Thursday, February 16, 2017

Simplified Brand Messaging

Al Reis was the first to state this clearly, "A brand should own one thing in the mind of its customer." When we work with clients to craft their brand promises, our guidelines stipulate that their brands should only promise one or two relevant differentiated benefits. Any more than that and the brand promise becomes too complicated and people's ability to recall it decreases substantially. Research has borne this out - simpler is better.

Blaise Pascal once wrote, "I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter." Another version of this is often attributed to Mark Twain, "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."

I have taken numerous writing courses in high school, college and as an adult, however the most useful writing course I ever took was at Harvard Business School. We were given a topic on which to write a paper. Upon bringing our papers to class, we were instructed to cut the word length in half without losing any meaning. Upon doing this, we were instructed to cut the word length in half again...and again...until we got our thoughts down to one paragraph. 

Every manager at Hallmark was given a stack of 3x5 index cards. We were instructed to use those to communicate in writing with others. Our CEO indicated that if we can't communicate what we need to say on a 3x5 index card, we need to rethink how clear our thoughts are.

While I love eloquence and my vocabulary is extensive and I enjoy using parenthetical clauses in my sentences causing them to rival Faulkner's in length, I have found that shorter is better. Simpler is better. So I strive to use simple words.

Compare the power of the last two sentences in the previous paragraph to the first one.

I often interact with clients who put too many words in their brand promises and elevator speeches and on their product packaging and outdoor advertising signs. Too much copy confuses people. 

Have you noticed that people, especially younger people, are increasingly thinking and talking in sound bytes? Everything is a text message or a Twitter tweet. And we have a president who prefers to communicate in tweets. His brevity can be impactful - "Sad!" or "Disgusting!"

In marketing, simpler is better. And concise, powerful copy matters.

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