People often ask me what I do for a job (not the people I work with; not often, anyway), and of course I resist the temptation to tell them that “I make dreams a reality” or anything quite so corny. I usually say I work in advertising as it’s easier that way, and whilst advertising is only a small proportion of what we do, it’s a good shorthand.
However, when pushed, usually from more than a layman’s perspective, and usually about “which bit of advertising” and what makes the company I work for different from the lots of other companies that (don’t just) do advertising, I often confess to having said, ‘We’re in the business of making complex things simple.’ As that’s what marketing communications people do, isn’t it, especially agencies. They take lots of complicated and sometimes conflicting information, then using data and insight, they find ways to communicate this in a simple, accessible, impactful and creative way.
We all know the inherent contradiction in this as anyone who has tried to do it will tell you: Making complicated things simple is complicated! B2B marketers often have to deal with hugely complicated subject matters, complicated products, complicated routes to markets, complicated decision-making units. In fact, that’s why so many definitions of how B2B differs from B2C revolve around the word “complexity.” My clients’ products range from membrane filtration systems to IT-enabled financial information. The one thing that ties them together is complexity and more importantly, the need for simple and compelling communications.
Unfortunately, there is a temptation to hide behind this complexity and use it as an excuse for poor communications. I believe that agencies are often guilty of two key errors when operating in complex markets. One is thinking the answer is to focus on market-sector knowledge at the expense of all else, and the other is to be a faux management consultant rather than a marketing communications expert.
On top of this, there is a tendency to continue to complicate the complicated, with models, jargon, acronyms and diagrams. So often I read and reread whole paragraphs from trade articles, marketing materials, briefs or presentations that could have been written in half the words and which would be so much simpler without a layer of jargon. Often these become “the emperor’s new clothes,” in that people don’t want to challenge such puffery without feeling exposed. I sat through a presentation once where the term “real estate” was repeatedly used. It was only afterward that I had the courage to ask a close colleague what that was and be told that it’s just a part of a Web page.
In the UK, we have a campaign for simple English that champions simple, straightforward language, and I think that as marketers, whatever our sub-discipline, we have a duty to make sure we guard against complexity for complexity’s sake and occasionally sense-check our business or department’s output. We’ve all used a gratuitous diagram or model in a presentation, but there is a reason why there are probably only two or three that marketers can remember, like the BCG “box”, as they are simple and straightforward: two axes, four boxes, four strategies.
It’s even more important as we communicate across languages and cultures in our businesses. There was a time about two decades ago when the debate was what would be the next global business language: German, Spanish or Esperanto. Things have panned out a little differently, but I don’t believe that Anglo-U.S. business jargon will stand the test of time!
by Danny Turnbull
General Manager – gyro Manchester
Cross posted at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network
Follow Danny on Twitter @gyrohsr_danny