Simplify to Succeed

Sep 26, 2013

Content marketing, analytics, creative strategy. Complicated, right? The process maybe, but the end goal needs to be simple.

Start with the end in mind. What is your goal? What is the desired outcome? Start there and work backwards.

I attended the 2013 Chick-Fil-A Leadercast, an annual event led by John Maxwell. The theme this year was "Simply Lead," and with it came keynotes by some of the heaviest hitters in the motivational, inspirational, and public speaking realm. But the real takeaway was every speaker's focus on simplification.

"Complexity is the enemy of clarity," says Andy Stanley.

"Narrow your focus on what's most important," Olympian Sonya Richards-Ross advises.

"If everything is important, nothing is important," according to Dr. Henry Cloud.

"Decide what's in your circle. What's inside the circle stays, what's outside goes," says Jack Welch.

Where does your business and your marketing need to simplify? What needs to be pushed outside the circle, no matter how shiny it is, so your organization can focus on what truly matters to customers and your bottom line?

In 1981, Jack Welch decided it was time to take a struggling General Electric in a different direction. He created three strategic business circles that defined GE's core purposes. These key focus areas drove GE's reemergence into the blue-chip company it once was and still is today.

His goal was simple. GE would become one of the top two companies, globally, in those three key areas. What about everything else? If it did not bring the company closer to being one of the top two companies in those three areas, it had to wait.

Jack Welch ultimately decided his company needed to simplify in order to succeed. Tough choices? Sure. Doubted and scoffed at by many? Absolutely! But these bold decisions charted a new direction for his company, ones that would land Welch as one of the most admired leaders of our generation.

What do you want your consumers to buy? What makes the biggest impact on your business?

New age thinkers like New York Times Bestselling author Tim Ferriss boil this down to a simple rule, called Pareto's Principle or the 80-20 rule. The rule is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. He observed in the early 1900's that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of its citizens and that 80% of the crops came from 20% of the plants. In business today, many leaders try to simplify their thinking down to "what 20% of our product mix make up 80% of our revenue?"

Jack Welch's approach was not so different. Ask yourself, what 20% of my strategy, be it online content or point of purchase marketing, make up 80% of our brand's success? Simplification, or as Andy Stanley put it, reducing complexity, leads to clarity.

Here is a concrete example. My company recently learned through a web tracking exercise that people hate to scroll. That's right, as you enter the second "half" of this article - which is ultimately making you scroll - I am telling you that you hate to scroll. The irony is not lost on me.

Web users hate to work for anything. We want less scrolling, less clicks and less searching. Give users the information they want with minimal effort on their parts. Simplify your interface to what is inside the circle for you (and your consumers) and watch your results soar.

Let's analyze some of the world's largest search platforms:

  • Google - One search box with two buttons. No scrolling and an effort to bring you exactly what you were searching for in the first result = Most popular and the most profitable search engine in the world.
  • YouTube - A search away from all of the entertainment the world has to offer and uses similar algorithms as Google to make your experiences as simple and as magical as possible.
  • Amazon - Yes, kind of a clunky interface with tons of "stuff." But you search and you get their best results with an option to make a 1-click purchase with free two day shipping (Prime). Brilliant. Simple. Trusted.

All of these examples point to one conclusion: success comes from simplification. Start with the end goal and run it through two simple tests. What does the consumer want and what does our business need to thrive? Omit the rest.

Run your marketing and content strategy through the same "simplification" car wash, and consumers will respond.