1. Communicate fewer ideas.

Google’s initial success was due to the fact that they eliminated nearly everything from the search page. Remember what search engines looked like before Google? So often, less is more. Two ideas are better than three. But one idea is best.

2. Don’t use big words when small words will do.

Read On Writing Well, twice, and avoid buzzwords like the plague.

3. Don’t be afraid to say less.

Consider Advertising Age’s Ad of the Century, Volkswagen’s “Think Small” from 1959:

Think Small Volkswagen ad
+Click to enlarge

4. Reduce word count on the web. . . in print . . . everywhere.

“On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.”

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, May 6, 2008

5. Sound bites aren’t just for politicians.

Some claim this sound bite was the single most important quote by either candidate during the 1984 Presidential election. It completely neutralized all concerns regarding Ronald Reagan’s age and quashed all hopes that Walter Mondale might beat the incumbent.

What are your key messages? Can you state them clearly and convincingly?

6. Replace the “elevator pitch” with the “pass in the hall” test.

Read Word of Mouth Marketing by Andy Sernovitz to learn more.

7. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Increase your photography budget, use stock photography that doesn’t look like stock photography, and don’t be afraid to hire a professional photographer.

Great photos are a marketing asset worth having.

8. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what’s a video worth?

Video is more affordable than ever. Having a customer say how wonderful you are is worth 100 times what it’s worth when you say it.

9. Simple beats slick every time.

Distill your ideas down to their core to get started, then check out Common Craft’s Explanations in Plain English videos for inspiration.

10. Gimme white space, or gimme death.

Use my formula: Take the amount of space you think you need, then double it. Then cut your word count by half.

One way to break through the noise is to make less of it.

What can you do to make your marketing simple?

Comment below to weigh in.

11 Comments

  • Deston says:

    Bless you for hoisting the banner for brevity. I have a saying: “Your readers are your friends, let’s not punish them.” As a writer, one might think I have an interest in going on and on. Not so. I want my audience to actually read the thing.

  • Funny–I used to be a much more concise writer. Now I have to watch my tendency to go long.

    However…on the Google example: I’d wager that Big G’s immediate success had as much or more to do with the quality of results than the (elegant and wonderful) simplicity of the interface. Where I might have had to troll through five pages of results in Alta Vista and eight in Yahoo to find what I was looking for, with Google, it’s almost always on the first page or two.

    Shel Horowitz, author of Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World and six other books

  • Shel,

    Point taken. I remember my first impressions of Google “where’s all the other information?” — but you are spot on, it wasn’t just the simple interface, it was about the overall execution.

    Google is a company refer back to often for a number of reasons. But the best is #6 on their list of ten things, “Do no evil.” http://www.google.com/corporate/tenthings.html

    Happy marketing.

  • Bill Boyd says:

    Shel’s comment reminds me of that famous quote often attributed to Mark Twain: “I’d write you a shorter letter, but I haven’t the time.” Writing that pops off the page is usually not written but rewritten . . . and that requires extra minutes that few of us seem to have.

  • Shel, Patrick, Bill, Duston – thanks for sharing your comments. I especially appreciate this article as a reminder to be BRIEF. There are so many good points about being brief. I enjoyed remembering that Volkswagen ad. In a world where so many have super-sized, I still feel it is wise to stay small. Life is simpler when smaller. We can bump into friends in a neighborhood or small town easier. It requires less time to walk the halls in a small company. There’s less to worry about, clean, and care for when our house is smaller. It’s the same with a website, too. I’m due for an overhaul at both http://www.AspireNow.com and http://www.ARRiiVe.com. My goal will be to be brief on our pages, and blogposts, too.

    There are benefits to being concise and to the point. You mentioned Reagan’s campaign. How about Bill Clinton’s first campaign slogan against George H. W. Bush? “It’s The Economy, Stupid.” The media caught George hanging out in a supermarket waving around the wand and bar coder asking a bunch of stupid questions and from then on out it was easy to portray him as “out of touch with America” – but the slogan stuck.

    Simple, short, and to the point. Nice.

    I wonder if that slogan could be used again now?

  • “Don’t use big words when small words will do.” Hey, isn’t that a quote by George Orwell?

  • […] that’s harsh? Jakob Nielson recommends you cut up to half of the words for every print page you plan to put on the […]

  • Mary Doane says:

    Didn’t Thoreau encourage brevity as well when he said. . . “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! Let your affairs be as two or three, not a hundred or a thousand”!

  • About Volkswagen’s “Think Small”, this’s such a classic advertising cas study. I’ve seen this ad on many books , and I thing this’s a great ad idea!

  • I myself find that after writing an article I have to go back over it and trim it. It usually ends up being 30% shorter. I have a check list of things I have to do. Probably highest on this list is to remove conjunctions where possible. It makes it simpler to read. Short sharp sentences.

    Thank you for a really nice list, very helpful.

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