Exhausted by the Pandemic, Consumers Want Simple

Weary consumers are gravitating toward brands with uncomplicated messaging and experiences

By David Ward

Carlo Giambarresi/theispot.com

With daily life roiled by the pandemic, consumers have gravitated toward well-established brands offering simple yet compelling brand engagements that make things easier. That's one of the major takeaways from the latest "World's Simplest Brands" survey, released by marketing agency Siegel+Gale. Google led the global rankings, followed by Netflix, YouTube, and Germany-based grocers ALDI and Lidl. In the U.S., Amazon captured the top spot, followed by Hulu, Netflix, Costco, and Google. The study, which polled more than 15,000 people worldwide, found that more than 75 percent of the respondents were more likely to recommend a brand that delivers simple experiences — compared to 64 percent from 2018 — while 57 percent of the respondents were willing to pay more for simple experiences.

"Consumers now feel [that] if they can have a simple experience on their iPhone, they don't understand why their experience in, for example, a hospital has to be so complicated," says Brian Rafferty, global director of business analytics and insights at ANA member Siegel+Gale. "They don't see these things as silos and there are a lot of industries that have been slow to simplify their brand experience and need to catch up."

He adds, "The brands that deliver on simplicity realize it's the experience that really matters. You can't go and promise something if you're not going to deliver on it, so CMOs are now thinking what is the actual end experience, as opposed to just what's the campaign and the message."

Siegel+Gale recently helped software firm UST (formerly UST Global) simplify the brand's go-to-market strategy with the new tagline, "Let's build for boundless impact," which helped to shake buyer perception that the company sold only offshore IT services.

Blending Simplicity and Flexibility

Michael Mitchell, senior director of brand and studios at ANA member Mailchimp, says the pandemic accelerated the company's decision to accentuate candid, clear brand messaging when looking to engage small business owners on the benefits of having automated email marketing services to manage mailing lists and create email campaigns.

"We believe that keeping it simple — but unique — is a key way to enhance brand impact and provide customers with the best experience possible," he says. "As a company that specializes in helping people build their own businesses, we want to lead by example when it comes to building a brand that stands out."

Mitchell stresses that creating a simplified overall brand engagement requires flexibility, and adds that some touchpoints may call for simplicity, while others will need a bit more messaging depth.

"Sometimes the drive to simplicity can end up diminishing relevance [and] decreasing the opportunity to connect with audiences," he says. "We advise SMBs to use our platform to experiment through a test-and-learn approach that helps get to a right answer faster. End users are as diverse as the businesses serving them, and our marketing needs to reflect that."

Two of Mailchimp's content offerings, for instance, cater to uncomplicated, easy-to-relay information that helps the company's audiences in tangible ways.

"Moments where we've tried to lead by example include our recent launch of 'Bloom Season,' our immersive, digital resource for entrepreneurs of color, and the latest season of our podcast Going Through It, discussing the value our elders can bring to helping us through our toughest times," he says. "These moments provide value outside of our software to deliver an engaging experience across our user journey."

Back to the Future

Brand managers were looking to simplify brand experiences even before the pandemic, as the number of ad platforms increased exponentially, according to Allen Adamson, co-founder of brand strategy and activation firm Metaforce, and author of BrandSimple: How the Best Brands Keep it Simple and Succeed.

"In the past, TV advertising was the most important method to communicate your brand promise or story, so marketers had to keep it simple to get the message across in 30 seconds," says Adamson, whose agency's clients include Unisys, Morgan Stanley, and Joe Boxer. "Now, because there are many other ways to reach consumers without time limitations, including websites, social media, and online videos, some marketers are falling into the trap of believing they don't have to keep it simple anymore."

Adamson, an adjunct marketing professor at NYU's Stern School of Business, adds that consumers are so bombarded with marketing messages they have learned to filter out confusing messages. "People won't pay attention if you don't have a simple idea," he says.

Jody Wasbro, SVP of strategy and experience design at WD Partners, whose clients include, Chipotle, The Home Depot, and Walmart, says simplicity doesn't mean brands have to dumb down their advertising creative.

"I don't think a simplified brand experience means that complex or detailed messaging has to be avoided," she says. "Brands can and should tailor communication and messaging by medium or channel based on what their customer needs from them at that specific time. That could be a complex message at a certain stage of their journey, or it could be a very simplified message."

In addition to creating a frictionless path to purchase, brand simplicity is defined by how companies use language to communicate their value proposition and whether the message gets bogged down by industry jargon.

"Simplified means the brand is bringing forth a focused message and experience, whereas frictionless is more about allowing customers to get a product any way, where or how they want it," Wasbro says. "They aren't mutually exclusive but instead build on each other and connect with consumers in different ways."

Long-Term Strategy

Siegel+Gale's Rafferty agrees that making the customer experience frictionless plays a critical role in achieving simplicity, but only as part of the company's larger brand promise. "Consistency is important and it's not just consistency of being frictionless," he says. "It's consistency of delivering on what you promised and people knowing what to expect when they encounter your brand."

The need for brand simplicity is likely to continue long after the pandemic fades, so CMOs should view it as an ongoing practice.

"Simplicity is a long-distance run and not a sprint," Rafferty says. "But you do need to ensure that the foundational brand piece is in place first, to avoid trying to fix and simplify the experience without having done the work to understand what you stand for as a brand."



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