representing your brand that can change for different audiences and situations, and you’ll simplify confused and complex brand messages. Your theme should work conceptually and visually – ideally, it’s channel agnostic – as well as tactically for the message you’re trying to get across. Don’t panic, you’re not changing your brand and you should use existing guidelines. However, you’re creating a flexible set of campaign guidelines to bring brand consistency across different platforms, whether it’s digital, social media or print.

Another thing to remember when building your brandpaign – stay true to who you are. Don’t suddenly change your tone of voice or your visual language or no one will recognise you. Be yourself, be clear, and communicate the one thing sitting at the heart of what you want people to know and feel about you.

3. Create multiple level reads

Every campaign and brandpaign needs collateral, but a common problem is that one size doesn’t fit all. How do you get it right for all your audiences without the headache of producing many versions of the same thing? We think that multiple-level reads are the answer, whether targeting different audiences within single pieces of collateral or developing audience-specific communications.

One brochure, written and designed in a thoughtful and methodical way, can work for everyone if you use multiple-level reads. To do this, we would develop several reads of different lengths – a very short one (the main message), a slightly longer one, and then the longest one. Each brochure spread works in the same way, with the shortest read as the headline, the slightly longer read as the first full paragraph which explains the headline further, and then the longest read, which goes into the most detail, following across the rest of the spread. We write these in such a way that if you read them from spread to spread, the story would be the same whether you only read the very short read at the top of each page, the slightly longer ones, or whether you had the time to sit down and read the entire brochure. At the end we recap, using the shortest reads as a series of key bullets for the reader to take away. Be careful to align messages with those of campaigns running at the same time, so you’re consistent.

Another way to create multiple level reads, is to use different forms of communication to target different audiences with the same message. For example, for one client we designed Moleskine notebooks, printed with campaign messaging on the inside cover, so senior staff knew what they had to communicate in meetings about new products and services in a format they would use daily. For junior audiences in the same company we were more playful, communicating the message using film and posters. It was the same message but communicated differently to each target in a way we knew would resonate, and therefore keeping it memorable.

4. Consciously decouple your brand from your organisation

Brands often grow by acquiring other brands. Sometimes those brands remain separate, but often they become an integrated part of the mothership – in all but brand architecture. This creates a problem when you want to convey your brand message externally.

We often begin a brand review to discover a variety of different logos for the parts of an organisation, some (or all) looking completely different from each other. Often, we find employees don’t even recognise half of them. Yet making everything look the same is not the answer either, because then you lose flexibility and personality.

Start by putting everything on the table. No logo is left unturned. Talk to employees and customers. When we work on such projects, we’ll often create a decision tree to help us and our clients answer the questions, “Do you really need this logo and, if you do need to keep it, what should it be?” And the simplest question of all, “Is there a strong and compelling business reason not to be part of our core brand?” Most of the time, the answer is no. Most sub-brands will fit neatly under the master brand, with the occasional endorsed brand staying separate.

By doing this, you create a flexible brand system where the brand structure may become fairly monolithic but important nuances, that employees and customers feel make each part of the whole distinctive, can be kept. Sub-brands may not have their own logos anymore but there is still flexibility around the visual interpretation of the brand, so they keep their personality appropriate to their communications and audiences.

5. Explain what you do crisply, articulate why you do it emotively

It’s easy to think that more is more when telling your brand story (your messaging, or narrative, or whatever you want to call it). Surely your audience needs to know every little detail? No, they really don’t. Your story is of course a crucial part of your brand communications, but we believe that being as crisp as possible with the what, and articulating the why in an emotive way,
will capture what you want to say and how you want to say it successfully. We are asked to write a lot of brand stories, and we know it’s a challenge. It’s even harder for someone on the inside than it is for us from the outside – our distance and objectivity definitely help.

How do we do it? Without giving away too many trade secrets, you need to understand what your organisation does, in a functional sense, and put it in the fewest, clearest words possible. Avoid jargon – no one wants to read it. We then go what we call gem-hunting – discovering the little nuggets about why people buy into you and what brings the people in your organisation together. Those little differences that define you, make you special and, well, make you, you. As you blend these whats and whys, think about your audiences – who they are, what they’re like (remember, they may not be like you), and what they want or need to know. Put yourself in their shoes – will they be excited and interested by what they’ve read? Will they want to find out more? If the answers are yes, then you’re on your way.

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6. Be helpful and be human

At a time when people are fascinated by robots, AI and machine learning, it’s easy to forget we want to be communicated with in a human and helpful way.

Digital platforms, and particularly websites, show this clearly, and they’re now the main way most customers will engage with your brand. You have to help people do what they want to when they interact with you. We humans lose interest easily, so if something is too difficult we’ll look elsewhere.

We come across many bad websites – complicated, confusing, unattractive, hard to navigate. We did our research and discovered people aren’t so bothered about the latest technology, or even the most beautiful visuals – in a recent survey 76% said it’s all about a website being easy to use and finding what they need quickly. It’s called user experience.

So, what are our top tips for a great user experience? Know your audience – what will they be looking for? Make it easy for them to find it. Make your website straightforward. Keep layout and navigation simple and keep content useful and clear. Make sure everything you add has a purpose because looking nice isn’t enough. Be consistent, as our eyes and brains adapt to what we see. Elements such as menus and chains of actions should work the same way across your site. And finally, it’s personal. Cold language, full of jargon and lacking personality, is off-putting and may mean important information or calls to action are ignored by your user.

Conclusion

Every one of our points is about being simple, even when your proposition is complex. It’s about being clear, it’s about being single-minded with your purpose, and it’s about putting yourself in your audiences’ shoes. In your campaigns, think about the one thing you want people to remember in those few seconds they read your ad. Don’t ever design brand architecture from the inside out and don’t make it feel randomly thrown together when it rarely needs to be.

Always be human, make it easy for your audiences to engage with you, leave the jargon behind and, please, just keep things straightforward. If you’d like to talk to us about a complex challenge, get in touch for a chat.

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