Just a couple of days ago, a prospect asked my opinion about a popular marketing automation platform. I didn’t have a strong opinion, but I asked her about her existing platform, which I knew they’d used for years.

“You know Brian, it’s really just too feature-rich for us to use. So we’ve decided to pick another platform.”

“OK,” I said, “I get avoiding complexity. How are you going to handle the shift?”

“Oh, we’re just going to use the two platforms until we’re confident that we understand the new platform.”

“How long do you think that will take?” I asked.

“Oh, about a year.”

Another example of organizations complicating their marketing.

It seems like, at least once a month, I have a client who asks me to complicate their marketing.

You’d never expect to hear that, would you?

After all, simplicity seems to be the consumer catchword of the day. If you read any middlebrow periodical, you’ll see it crop up again and again.

De-cluttering books written by fabulous Japanese consultants. (Yes, I bought her book).

Confessional autobiographies of newly minted minimalists. (Yes, I bought his book).

Hell, just Google “tedx simplicity” and see how many talks you can find.

IT architects know this trend all too well. Increasingly, they’re shedding proprietary hardware with a complex feature set in favor of commodity-off-the-shelf infrastructure. After all, if the physical layers are abstracted away, streamlined and automated — why bother with dozens of features that just get in the way? Or, for that matter, just pick a public cloud vendor, hand over your credit card details, and get away from hardware complexity altogether. There’s simplicity for you.

But if consumers get it, and IT architects get it, why can’t marketing professionals get it?

Sure, they are de-cluttering their cubes and nodding vigorously at TEDx talks. But at the same time, they’re demanding extra marketing complexity that doesn’t serve the prospect, the product, or the business. They’re choosing more complicated content, more complicated campaigns, more complicated tools, and more complicated prospect engagement.

Just a couple of weeks ago I sent over draft slideware for a sales enablement campaign. I had done a pretty good job of creating something clear, friendly, conversational, and straightforward. The client called and said, “I really like how clear this is and how…informal…but I think we need to make it more…academic…and get more detail on each slide.”

I was baffled. “Really? More complicated?”

She sighed. “Yeah, around here, if it doesn’t sound academic, our brand police might kick it back. So, could you change it up?”

“Um, sure. I could do that. No problem. But is there any chance we could A/B test both versions — maybe in different trainings, to see which is most effective?

She sighed again. “No, not really. Just change it up so I can move forward.”

So I did. I made it more complicated. And I can guarantee it won’t work as well.

Another customer came by with a request for a microsegmented campaign. Dozens of microsegments.

I asked why.

He said, “Well, our last campaign didn’t do so well, and we figured that it’s because our targeting wasn’t great.”

I looked at the campaign deliverables. They were badly written, poorly designed, focused on features instead of benefits, headlines were weak, they lacked a call to action, and didn’t really have a target audience.

Believe it or not, I suggested reworking the deliverables and re-running the campaign. He paused for about twenty seconds. Then he said “No”, and asked for microsegmentation.

Care to guess the result?

Look, none of these people are dumb or deluded. They just tend to think that the hardest answer is the right one. Come to think of it, perhaps they’ve never heard of Occam’s Razor.

What’s Occam’s Razor? Well, it’s probably best said as pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate. In other words, don’t think or do many things when a single explanation or approach will get the job done. I’ve worked with a lot of different marketers, and the best ones seemed to intuitively know that less is often more. But that’s hardly a universal trait.

For some reason, product marketers often have a knack for overcomplicating launches. For example, I’ve worked in marketing organizations where a product marketer had twenty-two activities for every product launch. I’ve also worked in marketing organizations where a product marketer had eleven activities for launch.

Which launch went better?

It was almost always the one with fewer activities.

But why?

  • The marketer had room to improve every deliverable. She focused on quality, not quantity.
  • She had room to address emerging problems more efficiently. When she suffered from design bottlenecks or a feature delay, she could adapt.
  • She had cycles free for influencing and connecting — working on sales enablement, deeper conversations with PR, additional kickoff campaigns, chats with channel marketers, etc.
  • She wasn’t made stupid by anxiety. Fewer moving parts mean fewer worries, and fewer worries always translate into smarter thinking.

It probably sounds counter-intuitive for a content marketer to suggest that simplicity is the right approach — but I firmly believe that four things done well always beat eight things done poorly, that the simple approach beats the complicated one, and that your prospects, marketers, and executives would be more satisfied by strong, clear-cut execution over complex execution that’s mediocre.

So I’m asking you to focus your attention on your own marketing.

Do you have opportunities to simplify?

Do you tend to make things more complicated? Does your leadership value complexity or simplicity?

Do you have proof that complicated = successful?

Brian E Whitaker is a marketing consultant, specializing in complex technologies. His virtual team at Zettabyte Content helps market data center technologies, cloud computing, mobile applications, and IoT. He can be reached by emailing brianw@zbcontent.com.

All of these images are licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/, and found at http://photopin.com/.