Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Simplicity itself

As I have mentioned before, I have been working with Professor Rachel Cooper and her merry band as they create Imagination@Lancaster. Being involved in this project has made me think deeply about what makes people creative and what role imagination plays in it. As with most things, there are a number of factors, but the one I want to look at here is simplicity. To me, simplicity is central to the new relationships that are emerging with consumers. Swamping consumers with complicated information might have worked when they were prepared to be passive receivers, but no longer. Hide important facts in a blizzard of statements and someone will find you out. The better course? Great ideas, simply put.


Einstein was right (again). “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.” I love the paradox that comes with Einstein’s statement. It fits perfectly with the way simplicity aligns with one of Lovemarks' main elements – Mystery. I guess that in itself is another paradox, but the fact is that when you tell everybody everything, the mystery leaches away. The great mysteries are, at heart, simplicity itself. The engagement, the fun, the adventure are in their unravelling. Now put this reality together with the fact that consumers are demanding control of relationships in the market. Today’s consumers have a passion to know everything about every aspect of what they choose and use. How it’s designed, how it is presented to them in-store, exactly what it is made from, what experiences it is wrapped in, how they can talk back to manufacturers and retailers, ways they can talk with other consumers and advisors, what its long-term impacts might be, what they do with it once they are done with it. That’s a huge amount of stuff consumers potentially want to know, but I am convinced that we can kill any connection with them stone dead by over-selling and over-telling. Simplicity is the only way to ensure they can contribute and get involved. Complicated ideas confuse and irritate. Simple ideas delight and engage.

At Saatchi & Saatchi, we spend a great deal of time working with our clients to come up with big simple ideas that will delight consumers. Like most everything else, these ideas often start as large unwieldy things that move in ten different directions at once. Using what we know about consumers’ lives and how they live them, we pare our ideas down. It’s a matter of exorcising the bits that have nothing to do with consumers, cutting off the pet ideas, and shaving away anything that deflects an immediate emotional connection. What’s left is a simple idea that has room for other people to bring their own experiences to. That’s when ideas take voice; when other people sing them. It can take a lot of time, it’s often not easy and sometimes it’s not even possible, but when a simple idea takes hold, it is a beautiful sight. Having said all that, let me paraphrase a great writer: I apologise for this post being so long, I simply didn’t have the leisure to make it shorter.

13 comments:

Susan Plunkett said...

I really enjoyed this piece on a few levels. Firstly, I can see some slight alterations in your wording across the months Kevin - and alterations I very much appreciate.

Secondly, what you outline here is no different really to completing a work like a PhD. You can start with large ideas and wind up with enormous amounts of data and you must refine and distill until you have a powerful work made better because it has delimited. Part of that is suspending your ego - and focusing on pleasing the issue, and the audience, and not just yourself.

The Einstein comment is perfect tweaked with that issue of mystery. Allow the reader or the consumer to engage in a way that draws their own narrative (even if that remains unspoken).

Catherine Nakawesa said...

why simplicity is so elusive is still such a mystery to me...

speaking of mystery, it's a little unnerving how the concept of lovemarks is so close to real life:Kevin when you said, '..tell everybody every thing and the mystery leaches away..', I cringed! I remembered how I poured out my heart to my latest crush:0

And that said, perhaps inspiration for simplicity is not too far from me(us) - it's in our daily living

Anonymous said...

I love this blog so much!

Kempton said...

Hi Kevin,

I enjoy this post and want to reflect on this, "Today’s consumers have a passion to know everything about every aspect of what they choose and use."

Take Apple's iPhone for example, people loves it to pieces beyond reasons. Now, there are also people who takes the phone apart (out of love?) and tells us all the details about the inside working of the thing. IMHO, our age seems to have the insatiable desire to know (at least for the young and tech generation).

Susan Plunkett said...

catherine LOL I had to laugh as many moons ago I did the same thing. My parents were very much into the 'encounter group' gen 'thang' and one was imbued with the belief that sharing equated a return response. I also very much love the elegant language of the 19th century which is usually lengthier in style. I have to rein back a lot for different contexts. Here I rather relax tho from time to time can be pithy.

Piotr Jakubowski said...

Just to build on what Kempton has said about the iPhone.

I think one of the most intriguing aspects of this piece of technology is, in fact, its simplicity. The phone has one button, which takes you to the home screen. From there, you get to touch your way through the different menus. Each application is on the home screen, and when you're stuck, just press that one button. Brilliant.


To build on the desire to know, it seems to me that this zest for knowledge has been around for years. The difference is that in the past, there were only a select few who had this fervor for knowledge. They would do things such as taking apart car engines and putting them back together to figure out how they worked. I think this recent rise in the number of people demanding all this information is mainly due to the internet and the ease with which it satisfies this demand. Before the internet, to find out how something worked, one had two options. First, take it apart yourself. Second, make the extreme effort to go to the library, find the books and research it.

Now, all you gotta do is hit "Google!".

Susan Plunkett said...

And..who had to admire the frisson of hint and mystery at the new iPod release? A couple of weeks ago a brief ad shown here with comments from apple that it just wasn't going to happen anytime soon and now a lovely set have been released in the US. My son craves one and I guess here it will be a 'close to Christmas' release.

Allison NZ said...

Hi Kevin,

I think it must be quite an art form to achieve simplicity that appeals striking the chords of love, beauty, meaning and value. We live in a world where we want to achieve these things as part of our daily lives, and when you connect with us as consumers in a meaningful way it is a marriage of business and pleasure while achieving goals both ways.
Provoking imagination takes me back to childhood, where things were less complicated and the gateways could be thrown open in the blink of an eye to fields of wonder and enchantment seemingly without limits of time. I recall day dreaming often and loving these places that I would escape to in my mind. I wonder what provokes us as adults to throw our mind gates open, and go back into those blissful kinds of imagination time warps. I think each of us has an individual set of conditions that release that flow of imagination.

Best wishes, Allison.

Kevin Roberts said...

Catherine - Simplicity is not at all elusive, you just have to think about what is important and what is superficial. And yes, absolutely, Lovemarks is so close to real life – emotion is all that matters, this is why it works and so many people get it!

Kevin Roberts said...

Anon - Thanks for the feedback!

Kevin Roberts said...

Kempton - Yes absolutely, part of this curiosity is due to the fact that Apple have held the details back for so long…Mystery! If they told us everything, fewer would care.

Kevin Roberts said...

Piotr – Yep that’s right, it’ll be interesting to see how humanity develops as a result of this collective intelligence.

Kempton said...

Kevin, If you can see me right now, you will see a big smile on my face. (big smile) Why? It feels great to see you comment back on our 2 cents. (bigger smile) Wonderful stuff.

P.S. As a Apple lover, I see some dangerous games being played here. e.g. the lock-up of iPhone to AT&T (which a software unlock is now available), the $200 price drop and $100 in-store credit. I wonder if this is Apple's slippery slope?