How simple is your message? LinkedIn is too complex

Simplicity of brand message is connected to company performance

A businessman writing Keep It Simple on a screen. Business Concept.The chances are you have been to a business networking meeting and asked a newcomer “what do you do?” only to get some lengthy description of a wide range of services, leaving you none the wiser as to what their business is about. You have probably been to trade shows and exhibitions and been attracted to visit some stand, only to walk away wondering what the company really does.

Harvard Business Review reckons you should be able  to sum up your business in six words or less. Can you do that?

Research conducted by Siegel+Gale, a brand growth company, shows that there is a clear link between simplicity of brand message and the financial performance of the company. They have tracked hundreds of brands over the past five years and researched opinions about them in over 12,000 people in 8 major nations, including the UK. The brands deemed “simple” by the consumers outperformed other brands and also massively increased their value compared with the FTSE100 or the DOW.

For some businesses the results prove that simplicity is key. Aldi, the low-cost German-based supermarket, comes out as the “number one” brand, for the second year in a row. Why? Because its message is simple and doesn’t vary – good quality at low prices with no frills. Aldi beat Google into second spot. But Google gets there because when you use it as a search engine it could not be simpler – type in what you want to find out and get the results.

Down at the bottom end of the ranking, however, comes LinkedIn at 84th out of 90. The reason is because we are confused as to what we are really supposed to use LinkedIn for. Indeed, it is complex – is it a place for recruitment, for publishing your updates, for having a personal profile or a company one, or is it a forum where you discuss things with people? Count yourself lucky – LinkedIn abolished several older features such as “Answers”, which added another layer of complexity to its system. You may well have a LinkedIn profile, but do you actually use it and gain money from it? Only a tiny, tiny proportion of people using it do. Most people “have a profile” and leave it at that. Why? Because it is so confusing.

And who is the most complicated brand in the list? That “award” falls to AXA the insurance company, for having an extremely complex legalistic approach that takes people ages to wade through. However, AXA is in good company; in terms of industry performance, the least simple industry is insurance. The clearest brands of all were mostly in retail – you know what you are getting when you visit most stores. Low down on the list of industries was social media – too many complex systems and overlapping ideas. It seems that social networks just keep adding features, because they can. That leaves us confused.

Ask yourself “what is Facebook?” Is it a place to chat with people, or a place to promote a business? Is it a place to share pictures, or (thanks to the latest update) a place to visit web pages? Perhaps it is also place to watch videos – or, there again, is it a place to run a poll or a survey?  Do Facebook know? It can do all of these things and more, but with each new change it just leaves us confused.

So here is the challenge which emerges from the Siegel+Gale study: can your online business be communicated within a second or two – the time it takes to say six words? If it can, you have probably gained attention. If it cannot, you are wandering into the territory of confusion.

Consider popular websites like the BBC news site – it has a clear and simple message, “read this”. Google similarly has a simple message “search here”. So does Amazon – “buy this”. Does your business really gets its message across so simply people can get it in a second? Or is your website like that person you met a networking event, providing loads of rambling detail with no real clarity as to what it is you actually do?

Categories: Online Business

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Social media marketers have lost the plot

Study shows social media marketers think their impact on bottom line should not be measured

Social Media for CEOsSocial media marketers are in job protection mode. Or at least that’s what it looks like from a recent study of their beliefs and attitudes. It appears that most of the social media marketers questioned think that their work is important to their business. Yet only just over a third of them fully agree that their work should be measured against the company’s bottom line.

In other words, they are saying “I am important, but you can’t possibly measure how important I am – only I know that, you have to trust me.”


No activity in a business should happen unless it impacts positively on the bottom line. Otherwise it defeats the whole point of being in business – to make a profit.

If social media marketers are getting lots of “likes” or “followers”, that’s great for their ego, but if the costs of doing so are not met by income generated from that activity, then it is a waste of money – no matter what those marketers might think.

Marketing is full of hogwash and erroneous data collection. You can get reports of “brand attitudes” saying how much your brand is recognised and respected. You can get graphs produced of how that is altered year on year and you can use that to say “look, our marketing activities made people love our brand more this year than last year….can I now have a pay rise?”

Just because people love your brand, does not mean they spend money with you. After all, if you were surveyed you might say you admire the brand Ferrari, but have you bought one? Loving a brand and having a positive attitude to it is not the same as contributing to the company’s bottom line.

Neither is having lots of followers, likes or retweets. It is all just numbers for numbers sake.

What matters is whether those numbers contribute to the profits of the business.

Social media marketers might not like it, but that’s the only true way they can protect their job – proving that their work makes money. Many social media managers cost the company lots of money. And the company only has the hypothesis to go on that “it must be helping us – after all look at all these likes”.

The study revealed part of the problem. Social media marketers do not really know how they can get their work measured to prove their value to the business. Indeed, they agree this is their “number one” problem.

Rather than spending time on thinking up new ways of getting followers, or creative ideas for Facebook pages, perhaps it is time for social media marketers to start working out ways in which their work can be accurately measured, showing their contribution to the bottom line. That would involve complex tracking methods, for instance, to prove a purchase was made as a result of social media. Or it could involve calculations of money saved as a result of social media – the contribution of social media marketers does not necessarily have to be about sales, it could be about cost savings that therefore create improved profits.

Much social media usage is based on theory and assumption. If you want to be sure it really adds to your company’s bottom line, it is time to start measuring it – properly.

Categories: Social


Comet landing has a lesson for website owners

We probably know more about space than about the mind of a website visitor

Rosetta space probe

The excitement and achievement of the landing of a space vehicle on the surface of a 4km wide comet, 300m miles away from us probably brought a tear to many eyes. The sheer technical ability of being able to make this immense task happen is something that deserves the often overused word, awesome.  One  scientist said it was the equivalent of sending a firework up into the sky in London and landing it on the head of a pin, rotating at 35,000 miles an hour, in the middle of Delhi. It takes some doing…!

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, other teams of scientists are busy trying to unscramble the inner depths of the human brain. We think we know a lot; in reality we know very little. Each time we think we have made progress along comes another bit of data to suggest that all is not what it seems inside the workings of the human brain. Plus, much of the research thus far is on relatively small numbers of people, often psychology or medical students, meaning that the sample is self-selected and very bright. True, there are studies of diseased brains and the inner workings of people with psychological conditions, but the numbers are small and the findings often conflicting,

Yet, with some certainty you find plenty of people telling you we “know ” how the brain works, that we “know” exactly where the “speech centre” is, or where vision is processed. Indeed we do. That is until someone has a stroke destroying those areas of the brain yet another part of the brain takes over the functions. This is called “plasticity” whereby a part of the brain can change its function into something else. It’s like your fridge suddenly turning itself into a cooker. Yet it happens every day in brains all round the world – people regain functions even when part of their brain is damaged. Sometimes it even happens without us knowing, where your brain repairs itself.

Sure we know a lot about the brain, but there is so much more we don’t know. This issue was recently tackled in an article in the New York Times which revealed that the more progress we make in understanding the human brain, the more we discover what we do not know. And there is a lot we do not know.

So, what does this mean for your website? It suggests that all the advice you get from marketing “experts” or even “Internet Psychologists” is not necessarily always going to be true. It is the best we have with our current knowledge about human behaviour. But because there is so much more to know and discover it could well be that the advice you are given is not true in your circumstances for your marketplace and the people who visit your kind of website.

That means that like the scientists who lead the Rosetta space probe project you have got to test, re-test and test again to make sure that what you do on your website matches the people you are trying to reach. Think of them as a 4km comet spinning at 35,000 miles an hour. The only way you are going to be able to hit the target is to understand it with vast amounts of testing. We don’t know enough about the human brain and mind for you to do anything else.

Categories: Blog

Trust is about experience, not social media

Banks suffer another devastating blow to their trust

Do you trust your bank? The chances are you have some doubts about the entire financial industry. Today banks in the UK and the USA have been fined £2.6bn for manipulating the foreign exchange system. The problem is so bad that in addition to this massive fine, the Serious Fraud Office is investigating several people. Some of them may be joining other bankers already in jail.

The announcement about the penalties against the banks comes hot on the heels of research about trust in the banking sector. The study from Harris Interactive found a decline in our view of banks. But most of the mistrust we have is based on experience. The massive amount of chatter on Twitter and the complaints made on Facebook appear to have only a small impact on our trust levels.


The Harris Interactive study follows earlier research from the PR company, Edelman, which found that we tend to trust smaller businesses more than we trust big firms.

What is clear is that big firms and big government tend not to be trusted. American banks can at least comfort themselves with the knowledge that they are more trusted than the government that regulates them. But compared with small businesses, big banks and corporations are just not trusted much at all.

It’s not about the web – it’s about your business

The findings of these various studies point to a central issue with trust – customer experience. Our experience of big corporations or government is distant. We have no real personal connection with them. Yet for small businesses we often know the owner and feel we have a much more personal relationship. Add to that the fact that most small businesses know that what separates them from bigger firms is the personal level of customer experience they can provide.

The reason that small businesses are more trusted is because we have a much better personal experience of them and what they do; plus they take a lot of care for their customers – they have to in order to stay in business.

Much is said about creating trust through the web and having a great social media presence, responding to customer issues. Indeed big corporations now spend billions of dollars each year managing social media so that they can have good customer relations.

But then they go and spoil that with poor quality products, dreadful delivery and penal terms and conditions. They are focused on the wrong thing. As the Harris Interactive study showed, it is not social media that’s the problem, but what the company itself actually delivers in terms of products and services.

This means that if you want your online business to succeed because people trust you, then you had better get the fundamentals right first. A quality product or service and a great customer experience. Do that and you won’t have to pay social media managers to deal with your Twitter feed. That’s because the only messages you’ll be getting are compliments.

These trust surveys point to one thing – it is about relating to customers at a personal level and giving them a great experience that makes the difference to how much you are trusted. Get the core business right and let social media look after itself.


Categories: Online Business


Customers want to hear from you by email, not by phone

Businesses should avoid wasting their time communicating on mobiles

We live in a mobile world – indeed you may be reading this on your phone or tablet device. But what if I now offered to call you on that very same device? The chances are you would prefer it if I did not. You’d more likely want me to send you an email.

Research is increasingly showing that we are now dividing our communications equipment and methods into categories. Categorisation is a natural thing we do to help us make sense of the world. When we only had the ability  to write letters and send phone calls we couldn’t easily divide up different kinds of communication. Now with phones, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook. Instagram and email we can decide to use each particular method for one specific kind of communication. For instance, many people now believe email is for business communications, Facebook is for chatting to friends and text messaging is for family. You will probably have similar divisions between the different communications methods you use.

Now a new study shows this happening in terms of how people want brands to communicate with them.

Graphs showing brand communication preferences

The research shows that the most disliked kind of communication from brands is when they offer or actually do send material to our mobile phones. We are quite happy to have the companies update us via email, but we clearly believe our mobile phones are much more personal. We don’t want any random person calling us or sending us text messages.

There is a huge wave of advice on how businesses can market to their customers using telephones and how the mobile revolution will mean that handheld devices are going to be the most important tool for brands to keep in touch with their customers. But that is all based on the theory that we are all switching from desktops to mobiles.

The evidence is much more complex. Indeed, it seems we are not switching but using mobile devices in addition to our desktops – again we are dividing up what we do with each piece of technology into categories that make sense to us. The chances are you have a desktop, a laptop, a tablet and a smartphone. You haven’t ditched anything – just changed what you do with each device.

What this new study suggests – once again – is that email is the number one way of communicating with your customers. Indeed, they prefer that. They are even generally happy to receive well-targeted offers via email. But try and contact them on their phone, which they deem to be their personal territory, and you are likely to find their feelings about your business become more negative.

The mobile device may not be the fantastic answer to marketing it is assumed.

Categories: Internet Marketing


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