Giles Lury, director of brand consultancy The Value Engineers, shared the learnings of his book The Marketing Complex, and spoke on the challenges faced by modern marketers.
"Everything should be made as simple as possible... but not any simpler" — Albert Einstein.
This morning we were delighted to welcome Giles Lury, director of The Value Engineers, to the YCN Library, to talk over some of the smart thinking in his popular text, The Marketing Complex, for which some context can be read below — in his own words.
"The Marketing Complex examines the current obsession with oversimplification, and fearlessly challenges marketers to consider whether they are blurring the line between simplifying and simplistic. By exploring the origins and appeal of simplification through some of the best-known literature, the book conclusively proves that endless simplification actually only serves to limit a brand's appeal. By presenting a visionary new model, supported by examples, tools and expertly explained techniques, The Marketing Complex will enable marketers to recognise the important role that depth and multiplicity play in communicating a brand message, and to boldly embrace complexity when crafting their brands."
Here’s what we learned.
Who invented the simplicity rule?
Giles started off by introducing us to the minds behind the early pillars of marketing – Rosser Reeves and his “unique selling proposition” (USP) and Al Ries and Jack Trout, champions of brand positioning and the philosophy that “in an over-communicated society you need an oversimplified message”. Although both of these approaches are based on rather subjective and unfounded (at least in anything concrete or scientific) opinions, they remain in use: “the siren call of oversimplification is getting stronger” still today.
How has brand positioning evolved?
Where brands were once just a mark of ownership, they have grown to represent a guarantee of quality, then a product, a personality and now, often, a purpose. Particularly fashionable at the moment is for this purpose to be underpinned by a moral or social incentive, as brands strive to incorporate a strong sense of ethics and authenticity into their image. The sheer amount of information made available to consumers thanks to reactive social channels and new data laws means brands are being forced to be more accountable, and this new emphasis on transparency and accessibility has driven the simplification trend, as brands confuse clarity for simplicity. One-word summaries (“why the fixation on the one word summary?”) and bland, meaningless taglines have become the go-to for brands that, in reality, must play a variety of different roles to satisfy multiple stakeholders.
How to manage multiplicity
Giles referred to the multi-purpose mission statements of global organisations such as the BBC (“inform, educate, entertain”) and Google (“to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful”) as examples of how brands can recognise the different assets or services they offer to different audiences in different capacities: “multi-product, multi-audience, multi-proposition brands. RIP one product, one brand”.
The Rainbow Chart
Even the most straightforward brand purpose acquires multiplicity and depth when we approach it with different audiences in mind; Giles shared his “Rainbow Chart” to prove that multiple propositions can exist within a single, coherent purpose. The metaphorical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, for example, is where brands must engage their investors. The customers will be attracted by the rainbow’s “natural beauty”, while the functional customers will be interested by “the science of the rainbow”. Finally, you must recruit employees, “giving them a set of colouring pencils” and asking them to “help us be the rainbow”. Four separate propositions – one, coherent purpose.
Swap “values” for “beliefs”
Another side-product of oversimplification is the pervasiveness of the same clichéd buzzwords shared by businesses at all levels. Giles shared a list of the values held by the top 100 global brands – integrity, caring, innovation – to underline how meaningless these have become. “Values have been devalued… the language is so predictable”. Identifying what it is your brand believes in – for example, a food company champions locally-sourced ingredients, or a cosmetics brand that believes in catering for all skin types – and then committing that to paper, is worth much more than having words like 'honesty' and 'excellence' on your homepage.
Be a sand dune
When researching for the book, Giles discovered that multiplicity is “originally a philosophical term” to describe embedded systems and ideas that are “constantly in flux”. People, trends, economy, technology all “come and go”, and a modern brand must be designed to withstand and adapt to such change. “A sand dune is constantly in motion but we continue to recognise it as a sand dune.”
Build your beliefs into your practices at every level
With expansion and extension, the challenge of translating, reiterating and reaffirming your brand’s beliefs becomes greater and more important. Whether you’re a start up with 20 employees or a global conglomerate, Giles believes that “involving people in the language is important”. In order to build beliefs into company practices, they must be “reiterated at every level”, so that everyone can articulate, believe in and incorporate them into their personal roles within the organisation, whether it’s a straightforward statement of intent – “by solving your problems, treating you fairly and being totally transparent, we believe we can make banking better” (Monzo), or a shared belief in a specific value – “we won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets both support and respect” (Mind charity).
A final tip from Giles
Even if you articulate your brand beliefs and statement of intent in original terms, with clarity in mind, it’s up to you to “make sure that distinctive language stays distinctive”. In Giles’ own experience at The Value Engineers, after their once-distinctive emphasis on curiosity became a buzzword employed by a long list of unrelated organisations, it needed updating. In theory, he pointed out, as long as the beliefs and principles remain the same, the words can be rewritten.
Book recommendations from Giles
Couldn't make it to the event? Enjoy some reading around the topic with these books recommended by Giles Lury.
Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman (2012)
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, Richard H Thaler (2009)
Decoded: The Science Behind Why We Buy, Phil Barden (2013)
The Choice Factory: 25 behavioural biases that influence what we buy, Richard Shotton (2018) reviewed by Giles here.
All photography Sam Bush.
Location:72 Rivington St,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:26th July, 2018 at 9:30am
End:26th July, 2018 at 11:00am