By SANJEEV NANAVATI
Why is it so hard to keep things short and simple? Well, because it is hard. Someone once said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
Ask a chief executive officer (CEO) to tell you why you should use their products or services, and most will fail to respond succinctly. You’re likely to be buried in a blizzard of words that describe what the company does, but not necessarily the value you get.
Ask why you should pick their products over their competitor and most will struggle to answer. It’s not a trick question. Choosing between different providers is the critical decision for customers.
For a company to be successful, its value proposition needs to be different. And they need to be communicated effectively to have any impact. Messages stick when they are short and simple and preferably have an emotional appeal.
Why is this so hard for companies and leaders?
First, selling and communication is not about the speaker but about the listener – the customer. Beating your chest about what you do and how good you are, is not very effective. Customers care about what is in it for them – a truism that is sadly forgotten by most leaders.
Second, neuroscience tells us that the capacity of the mind to digest information and handle complexity is limited. Also, people are not perfectly rational and that the heart often overrides the head.
When companies aim at the customers head with complex or unclear messages, it’s no wonder they miss the mark. The striking fact is that a corporate customer is represented by an individual. Understanding what makes a person tick, what they remember and how they act equally applies in the business-to-business space.
Third, companies miss the fact that implicit in the buying decision is a choice. Buying one product means not buying another. Communication has to help customers make this choice. Presenting information without sharply differentiating and expecting customers to hold information about different companies in their head to make a rational choice is an irrational expectation.
Simplicity as someone said is the ultimate sophistication. Most companies do one or all of four things that matter to customers – help them make money, save money, reduce risk or increase convenience. It’s really that simple.
Which dimension a company chooses to stress is important. Is it possible for a company to distill its core message in a few words? Most certainly. A tagline is not a cheap marketing gimmick. It is a powerful business tool if used correctly. Developing one requires clarity regarding the core value to the customer and discipline about what to say and what to leave out. Some do it well, most don’t.
Here are a few examples of strong taglines and value propositions:
- Ajax – “Stronger than dirt”. Three words only. Straight to the point. Reinforces the main reason for buying the product.
- Subway – “Eat fresh”. Simple. Not only catches the core value proposition but in two words it clearly differentiates from other fast food companies.
- Mac Book – “Beauty outside. Beast inside”. In four words you get why you should buy the product. It also addresses some of the concerns customers may have had about performance.
- L’Oreal – “Because you are worth it”. This is a classic. It appeals to the emotion, and in five words builds the buyers’ self-image and self-worth in a powerful manner.
Let’s look at the taglines of the largest banks in Singapore and Malaysia:
- “Living breathing Asia”
- “Right by you”
- “World’s Strongest Bank”
- “ASEAN for you”
- “Humanizing financial services”
- “Your bank, Malaysia’s bank”
Do they tell the customer what the bank can do for them? Is the value to the customer clear? Are the taglines interchangeable amongst some of the banks? Do they uniquely apply to one bank? Is there a call to action?
Do we really need a tagline?
A tagline need not answer all these questions. Good ones cover at least a few. It’s better not to have a tagline than to have one which confuses or gives the wrong message. There is a marketing truism that says that the more undifferentiated a brand, the more there is a need for a tagline. And the more distinctive a brand, the less the need for a tagline.
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Taglines are equally valuable for internal communication. Long-winded vision and mission statements which cannot be recalled by employees achieve little. When transformation is being undertaken, there needs to be a simple and powerful call to action.
The onus is on the CEO to distill a complex business situation into a simple message of seven to ten words. It is possible but rarely done effectively. Simplicity and brevity cut through the chatter and create recall and impact.
Communicating value and how it is different is, in fact, a highly sophisticated activity. To be effective, messages need to be concise and precise. Less is indeed more. Many try but most fail. The rewards for getting it right are enormous. Simplicity is indeed the ultimate sophistication. And real sophistication is simply not that simple.