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Simplicity – a familiar refrain in messaging best practices

November 4th, 2010

In our complex world, it’s far easier to construct a complicated message than a simple one.

There’s no doubt message development is a vital skill in every marketer’s toolkit. Well-constructed messages communicate business strategy, inspire the workforce and drive sales. The process of assembling a strategic message appears simple, yet all too often every brand attribute, solution and market differentiator is bundled into a jumble of words that fails to stick. Another lost opportunity to connect with the intended audience.

LEARN – Law 4. “Knowledge makes everything simpler.”

This year I hit the books to refresh my research on best practices in message development. This body of research is the foundation of a training program I originally created for the marketing communications practice of a global consulting firm. Over the years this training program has been streamlined. The models have become simpler, yet I found the core principles of message development remain unchanged:  Clarity, consistency and credibility are essential if you want your message to be heard.

To update the research I compiled a list of 11 favored references, both old and new, to help address this ongoing dilemma. At the top of the list is:

The Laws of Simplicity (Design, Technology, Business, Life) by John Maeda

The MIT Press, 2006

John Maeda is the founder of the SIMPLICITY Consortium at the MIT Media Lab.  He’s a graphic designer, visual artist and computer scientist who developed a helpful construct for distilling complex concepts into simple imperatives. He offers Ten Laws and Three Keys to achieve Simplicity (otherwise known as Sanity!).

REDUCE – Law 1 – “The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”

Creating messages is like that trick we use in packing for a trip: Lay out everything you think you need — clothing, shoes, accessories, toiletries. And then pack half.  Or less. Once you’re on the trip, you’ll never miss the rest. So it goes with messages. Strip out all the superfluous words. Keep the essential, memorable phrases. You end up with a stronger message, just enough to get your point across.

How simple is that?

  1. Natalie Cornell
    November 4th, 2010 at 14:21 | #1

    Simple and yet so hard to remember. I remember telling a former collegaue that message development was like playing Pictionary: the winner isn’t the best artist, but the person who could convey the essence of the object most clearly and fastest. For example, if your word was rhinoceros, you could spend lots of time drawing a jungle, and a lake and a big animal in the water. Or you could just draw the distinctive shape of the horn on a large round animal and be finished.

    We’ve gotten so that we like things complicated – even though it doesn’t work for us. We think it makes us seem smart or more expert to use more words when all it does is confuse everyone.

    This was a great reminder that clarity and simplicity work best – always. Thanks!

  2. Therese Beale
    November 4th, 2010 at 21:48 | #2

    Great point, Natalie. Using images is such a powerful way to crystallize your thinking and share it with others. And it’s just plain fun!

    On the issue of complexity, you’d love another book on my list– The Checklist Manifesto. More on that one later!

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