Modern keyboard with a red "Keep It Simple" key.

Ideas to simplify your message

Here’s a summary and review of Ben Guttmann’s new book, Simply Put – Why Clear Messages Win – and How to Design Them.

Book cover - Simply Put by Ben Guttmann
Keep messages simple, says Ben Guttmann.

Everyone is a marketer in some form, asserts Guttmann.

“The entire act of marketing boils down to just two things: what you say and how you say it,” Guttmann writes.

The real challenge?

“No one cares what you try to tell them, and they especially don’t care about what you’re trying to sell them.”

Since humans are beautifully imperfect beings, they ignore and forget your message. Why? Because it helps them live their lives.

To put your message in context: the human brain takes in 11 million bits of information per second. But the conscious brain attends to only 0.0004% of them.

That’s why there’s a shockingly small chance any brand message will break through. Attention is precious and finite, and people prefer to use it only on what matters to them.

Feeling ignored or forgotten? 

Messages get ignored or forgotten because people are bombarded by information from phones, computers, and TVs — for more than 13 hours a day. This leads them to adopt a default state of indifference.

People are a tough audience because they:

  • Fail to notice a lot of the world around them. In a classic study known as the “invisible gorilla,” more than 2 out of 5 people didn’t notice the gorilla in a video since they were paying attention to basketballs.
  • Fail to remember what they do notice. Eyewitnesses misidentified suspects in 7 out of 10 cases of people who were wrongly accused of a crime and then exonerated by DNA testing.
  • Don’t know what they think they know. The “illusion of explanatory depth” tricks people into thinking they understand things that they don’t. The Dunning-Kruger effect describes the tendency for incompetent people to overrate their own abilities and performance.

So, the challenge is: how can you become a better sender of messages? How can you combine words, images and other elements so that your message breaks through?

Fluent messages are easy to hear

The burden of communication falls on the sender of the message. For senders, the key is to figure out how you can maximize the effectiveness of your message.

“To be heard, simplify what you say.” Make your message fluent – quick, easy and smooth. Fluency includes:

  • Perceptual fluency: how easily people notice things
  • Processing fluency: how easily people understand things.

The more fluent your message, the more likely that people will believe, trust, prefer and choose it. For example:

  • The easier a company’s stock ticker is to pronounce, the likelier that the company’s stock price will rise. That’s good news for DIS (Disney) and GOOG (Google), but bad news for VZ (Verizon).
  • The easier to read type is, the more sales increase.
  • When websites load faster, more people engage.
  • Sentences that rhyme work big time – because they sound truer to people.

“Fluency is like a well-oiled hinge on the door to our minds. When opening that door is easy, we’re more likely to let messages in,” Guttmann writes.

Keep it simple
Keep your message simple to become buyers’ guide. Avoid the complicated.

Simple vs. complicated messages

Simple messages are:

  1. Beneficial: prioritizing the needs of receivers and answering their question — what’s in it for them?
  2. Focused: keeping concise
  3. Salient: standing out from the crowd
  4. Empathetic: understanding the receiver
  5. Minimal: minimizing friction, with the fewest possible points of failure.

Simple messages speak to one person, not a crowd. “Every message is one-to-one.”

In contrast, complicated messages are:

  • Selfish, prioritizing the sender and perhaps concealing malfeasance.
  • Cowardly, allowing senders to hide within and behind a message.
  • Dangerous to the bottom line and even to human lives. For example, 4 out of 5 medical errors involve miscommunication, as do 7 out of 10 commercial aviation accidents.

You are not the audience  

Too often, marketers and message creators think of themselves as the audience.

We assume that others share the same opinions and attributes we do, and that we represent what’s popular, right and normal. This illusion is known as the “false consensus effect.”

To overcome this problem, test your message on people who are outside their bubble of competency. Look for people who approach the message with beginner’s mind, and without the suffocating weight of brain clutter. Use their reactions directionally, as a compass, not a tour guide.

“Humbly operate under the prevailing expectation of ignorance and apathy [so] we can better design a message that fits into their lives,” advises Guttmann.

Give people a simple answer to the question, Why do you support that guy or buy that brand?

“The most valuable gift you can give your audience is a reason to choose you that they can parrot back to themselves and others. It puts their mind at ease and gives them an easy answer when quizzed by others. It gives people something to hold on to…

“Make it easy for somebody to feel good about choosing you and people will feel better about choosing you.”

Simply Put is an invaluable resource for leaders, marketers, communicators and people who are struggling to get their message heard. Applause!

Here’s the author’s website.