strategy+business Winter 2013 : Page 78

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 13 / M A R K E T I N G 78 undermine customer relationships. At first, Simple struck me as over the top in its obsession with indecipherable phone bills and menus crammed with too many choices. Doesn’t society have bigger problems to address, such as climate change and cancer? But soon the realization dawned that complex-ity hasn’t jumped out at me as an urgent problem be-cause I’ve become inured to it. I expect hidden gotchas in the reams of pages in credit card agreements that I will never actually read until it’s too late to avoid them, and I assume that the directions for assembling my new patio set will be so confusing that I will need to make multiple calls to the manufacturer’s helpline. Tradition-ally, we haven’t classified these annoyances as marketing problems—but as customer experience becomes a core element of marketing, it’s clear that the damage caused by com-plexity extends far beyond the cus-tomer service department. Although Siegel and Etz-korn take on everything from the 14,000-page U.S. tax code to pre-scription drug labels, rest assured their book is written from a mar-keter’s point of view: Siegel previ-ously founded and led the global branding agency Siegel + Gale and now leads Siegelvision, an organi-zational identity and brand strat-egy consultancy; Etzkorn is Siegel-vision’s chief clarity strategist. “Customers are fed up with bureaucracies that inundate us with generic and im-personal information, don’t take our calls, create con-voluted procedures, request too many signatures, pro-vide baffling instructions, erect barriers of legalese, and find a thousand other ways to distance themselves from us,” declare the authors. “The truth is, every bit of cor-respondence you send to customers—email correspon-dence, statements, contracts, proposals, instructions, applications, call center scripts—speaks louder than your ads, because it’s a more direct and personal form of contact.” In short, if your cheeky ads are followed up with an awful website experience or a contract dripping with legalese, you’ve blown it. For those who remain unconvinced that simplicity is better business, the authors give anecdotal evidence of the overlap between companies that simplify and those that go on to achieve runaway success. Unsurprisingly, How Can I Help You? Like Siegel and Etzkorn, Jay Baer, president of Con-vince & Convert, a social media and content marketing strategy+business strategy+business issue issue 73 73 Apple and Google play a prominent role in Simple, as do Trader Joe’s (which offers about one-tenth of the products of a typical supermarket) and, in one of the book’s best examples, Southwest Airlines. The Southwest story is so powerful because it dem-onstrates that it’s possible to simplify even in excessively complicated categories. When the airline was launched 45 years ago, its founders sought simplicity by buying only Boeing 737s, eschewing the intricate hub-and-spoke system for nonstop flights, and forgoing assigned seats. The upstart airline passed the benefits of simplic-ity on to consumers in the form of lower fares and fewer extra fees. (In a category that increasingly nickels-and-dimes its customers, Southwest still checks the first two bags free.) The Southwest story underscores the fact that Simple is not going to let you off the hook, even if you argue that simplicity won’t work in your company. As you might expect, Simple devotes a good deal of time to the jargon masters who dwell at the very top of the complexity food chain: lawyers. Siegel and Etzkorn argue that the greatest fear of the typical CEO is lawsuits, and that fear has served to “elevate lawyers to a position of unchallenged au-thority.” They argue that plain language “can actually end up putting you on safer legal ground, because it provides plain evidence that you were never trying to hide anything or hood-wink anyone.” The legal department’s very existence points to the most difficult thing about becoming simple: adopting the approach across the organization. Any company can whittle down its contracts, but achieving true simplicity, like every other major change initiative, requires buy-in and support from the top. It takes vision to infuse an organization with a more simplified approach, which in its highest form affects the way a business operates, how it markets itself, and how it creates great customer ex-periences. Thus, the first step toward better marketing may be getting a copy of Simple to the CEO. best books 2013 marketing

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