To make something simple is actually quite complex,” says The Co-operative Group director of marketing Gill Barr, who last year undertook one of the company’s largest ever research projects to assess how the business is perceived as a whole by customers.
“I’ve tried to focus on really defining the customer experience and understanding the proposition from the customer’s perspective,” she says. “If you don’t do that, how do you work out what’s simple and what’s complicated?”
Her views are supported by 87% of UK consumers, who say they are more likely to recommend what they consider to be a simple brand, according to new research revealed to Marketing Week.
Consumers would also be willing to pay a premium of more than 5% for simplified communications and experiences, according to the study conducted by agency Siegel & Gale as part of its annual Simplicity Index.
The index, compiled from interviews with more than 6,000 consumers in seven countries, places The Co-operative Group in 13th place in the UK list of brands perceived as simple, while Premier Inn is in seventh spot.
The hotel chain’s marketing director Mark Fells says simplicity is vital to make sure customers get the best experience from his brand.
Premier Inn is introducing touchscreen check-in desks, among other initiatives, to ensure customers have as little difficulty as possible when using the chain’s services.
“Our central promise is ‘a great night’s sleep guaranteed’. We all know what we stand for and what we work towards, which makes the marketing message quite simple because the hard work has already been done,” says Fell.
Putting the consumer back at the heart of the business has also been integral to Pizza Hut’s strategy to reinvigorate the restaurant group in the UK.
The brand ranked seventh in the global simplicity index. But in the UK, competitors such as Pizza Express have made the chain appear outmoded and unfashionable.
Pizza Hut UK chief marketing officer Christopher Tebben explains: “Our rallying cry in the UK is putting the customer back in charge. When we have followed that, it’s worked and when we haven’t we’ve gone off track.”
This strategy has included the introduction of upmarket concept restaurants that aim to transform the business into an experience rather than product model. To support this change, Pizza Hut is also re-educating its staff to “get consistency every single visit”.
Tebben adds: “There’s an interesting paradox. Customers want variety and choice but also crave simplicity, fun and informality. It’s about creating a simple and enjoyable customer experience. Product is a key part of that but for too long it was our only focus.”
An understanding of the customer journey, the core brand proposition and consistent creative execution is integral to John Lewis, which increased its simplicity score by 26% on the 2010 results to be ranked at number three in the UK Simplicity Index.
John Lewis head of marketing and brand Lloyd Page says: “Where you can get it really right or really wrong is through the creative execution. [See case study, below.]
“We work hard to make sure our creative execution of how we tell a new story is rooted in a product or brand truth that is unique to John Lewis, and I think by combining that with our Never Knowingly Undersold pledge, our communications really resonate with people and they have cut-through.”
The BBC’s outgoing director of marketing and audiences Helen Normoyle, who is to join furniture brand DFS as chief marketing officer, agrees: “John Lewis is a great example of consistency of experience at every touchpoint. Sometimes it’s easy to over-complicate things, especially when you try to be too many things to too many people.
“It comes back to being really clear about what you stand for, communicating it in an engaging and consistent way and then living up to that promise.”
Although Normoyle admits that the BBC is in a fortunate position because of the longevity and understanding of the brand, she believes that the BBC’s ninth place in the UK index is due to hierarchical marketing planning, and targeting every campaign to meet one of three aims – overall BBC brand-building, consolidating the perception of an individual channel, or driving audiences to a particular show.
Use of technology to simplify the customer experience is another reason why Normoyle believes consumers view the BBC as simple to use, especially its commitment to rigorous beta testing. “There’s a huge respect for audiences at the BBC and we know our audiences are very vocal,” she says. “One of the fabulous things about doing things in the digital world is the huge advancement in web analytics. You can do iterative testing in real time, meaning we can constantly refine the audience experience.”
Nokia UK head of brands and campaigns Adam Johnson thinks that technology companies have a lot of experience in taking very complex products and making them easy for people to use. This accounts, he believes, for why the sector has performed well overall in the index.
Johnson says: “Technology companies have learned over time that our brand messages have to be simplistic because users want to understand what the device will do.”
When launching its Lumia smartphone at the end of last year, Nokia created a single-minded proposition – The amazing everyday – which consolidated all its activity.
Johnson says that taking a “really strong brand view” was a way of ensuring that it had one simple message for consumers that underpinned all its operations and marketing.
Siegel & Gale EMEA president Philip Davies believes that building simplicity into brand experience is especially important now with the current economic climate. He says: “A hint of anything tricky, difficult or uncertain will be a real danger signal for anyone that’s thinking about purchasing. If you are transparent, avoid anything that’s awkward or jargonistic, you remove not just the reluctance to purchase but the stress of doing so, and that’s a powerful weapon for competitive advantage.”
Consumers perceive John Lewis as one of the most easy-to-use brands on offer to them, which helps explain why the retailer’s score on the UK Brand Simplicity Index increased by 26% this year to put it in third place behind Google and Amazon.
John Lewis head of marketing and brand Lloyd Page attributes this success to a relentless focus on creative consistency and tone of voice, but also in staying committed to its Never Knowingly Undersold brand pledge.
He says: “Our customers like the clarity and the solidity of our brand pledge. As long as that stays at the heart of what we do, consumers know what we stand for.”
One example of John Lewis creating a simple experience for its customers is the launch of its online ordering service Click & Collect last year. The service guarantees that if someone orders a product online by 7pm it will be available to collect in-store by 2pm the next day.
Page attributes the success of Click & Collect to the key consumer insight that customers are time poor and want a guarantee that their product will be in stock.
Media strategy was also important in creating a simple experience. Page says: “The heart of Click & Collect is convenience, so the media strategy had to deliver the message in a way that didn’t frustrate the consumer journey.
“We looked at customers’ daily routines and worked out when they would welcome a message from John Lewis. For example, our digital ads won’t run after 7pm because consumers can’t use the service for the next day at that time.”