Simplicity: Making complicated messages resonate with your audience

simplicity, messaging
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Simplicity of messaging is one of the hardest things to achieve, but it’s essential if you want to cut through to make an impact

Here Ian Bates, founder and creative partner of Firehaus explores the importance of concise communication and messaging.

Just look at the Hands Face Space message during the pandemic: unveiled months in, it was the government’s third attempt at cutting through with simple messaging, but, according to research, the only one that resonated and endured. The ONS reported that more than 8 in 10 adults saw “hands, face, space” as important in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

It’s a challenge for everyone but particularly those in the research, innovation and enterprise sector. By its very nature, anything that straddles academia and commerce involves some serious ‘boffinry’. And quite right too, but that shouldn’t stand in the way of how it’s communicated. The sophistication is making all that clever stuff cut-through so it can make an impact in the real-world.

So how can you achieve simple, powerful messaging for any business in this space?

Simplicity is key, don’t get lost in the detail

A common theme with many organisations is that they find themselves spending too much time working through the detail of their initiatives rather than finding the most interesting way to tell a powerful story. For example, we often work with innovation and enterprise departments within Higher Education that are awash with multiple initiatives, acronyms and departments. So much of their energy is spent around organising and rationalising this complex setup – and frankly, sometimes it’s impossible, they can’t be dismantled. Instead, the breakthroughs happen when we manage to get them to step back and look at the higher purpose of all of the groups, not their individual targets.

Think about the overarching narrative

People often gravitate towards the detail and use it as a way of proving efficacy. But the problem is, so few are listening and even fewer understand. With most sectors over-supplied, cut-through is an enormous challenge, so we always recommend organisations find the truths in the details but keep elevating their story for impact.

For instance, a tech start-up in the global prosthetics industry created by a team of academics will become a story of obsession, because that’s what will resonate. And an academic consortium addressing the issues resulting from the diffusion of new technologies in industry now has a story about pioneering human insight. In each case, the overarching story has been developed out of the detail into bigger, more insightful, interesting and attention-grabbing stories.

Critically, this not only helps engaging external audiences but the internal one too – bringing clarity to the team and other stakeholders.

Following the right process to achieve a simple yet effective message

You may not get it right the first time, and it might evolve over time, but a simple process you can follow would be:

  1. Establish the reality of your current position. Look inwardly at your features, benefits and people to find your purpose – why you exist as an organisation and what gets you and your colleagues out of bed in the morning. But also look outwardly at your competitors, detractors and fans to see what they see in you and how you are distinctive (you don’t always have to be differentiated) in their eyes.
  2. Create your story or brand idea. Once you’ve worked out how you are distinct, then you need to come up with a way of saying that, which is, and I’ll emphasise this for effect, attention-grabbing and not boring. It’s disappointing how many truly distinct organisations bury themselves under what we call “word-salad”. You’re going to need some creativity here.
  3. Build this idea into your organisation’s behaviour. Brand ultimately is what you do, not what you say you are. Once you’ve come up with your distinctive idea then take it back into the organisation and work hard to find all the places you can apply it in your behaviour to reinforce it in the minds of everyone who comes across you.

Don’t forget who you’re trying to reach

The thing is, the customer, potential partners and even investors are often forgotten in the building of the narrative until it’s too late. You then end up with presentations, a website and an email programme that ticks all the boxes you thought it should but says … not much and to not many people.

82% of investors will only invest in companies with strong branding.Be sure to keep who you’re trying to reach front of mind.

How simplicity can be achieved from an outside perspective

The sophistication is in the simplicity and to get there, founders, leaders, academics and so on are best partnering at an early stage with an independent party who’s willing to listen, learn and help shape the narrative. We call it the outsider perspective. It means you keep all of the detailed knowledge with internal teams but augment this with challenges from an independent party working towards the same objective – not an alternative one.

To date, there is no award for Incomprehensible Brand Messaging. If there was, there would be a lot of contenders.


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