Simplify, Simplify. | Bruce Turkel

In response to last week’s blog post How To Skin A Horse Of A Different Color, John Calia wrote, “A great modern day parable that explains the power of inductive reasoning. It’s McKinsey-level strategic thinking applied to everyday business and personal challenges.”
Thanks, John. I just thought it was a simple explanation of a complicated concept.

That’s what we do every day — reduce very complicated and not very compelling product explanations into short, simple, easy-to-understand, and profitable brands. Because these strategically simple messages make consumers regard, remember, and respond.

But if you’re thinking about how to reduce your brand message to just one word, I know what you’re thinking. “Sure, Bruce, defining an issue and standing for something makes a lot of sense and I can see how it works for others, but…(big sigh)…I’m different. After all, my business is much more diverse, much more creative, and much more customized to my clients’ specific needs…(bigger sigh)…you see, I do too many different things. There’s just no way I could shoehorn everything I offer into a couple of words.”

Really? Your business is too complicated to brand simply? Well then, consider Volvo.

Volvo is ostensibly in the car business. But that means they are really in a number of different businesses — transportation, manufacturing, research and development, metallurgy, engineering, upholstery, design, import/export, logistics, to name just a few. Plus, they operate retail stores (for both new and used products), and also provide sales, service, and accessories. Volvo operates under the governmental regulations of the hundreds of countries, states, and municipalities they operate in. They work in multiple languages, with multiple consumers, and in multiple currencies. And don’t forget that they don’t just make consumer automobiles. Volvo also manufactures buses and trucks and provides engines and engineering for lots of other companies. And yet despite this incredible complexity, Volvo still describes themselves with their commitment to one word: safety.

Volvo-XC70

Volvo’s brand description isn’t even about what they actually provide. Nowhere in their branding do they talk about transportation or about getting from point A to point B. They talk about safety. And this positioning is so valuable that when Volvo introduced an SUV, arguably the new American suburban family car, their XC70 outsold all foreign SUVs (European and Asian) combined.

But it’s not just Volvo that understands the value of a simple brand position.

FOX is on the right. MSNBC is on the left. CNN is firmly in the middle. Where are you?

New York is “The Big Apple.” Chicago is solidly Midwestern. Los Angeles is movies, Las Vegas is sin. Miami is hip. What are you?

Its-So-Miami

Apple built their brand on the da Vinci line, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and it’s driven their product philosophy ever since, most recently resulting in one single button controlling your iPhone or iPad. Despite the outcry from Blackberry users, Apple’s iPhone does not have a raised keyboard.

On Friday night the board of the IASB was very generous and invited Gloria and me to their annual gala to see the great bluesman Keb’ Mo’. He played a wonderful song titled “Keep It Simple.”

 

Here’s what Mr. Mo’ sang:

“Two cars, three kids, six phones; a whole lot of confusion up here in my home.

500 stations on the TV screen, 500 versions of the same ol’ thing.

Y’all know it’s crazy, and it’s drivin’ me insane.

Well, I don’t wanna be a superman, I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands.

And keep it simple.

I called my doctor on the telephone; the lines were open, but there was nobody home.

Press one, press two, press pound, press three; why can’t somebody just pick up the phone and talk to me?

Well I went down to the local coffee store; the menu went from the ceiling all the way down to the floor.

Decaf, cappuccino, or latte said the cashier; I said gimme a small cup of coffee and let me get the hell up outta here.

Y’all know it’s crazy, and it’s drivin’ me insane.

Well now I don’t wanna be a superman, I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands.

And keep it simple, real simple.”

Thoreau famously wrote, “Simplify, simplify.” But maybe if he had heard Keb’ Mo’s song, he would’ve cut his credo in half to just “Simplify.”

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