Simplicity Is Power For Brands

Martin LindstromNovember 10, 2010745 min

The enemy has changed. It’s no longer simply your business competitor. You’re brand is up against a substantially more scientific reality – our inherent lack of ability to multi-task!

We may indeed believe we’ve mastered the skill of multi-tasking, but have we really? Are you able to send a text message while you’re in a meeting, while at the same time engage in the conversation and also take in what’s being said? Your instant response is undoubtedly a resounding ‘Yes’, but in all likelihood the truth is an unfortunate ‘No’.

Let’s try a simple experiment. It will only take a minute. Begin by visiting here. Then, when ready, simultaneously read the following clause while listening to my speech. When you’re done, I’ll get you to answer a few simple questions.

Let’s go…

An average consumer is exposed to two million TV commercials before reaching the age of 65. That’s equivalent to watching eight hours of TV commercials, seven days a week for six years. If you feel this is excessive, look at Japan. In Japan you’ll discover that the average Japanese consumer watches seven years worth of TV commercials. The interesting fact is that as the number of TV commercial hours increase, so the success rate of new brands falls.

Today we know that 8 out of 10 new product releases in the western world fail within the first three months. In Japan, the statistics tell us that 9 out of 10 new product releases fail. In Europe, a brand new product will survive on the shelf for 10 weeks, whereas in Japan it will only last two. To further complicate things, the innovation time for a new product in Europe is on average 16 months but in Japan it’s only three! Let me not forget Korea. There you’ll discover the fastest innovation time in the world – with an average of only 10 weeks.

The speed to market not only reflects a steady increase of technology, it also a sign of the increasing consumer demand for instant gratification. We simply don’t have the patience to wait forever for a new product. We want it now! In the same way, we expect a reply to our emails within 24 hours, and as for our text messages – we want that within minutes.

Your time’s up! Here are the three questions:

1. How many TV commercials are we exposed to before we reach 65?

2. What is the average product innovation time in Japan?

3. My speech mentions an increase in a woman’s heartbeat when she sees a blue box from Tiffany’s. By what percentage?

Before I reveal the answers, let’s revisit the results from an identical experiment we conducted only weeks ago. When people only read the above text without listening to my speech, 92% were able to recall the correct answers. (If we added another question to the written text, the success rate would fall to 84%.) However, when adding the multi-tasking component to the experiment, only 31% were able to answer all three questions correctly – a dramatic drop from 84% to 31% – despite the the fact that all three questions represented the essence of the message.

Now it’s your turn. The answers:

1. Two million

2. Three months

3. 22%

How well did you score?

Every study conducted on multi-tasking demonstrates how bad we are at it. Our brain is simply not wired for it – and now matter how hard we try, we’ll lose the game. The reason is actually quite simple. Take for example our reading of the copy above, our brain has to shut down, reset and start again if we’re to capture the second message happening at the same time. There is no way we can keep two tracks open at once and take in the information from each simultaneously. Furthermore, as we shut down the brain we not only lose data from the first task, but we also lose on the second. In other words, the combined knowledge we take in while multi-tasking is substantially less than if we just focused on one task.

And this fact of life is the primary adversary of the advertising industry. An average kid takes in 26 hours of content over 24 hours. Despite the ungodly hours kids keep, they’re generally exposed, on average to at least two information sources at any given time. What this means is that they tend to only remember a fraction of what’s said – ‘fraction’ being the operative word.

Even though recent studies indicate the brains of young children have begun to adapt to this multi-channeling phenomenon. And for this very reason, the concept of simple, needs to be further simplified. The word count in ads must be reduced, the messages minimized, and the language, pictures, music and sounds completely aligned. Forget the notion of three messages in one ad. Forget about a logo, a pack shot, a web address and a slogan on the end frame in your DVR.

Let’s insure your communications remain relevant for the future.

First, does your brand own one word – one truly unique word?

I say ‘cowboy’ and you say ‘Marlboro’. I say ‘safety’ and you say ‘Volvo’. How is your brand stacking up? Is it claiming its own territory or is it melting into the generic

One where there’s any number of companies laying claim to ‘quality’, ‘worldwide’ and ‘service’ – to name just a few.

Second, do your messages consistently communicate and support that single word?

Take for example any Apple ad. Simplicity, design and innovation are words or values consistently communicated in every aspect of the product, from the packaging to the commercials. Select any aspect of an Apple ad, and I’m sure you’ll agree that at least one of the above words are communicated. Can your product bear similar scrutiny?

Third, let it become a somatic marker!

Some years ago the concept of somatic markers was founded. A somatic marker is essentially a bookmark in our brain. It’s often created by an event so dramatic that you’ll never forget it. Think 9/11, or the death of Princess Diana…now remember where you were when you first heard about it. No doubt you will also remember who you called or who you were with. By comparison odds are that you’d struggle to remember what you ate for dinner two days ago. That’s the difference between a somatic marker and a non-event.

Great communication establishes powerful somatic markers – it establishes something dramatic enough that makes it memorable. Can you remember the BlendTech viral ads which showed a person blending an iPad. How can you forget such a ridiculous notion? Or the one about the Spanish toy chain called Imaginarium, which always features the two doors into their store – a large one (for the adults) and a small one (for the little ones). I bet you’ll never forget the store either once you see it.

What about you? Does your ad have the power to create a somatic marker in the brain.

Did you manage to check all the boxes? Or even one?

Time’s up. You’ve now spent five minutes reading this article and here’s the good news: You didn’t multi-task at all – well done! Here’s the bad news – you’re probably the only person on Earth concentrating on one message only.

The Blake Project Can Help: The Customer Experience Workshop

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Martin Lindstrom

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