Topic: Book Club

How Do You Make Things Simple?

Posted by Anonymous on 500 Points
One question that Chip and I get a lot is “How do I find my simple core message?” To us, this is the hardest question to answer.

What kinds of techniques or processes have you experienced that help teams achieve elegant simplicity?

Moderator Note: This discussion refers to the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath (topic: communications). Click the title to learn more. Then join the conversation. We'd LOVE for you to participate!
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  • Posted by Matt Dickman on Accepted
    Dan -- I think this is absolutely the most difficult part of the whole strategy. If your core message is off-base, it will fail no matter what else you do.

    One element I have used to get to the core message is to use a persona for each of the key customer profiles. Usually this comes through research into their daily lives. What do they eat, where do they live, do they have kids, what drives them, what turns them off? Once I get the answers to the questions I give each persona a name and a picture to personalize them.

    Through the rest of my planning, when I have to make a decision, we turn to the board and look at each character and ask "does this reach this person?". Through this process I attempt to make sure that my core message is on target for each key influencers.

    It is really helpful to step back out of your own eyes and look at a challenge through the eyes of someone else. These characters I create allow me to rapidly switch my thinking from a 45-year-old mother of four to an 20-year-old hipster.
  • Posted by Mark Goren on Accepted
    Interesting that you bring up the persona idea, Matt. Because developing an audience persona is discussed in the last two books I've read… Made To Stick and The New Rules of Marketing and PR, by David Meerman Scott.

    In MTS, the Saddleback Sam example is used. In TNRoM+PR, Scott goes into detail about how to develop these personas and the importance of developing one for each audience your targeting.

    This is a strong and effective way to deliver targeted content and to develop a concrete message. Does developing an audience persona help you keep things simple beyond keeping your core message on target? How do these profiles help you reach simplicity, though?
  • Posted on Accepted
    I believe oftentimes the simple core message can be found through a mental exercise.

    Imagine that you are riding in an elevator or walking to the seminar in a hotel. You meet an interesting person and strike a conversation. They may ask what you do for a living, or why you're attending the conference. You may have a short time to answer, but you feel relaxed and at ease to personally share with this person this...deep sense of excitement within you. Passion emanating from within that you just...want to release.

    Now STOP! Freeze that picture in your mind and begin writing.

    There is no pressure. You're just talking with a casual stranger with a smile and an open mind.

    Now deliver your message. It could probably use some improvement though, so press rewind, rewrite, and try again.
  • Posted on Accepted
    Nancy - Great points.

    When writing formally, I state upfront my core message and put it where I can refer to it while I'm writing. I have a tendency to go off in tangents, and I often find myself deleting two or three paragraphs to simplify the message.

    When developing a website, I look up the company's positioning statement and put THAT where I can refer to it while I'm working. Personas are always kept nearby, too.

    When I think I'm done, I go through my workflows and compare them to the positioning statement and the personas to make sure they are all consistent. This exercise also helps me identify opportunities to serve the end users goals better.
  • Posted on Accepted
    The method I've heard most common and that is generally preached through business school is basically Mario's but with a time. The elevator or 30 second pitch. Basically, your idea should be simple enough so that you can explain it in an understanding way within an elevator ride.

    The problem i've seen and had with both those examples is its lack of emphasis to focus down on the core idea.
  • Posted on Accepted
    I think the most important lesson that was reinforced by me in your book was to stay simple. Often times, I will write out a very simple message (3 points maximum) and limit them to more than a sentence each. Then the message is circulated to the implementers and they add and add and add and your lead is buried. One of the best tools for stopping this is having a chat with the implementers about simplicity and why it counts, I am going to pass the book around the office for everyone to read that chapter.

    As for finding those simple messages I like to do brainstorm exercises focused on word associations to help find the core attributes and terms and then look to what will resonate and what sounds credible coming from our lips. An example would be our music packaging campaign where I put an association exercise on the whiteboard for all to see for a week. In the middle I started with "music packaging" and surrounded it with what I considered to be four key attributes and I invited folks to link other attributes and associations to those core attributes to see what we could arrive at. The brainstorm was quite successful and allowed us to come up with a simple and effective message that is resonating within the music industry and amongst artists themselves.
  • Posted by Tracey on Accepted
    I use a number of techniques to focus on the core message. First, I really have to know my product/company/vision inside and out. The more I understand something, the simpler it becomes. I typically spend the most time on researching and editing, and the least amount of time on writing the first draft of most communication pieces.

    I use the elevator pitch idea also. When writing a product brochure, I frame questions within a creative or product brief.

    I focus on benefits instead of features -- what need/desire does the product/company satisfy for the customer? Or, how does the company vision relate to the customer?

    Most of my simplification comes in my editing of any piece of communication. I read the piece, read it aloud, take a break to re-read it with a fresh perspective, and keep going back to it. I try to make every word earn its own real estate -- i.e., every word should be there for a reason.
  • Posted on Accepted

    Maybe the focus could be "what do you want them to do?" If you think in terms of the response or action you are seeking, then you need to distill your communication to elicit that.

    Look at all successful business people, and brands, they have found a way to communicate what they want you to do in a way that is compelling and works. The best example for a brand is "Just do it!" Now only a swoosh. Think how much is packed there. "Think Different", another action-inspiring moment.

    Less is becoming the new green, or was it the new black?
  • Posted by Chris Blackman on Accepted
    I liked the example from the book of tapping out the tune. Happy Birthday to you sounds just like the Star Spangled Banner when you hear the rhythm tapping but without the tune playing in your head.

    So develop what you think is the core message, and find someone to play it to in it's simplest, most distilled and summarised form. Then ask them to describe what they think they just heard you say.

    And listen hard! Because they represent the uniformed member of the public who has no stake in your issue. The sound they hear is what everyone else will get from the message without the tune from the soundtrack playing in YOUR head!

    Remember the three blind men and the elephant? Every perspective is valid in its own context.

    Another method might be to take a detailed presentation (about whatever you business proposition contains) to a bunch of fourth-to-sixth-graders and ask them to write a paragraph based on the whole scenario.

    Kids have a way of summarising concepts in a few simple words that can knock the corporate stuffing and hubris right out of you.

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