Too often simplicity is equated with being easy or undemanding. In fact, simplicity is the opposite. It's not about cutting corners or dumbing things down. It's a purposeful decluttering. It's the outcome of thoroughly considering a problem and its solution — and providing only what is needed.
Simplicity is the observable outcome of clarity.
- lets your message stand out
- helps you stay on-brand
- avoids adding to the "noise"
- is powerful and evocative
- elevates your brand
Think about the world's most iconic brands. They're iconic for a reason. They know exactly who they are, and they focus precisely on that. There's no clutter, no obfuscation, no awkward straddling of different product categories. Everything about them has a clear throughline.
If you can't explain it to a 6-year-old you don't understand it
Ask a screenwriter, and they'll tell you that the hardest thing about writing a film is the one-sentence logline. Entrepreneurs can spend months sweating their elevator pitch. Why? Because drawing out the bare essentials of what you do and who you are is challenging.
But it's worth the effort.
Take a look at Apple over the years. Its first logo was an elaborate drawing of Newton under a tree — complex, forgettable and hard to visualize. So Apple distilled that iconic image down to Newton's apple. That iconic apple has since evolved through multi-colored and textured versions before landing on the flat, monochromatic version we know today. Starbucks' logo has undergone a similar journey towards simplicity and recognizability.
As these brands have grown, they've figured themselves out. They've learned to trust in their brand positioning and to give consumers the facts they need without the clutter.
But wait, you say. I need that clutter. What if my customers don't get what I'm trying to convey? Here's the thing. If you can't convey it simply, then conveying it in a more complex manner isn't going to help!
You wouldn't use higher order math to explain addition to a child. So don't fall for the same problem in your branding.
Try it: Distill your brand down to a 10-word sentence. Can't do it? Your brand isn't focused enough.
Your branding is a 30-second trailer, not the whole film
We get it: branding costs money and you want to get as much brand as possible for your dollar. But adding more and more clutter just overwhelms people. Instead of taking it in, they skim over it.
Here's the thing. Brands exist in a consumer's mind — not just on your business card. Though we do love a branded business card. Every time a consumer interacts with your brand they start to build associations with it. The job of branding isn't to tell a prospect what you do in 500 words or less. Branding is about getting a whole lot done with as little as possible.
Branding is a teaser. It evokes. It suggests. It doesn't need to say it all. And today's audience doesn't want it to. They're incredibly adept at building up complex mental models from vanishingly small inputs. They get their news from headlines. They communicate via emoji. And they're constantly connected to their media devices.
Back in the olden days, you had to get descriptive. People didn't have access to the world's information in a fancy phone. But things have changed. Think of your branding not as an all-encompassing manifesto, but as a link or a call-to-action. It's something that piques curiosity and entices consumers to go looking for you. After all, you're only a Google search away!
Your branding is like a film trailer. It gives consumers enough to know what to expect. It builds anticipation and delivers key points. And ideally, it inspires them to take action. Which is much easier to do if you still have their attention.
Try it: Look at your most recent marketing piece. What can you cut?
Would you like some Veuve Cliquot with your simplicity?
Coco Chanel was a famous proponent of simplicity. Take one thing off before leaving the house, went her famous advice.
Simplicity is a common thread throughout Chanel's branding — and even its clothing collections. This is unsurprising. The world's most exclusive brands tend to be simple and understated. Why is this? Because there's a fundamental elegance to simplicity. Simplicity is synonymous with quality: it's what you get when you employ precision engineering, considered design, and high-end materials.
Unless your brand competes on price, cluttered branding may be doing you a disservice. Simplicity helps create a sense of exclusivity, quality, and craftsmanship. What elevates Hermes over Forever 21? Bang & Olufsen over Philips? Valhrona over Mars?
If you do see complexity, it's often to do with a brand's history - brands choose to telegraph their longevity through the continued use of older labels. In these instances, a complex brand is a conscious decision to go against the grain of simple elegance. It takes incredible brand equity to do so.
Try it: How does your brand compare with its luxury competitors?
Everything in its place. Everything with a purpose.
We know that simplicity isn't about "lack of". It's about the purposeful inclusion of the necessary - and the purposeful exclusion of everything that isn't.
Every part of your branding should have a purpose. If it doesn't need to be there, it shouldn't be. This isn't an easy task to do - if you look at Apple's logos you'll see that they've gone back and forth over what the bare "essence" of the brand is. But that's because brands evolve. And so do consumers.
Our audiences are getting savvier and more brand fluent. That means that we can communicate more with less - we just have to be purposeful about it. Because purposeful simplicity is what leads to iconicity.