The secret to making the complicated simple: a 5-step guide for marketers working in tech and other, equally complicated, fields.

Posted by Camilo Lascano Tribin on May 24, 2019

A couple of weeks back I wrote a piece on the importance of simplicity and repetition when it comes to landing your brand’s marketing communications messaging.

The point of that piece was to reassure marketers that communicating your company’s proposition in the simplest possible way was the most intelligent and effective way to get your point across.

Thank about it: how many times have you been to a company’s website only to find something like the following on their ‘about us’ or ‘what we do’ page:

“We are disruptive, people-centric game-changers who help our clients gain traction through leveraging vertical expertise across omnichannel environments. We pride ourselves on being platform-agnostic, obsessively solution-focussed and passionate about real world results…”

Huh?

It doesn’t bode well if you can’t tell people even a little bit about yourself or what your company does without speaking gobbledygook. What hope do you have of communicating the value of a product or service that is legitimately complicated and requires a straightforward explanation for your prospects if you can’t even simplify the ‘about us’ page?

Risky Business

Saying something simply and in your own words is risky. It leaves you exposed. It reduces the risk of misinterpretation and thus increases the likelihood of you being understood and held to your word.

How many times have you sat through a meeting or read through emails –even proofed copy for a white paper or infographic – and left entire sections untouched simply because you had no idea (or at least weren’t confident enough) of what was going on? It’s okay to find familiarity with this statement; we’ve all been there, at least I know I have.

So, what’s the secret?

Be brave and ask questions. Even when you think you’re asking a stupid or obvious question. Remember, not knowing something is not the same as being stupid and the only truly stupid question is the one that isn’t asked.

Looking stupid is one of the biggest professional and personal fears we all share. So scared are we to admit we don’t know something that we go to great lengths to avoid showing any signs of confusion or ignorance. We do everything, except ask for help and work towards understanding the issue at hand. But it makes no sense – imagine if a doctor or firefighter did the same thing.

So, how can we move beyond this? First, stop taking yourself so seriously and admit when you’re out of your depth. Nobody is expected to know everything about everything, that’s why businesses are made up of hundreds of specialised professionals and, even then, they employ the help of specialist firms and consultants.

For marketers, it’s all about the brief

As a marketer, the best way to simplify the complex for your customers is to invest all your energy in understanding an issue at the time of the initial brief. After all, a project is only ever as good as the brief that is given and taken. The marketing lead’s job on a project is to ensure that everyone on the project deliver team is crystal clear on what needs to happen. Your job isn’t to know everything from day one, but rather to get the answers your team will need to understand and deliver the campaign to the best of their ability.

Start complicated and work hard to simplify.

Step One: Make sure you have a briefing template for subject matter experts to use, and more importantly, make sure they actually use it.

Getting internal stakeholders to adhere to a briefing template can be difficult, however, the pay-off is tremendous, and your entire marketing operation will be better for it. One of the great things a briefing template does is to get SMEs to explain things in their own words, rather than in industry jargon. This act alone already helps you simplify what could potentially be an overly complicated brief.

Step Two: Get the brief in writing first, and ideally at least one to two days before your face-to-face (or conference call) meeting.

Whenever you get presented with new information, it’s always good to have the opportunity to review it in your own time. You want to be able to digest what’s been said and do any background research that’s required.

Find out what’s already been said on that topic and try and understand it for yourself. Answer as many basic questions as you can so that your face-to-face briefing becomes an opportunity to ask additional questions and sense-check your understanding. Your SMEs are busy people – don’t waste time asking questions you could easily google.

Step Three: Push hard for a face-to-face briefing or at the very least, a conference call.

Many a heated email exchange can easily be resolved by a quick phone call or face-to-face chat. The same applies to briefs. Email and text-based conversation is always open to misinterpretation, no matter how clearly you think you’re stating things. A face-to-face meeting gives you so much more information to work with than an email or written brief ever will. You can gain so many insights from body language, drawings and generally showing the other person that your questions come from a place of genuine interest, not frustration.

Step Four: Reverse the brief – in person and in writing.

When someone is explaining something, stay focused, listen and immediately play it back to them in your own words. Don’t just say yes and move on; make sure you understood what they meant. It’s as simple as saying, “so in other words” or “another of way of thinking about it could be…” Until they give you the all clear, keep trying. It can feel like you’re digging a hole for yourself, but trust me, you’ll come out on top when you deliver a campaign that’s on message and is bringing in leads galore.

Once you’ve completed the meeting, write the brief down and send it back to the SME. Don’t start on any activity until you have written confirmation that your understanding of the product, solution or proposition is as clear to you as it is to them.

Step Five: Get a fresh pair of eyes and ears and explain it to somebody that’s got no background in what you’re doing.

The best way to make sure you’ve understood something is to explain it to somebody who doesn’t know anything about it. If you can get your point across to them simply and clearly, and answer any follow up questions, then you’re in a great place to start building a communications strategy to engage brand new leads and customers.

Keeping things simple is hard work, but your customers will be eternally grateful for making them feel intelligent in addition to making their lives just that little bit easier.

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