Leadership and branding (continued): learning to simplify our messages

Leadership and branding (continued): learning to simplify our messages

Famously, Albert Einstein’s first rule of work was: “Out of clutter, find simplicity.”  The concept is similar to one of the rules we write about in the “Seven Rules of Storytelling» and one that I have often used in my coaching.  We all need to learn to simplify our discourse.

In fact, after fifteen years of working with individuals on their self-expression, I have come to believe that there is a general human tendency to make messages overly complex.  When I hear people telling their stories, making their speeches or giving their formal presentations in a corporate setting, I am usually left with the impression that the whole thing is overly cluttered.

The most successful leaders are able to simplify their messages.  When I observe political campaigns, I watch in particular the stories that the candidates tell to groups of voters.  While I recognize that politics is quite complex, and while I certainly do not consider myself an expert analyst, I am often struck by a simple truth: the candidate who is able to simplify and clarify his messages is usually the one who wins.  For example, in the 2008 US presidential election, Barack Obama stayed focused on a few themes and told his personal stories of identity in direct and concise fashion.  John McCain did not.

Obama simplified his stories in order to make them clear and accessible to a wider audience.  The best brands do this as well.

Branding and simplicity:  Think of some of the most valuable brands in the world at the peak of their success, and consider the simplicity of their stories.   Nokia was about “connecting people”, Apple had “computers for the rest of us”, IKEA was “making people’s lives easier”, Nike was encouraging us to “just do it” and Coca-Cola was bringing us “the real thing”.

All of these brand messages are easy to follow, pure and graceful.  We follow them because they speak to us in a primal way.  They make us feel clean and wholesome, as part of a winning team.

One of my favourite tales of branding simplicity is the “Intel Inside” story.  Most people who use a computer have no idea how a microprocessor works, what its precise role is, or what would make one brand superior to another.  Yet, in the 1990’s, Intel’s “Intel Inside” advertising campaign made it and its Pentium processor household names.  So today, many consumers do know that they want a computer with an Intel inside.  The company has managed to create a simple and elegant brand story around a product that nobody sees, and that only engineers and technologists truly understand.

When consumers buy a computer with an Intel processor inside, they feel part of the winning team.

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