‘Fewer, bigger, better’: Five ideas to foster a culture of simplicity

The relationship between agency and client can be complex, but there are ways to make things a whole lot easier. Stewart Gurney, chief strategy officer at Kaimera, distils the key findings from a crack panel of marketers at Mumbrella360.

Making our working lives and business partnerships more straightforward is the Holy Grail for most of us. But in a world growing more complicated, it’s no easy feat. Here are five ideas to help out.

Identify complexity within your business (and have a plan to tackle it)

Addressing complexity starts with being aware it’s there and that it’s affecting your business.

According to Nick Love, chief customer officer at My Muscle Chef: “The first step when dealing with institutional complexity is acknowledging it.

“You then need to strike a balance between trying to stop or recreate deficient systems, and implementing new ones. I personally think I made missteps early in my career trying to change everything, and then change nothing. So it’s about finding balance.”

And remember, a chaotic workplace actually suits some people, but it’s not likely to benefit your business in the long run.

“Some people also thrive on complexity because it hides the fact they don’t know what they’re doing,” Love added. “These people are often the ones who create the swirl for everyone else. When this is removed you can really pursue proper outcomes.”

Nailing your briefs is essential

If you want simplicity in the agency and client relationship, there’s no better way to achieve it than by having clear briefs. This was a sentiment shared by everyone on the Mumbrella360 panel.

“I don’t think agencies make things complex,” said Mark Khademi, VP of marketing at Koala. “It’s incumbent on the client to provide a clear brief. Because if the agency understands your strategy, they should be there to remove the complexity.

“In terms of writing good briefs, my golden rule is to distil it into one sentence of no more than 14 words. The brief shouldn’t be shared until that’s done,” he added.

ResDiary’s head of growth APAC, Rebecca Zeitunian, believes “there’s no perfect way to write a brief other than to revisit the question: what are we trying to achieve, or, what’s the problem that needs solving?”

And a little client humility goes a long way too.

Love recalled his favourite quote from Mad Men’s Roger Sterling: “‘My father once said, This is a great business, it’s the clients who are the problem’.

“And that’s always stuck with me whenever I’ve been working with agencies and wanted to blame them for something. It’s a reminder to at least look at our side first.”

When faced with existential challenges, go back to basics

When the going gets tough, it’s wise to really hone your focus. That’s certainly the approach of Maria-Teresa Jones, head of marketing at Spirits Platform.

“One principle we have written up on our office walls is ‘Fewer, bigger, better’. “It’s about taking things back to the simplest common denominator,” she explained.

During the pandemic lockdowns of the past few years many hospitality businesses found themselves unable to trade. This caused a shakeup in thinking in certain quarters, not least Jones’s.

“In the case of our business, which trades in alcohol, it created a need for people to learn to be their own bartender at home.

“So for us, it was really simple. It was just a case of education, education, education. That made our strategies exceptionally-single minded because we had just one job to do.

“It [the pandemic] actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I don’t think anyone’s going to unlearn how to make their favourite cocktails,” she added.

If you want a broader business perspective, embrace neurodiversity

There are many advantages to be had for those who embrace a diverse workplace. Different ways of thinking and experiencing the world can augment a business’s offering and reduce complexity. Zeitunian is a big believer in this approach.

“Actively seek neurodiversity,” she said. “Research has shown that 84% of dyslexics are above average in reasoning. And a key skill derived from reasoning is simplifying.

“Simplifying involves understanding and deconstructing complex ideas and concepts, identifying patterns, evaluating possibilities and making decisions – something most dyslexics are strong at. So don’t by any means discount the importance of neurodiversity,” she said.

Don’t lose sight of your product and customer

In this increasingly complex, data-saturated world, agency and client relationships can focus disproportionately on the distribution of the message. But what about when the message itself, or even the core product, gets neglected?

It’s a quandary Love has wrestled with. “I think as an industry, advertising and marketing has got lost in channel complexity.

“Everything became about the channel and the data. But now I really feel that there’s been a reversion to understanding the message and brand. We’ve got back to thinking about who we are trying to sell to; what are our assets; and what does our brand stand for.

“I’ve found myself stepping back to looking at my core messaging, and understanding who my customer really is,” he said.

Stewart Gurney, chief strategy officer at Kaimera


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