Keep It Simple: Why Businesses Need to KISS More and How to Do It

Business.com / Starting a Business / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

The new book from Apple’s creative team lead Ken Segall helps us understand the power of business simplicity.

KISS, a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960, stands for “keep it simple and straightforward.”

You may have heard some of the other variations to the acronym, including “Keep it short or simple,” and “Keep it simple, stupid.”

In a nutshell, this design principle advocates the simplification of processes and systems, whatever they are and whoever designs them.

Translating this principle into business practices in general and, in particular, marketing communication, KISS means exactly the same thing as it did in the U.S. Navy, it is better to keep it simple.

If we were to ask you to think about a company that embodies the KISS spirit, chances are that we would think about the same company – Apple.

Ken Segall, Apple’s creative team lead who helped design the “Think Different” campaign, explains in his new book, out June 7th, "Think Simple: How Smart Leaders Defeat Complexity," “There were principles that Steve would never compromise. Simplicity is one of them.”

Segall sets the tone of the book from the beginning by asserting that simplicity is one of the most deceptive concepts on earth, because simplicity takes work, simplicity is far from simple. Indeed we all recognize that simplicity is a good thing. We like simple things, simple environments, simple behaviors. In short, the simpler, the more comfortable, the simpler the better.

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Yet, we all open the doorway too often to complexity and end up embracing it. The reason being is that complexity is simple to create, whereas simplicity is complex to implement, according to him. We are immersed in a conundrum that shapes how businesses in general and small businesses, in particular, operate and communicate.  

He moves throughout his book emphasizing that the KISS concept is on a mission to remove any resistances that businesses might offer when faced with the opportunity to simplify their businesses processes in general, and marketing communications in particular for with their customers.

This concept works for businesses both large and small. The mission is an important keyword in Segall’s book that helps the reader understand the importance of simplicity, becoming a mission in itself and a support to the business mission. In this regard, he highlights the comments of Ron Johnson, who was behind the design of the first Apple Stores.

“Talk about the power of simplicity. All that came out a very simple idea. Enrich lives. It described what Steve was doing with Apple, and so with this philosophy the Apple Stores were the perfect representation of the brand”

Segall wrote also the acclaimed book Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success back in 2013 where he stated that “what made Apple stand out in a complicated world was a deep, almost religious belief in the power of Simplicity.” Indeed, consumers are faced with a more complex stream of marketing messages coming from a varied source of channels and shapes which overstimulates our cognitive abilities to assimilate and react positively to them.

The Benefits Are Scientifically Proven

It might seem counter-intuitive, however, for any business, no matter the size, to simplify any business process, operation or marketing communication with the expectations of making them more efficient. But the truth is that the KISS principle is scientifically proven. It is important to keep operations simple, to keep sales simple, to keep marketing simple.

Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia University and a leading expert on the theory of choice, led a research experiment which demonstrated that consumers are more likely to take action if they are faced with few and simple options.

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She began to be curious about the so-called KISS principle when frequenting an upscale grocery store that was like “going to an amusement park.” The market store carried over two dozen brands of bottled water, 75 different kinds of olive oil, and 250 options for mustards and vinegar. Despite a lot of choices and going to the store was a favored pastime, she never seemed to buy anything when she went.

According to a Harvard Business Review research article, the biggest driver behind a consumer’s decision to purchase is simplicity. The research suggests that shifting the orientation toward decision simplicity requires marketers to rethink how they craft their marketing communications. Indeed, keeping it simple is not an easy task. It is something that takes practice.

Barry Schwartz, author of the award-winning book "The Paradox of Choice", supports the KISS theory with his research. He suggests that the reason consumers prefer to have fewer choices comes down to our feelings and emotions. He suggests that, when faced with more selections, consumers are more likely to feel regretful, indecisive, and in general less content than we would be if we had fewer options.

Simpler brands are rewarded by acquiring more customers and by their loyalty across all business industries.

How to Keep It Simple

First of all, businesses need to analyze how easy it is for a prospective customer to fully understand what the product or service is offering. Optimizing both the channel through which the business presents itself, most times it is the website, and the marketing communications, is the way to get the consumer's attention and the consumer's business.

1. Website Homepage

Upon landing into the homepage, is the user:

  1. Inundated with vasts amount of information
  2. Faced with a vague statement about the company 
  3. Highlights in a simple way why should she continue navigating through the business website?

The option (3) is what businesses ought to strive for, and it is the hardest to get right because it requires constant brainstorming and multiple changes. The average website bounce rate is around 60 percent, meaning 60 out of 100 web visitors leave a website right after landing on it. The reason, most of the times, is that they cannot find what they are looking for in a way that is very simple to understand.

The average attention span of your web visitors has gone from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to a meager eight seconds in 2013 according to a Microsoft-led scientific research. But this does not mean they will look for a reason to keep using your website for  eight seconds until they decide to leave if they have not found it. The amount of time they will take to find that reason is most times a fraction of it since you are forcing them to look for something new. It is up to you to make it simple to understand the reason why your product or service is valuable to them so they don't need to look for it. 

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2. Marketing Communications

How often do we receive mailers, emails and/or see adverts published in print or online that we need to spend some time reading before we understand what the offer or benefit to the consumer really is? Well, those are wasted marketing dollars, because consumers will not spend time, as have seen, deciphering what the mysterious offer is, or what it is that the company is trying to convey to the recipient.

Businesses sometimes believe that the more content, the more information, the better. After all, who does not appreciate information when it comes to making an informed decission? The problem is that we have consistently seen throughout this article that this notion is flawed. Consumers do not appreciate information overload,  they run away from it. Therefore, keeping all marketing communications as simple as possible, no matter the channel, no matter the format, is the way to get the consumer's attention and the consumer's business. 

We can sum all this up in one sentence: KISS, Apple says so, science backs it up.

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