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Marketing Changes, the KISS Principle Remains

Many books explore how the Internet has empowered consumers and therefore changed the Principles of Marketing. It is true that pushing sales on the consumer’s doorstep substantially differs from conversational pull-marketing on social media, but the KISS principle is relevant to both.

Because at the core of marketing remains to communicate a clear message about what you offer. And why your offer is the best. The KISS Principle can help clarify your message. KISS is an acronym for ‘Keep it simple stupid,’ or in its more civil reading: ‘keep it super simple.’

KISS Principle keep it super simple

Simplicity is Important in a Crowded Marketplace – But it Runs Deeper than that

Marketing became a management discipline when in the industrialized societies of the 20th century supply of products surpassed the demand of customers. How do I convince customers to buy my product?

And how do I grab the customer’s attention to listen to me in an overly noisy marketplace?

Globalization, the Internet, and automation have all added to that ever-increasing noise. The Internet here is relevant in the form of a product information and research tool as well as online commerce. And the noise here is the amount of information and choices available.

Answers include differentiation and keeping it super simple to speak directly to the potential customer’s mind — simplicity due to an overcrowded and noisy world.

The KISS Principle demands to highlight product benefits over product features, use simple, direct language devoid of unnecessary technical jargon that right to the chase, to use visualization when possible. The KISS Principle is relevant to the four Ps Marketing Mix, namely product, price, promotion, and place. Its goal is to make the customer decision-making process as simple as possible.

The simplicity marketer’s worst foe is that the customer does not get your communication or product and therefore ignores it.

The KISS Principle is not Simple

A skillful marketing message will combine emotion with reason, which equal attraction and conversion in the consumer’s behavior.

Combing the two in a simple message is not a simple task at all. The French mathematician and philosopher Pascal once wrote an overly lengthy, detailed letter to a friend. In the postscript, he apologized that he didn’t have time to write a short one.

The psychologist Barry Schartz has shown in his seminal work ‘The Paradox of Choice’ that the more options we have, the harder it becomes to make the right decisions. Schwartz suggests that the overwhelming amount of choice contributes to the endemic unhappiness in our modern societies. Limiting our options and aiming our decision-making process at satisficing rather than maximizing can alleviate the dilemma.

In this context, we can say that the KISS Principle if successfully applied, reduces complexity in choice and thus serves both the seller and the consumer alike. Intuitively, this does make sense: Simplicity as a response to excessive complexity.

‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’ said Leonardo Da Vinci. As Schwartz points out, simplicity requires an emotional effort. Reducing complexity to its salient features that are yet simple is intellectually demanding. Simplicity is an art form.

Simplicity Simple Rules

Simplicity is the Natural Ally of Our Brains

Outside the realm of commercial marketing, great minds held simplicity in high esteem. And they had excellent reasons to do so. (Today we are not going down that road which says that ‘marketing’ or ‘selling’ have always been a ubiquitous part of human communication),

Once we open up to the idea of simplicity, we can recognize it as a pervasive response to increasingly complex modern societies:

In meditation, the art of simplicity, the practitioner actively seeks to slow down and focus on awareness and consciousness.

Minimalism encourages a simple life to get more from less. Minimalism is about removing all possessions from your life that stop you from doing what you value most.

How we perceive and how we interact with the world depends on how our hardware can operate. Our hardware that is our brain, nervous system, and cognitive senses, which we commonly refer to as the mind.

Neuroscience teaches us that our mind experiences the outside world as a reconstruction of reality inside our heads. Neuroscientists call this our ‘mental model’ of the world. It is how the brain processes the link between inside reality and the outside world that can help us understand the power of the KISS principle further.

Keep it Super Simple

Therefore, let’s look at how to mediate the best interaction with a software system, which is the purpose of the User Interface (UI) Design.

In an excellent article on the Adobe Blog, Nick Babich described the 4 Golden Rules of UI (User Interface) Design. These rules reverberate with the KISS principle and reflect how we ideally interact with the world at large.

To illustrate the broader significance of the KISS Principle, I will state each UI Design rule here and contextualize it with the functioning of our ‘mental models’.

Golden Rule Nr. 1 of UI Design is to place users in control of the interface. The brain seeks control in an environment of change. Our sense of power has a substantial impact on how content we are. If things are easy to navigate, we will feel at ease.

Rule Nr. 2 says to make it comfortable to interact with a product. We universally seek pleasure, not pain.

Rule Nr. 3 demands to reduce cognitive load. Keep things simple. Engage as little brainpower as necessary. Because for the brain’s mental model of the world, simplicity is crucial.

As the neurobiologist, Robert Sapolsky writes that ‘Everything about our hominin past has honed us to be responsive to one face at a time.’ We have hunter-gatherer brains that excel in focusing on a single moving prey animal or an only edible fruit at a time.

That is why we can’t correctly multitask and perceive single-focussed work, or flow, as the most rewarding.

Sequential simplicity is a requirement for our model, making brains. Fighting this physiological condition is asking for trouble.

Golden Rule Nr.4 of UI Design is to make user interfaces consistent. We crave for meaning and always try to make sense of random events. We love consistency.

Simplicity Is a Guiding Principle. So Why not Keep it Super Simple?

In conclusion, the quest for the essential is part of the human condition. Here is the question we have to answer: How can we best live with our hunter-gatherer’s brains in a technology-driven complex world?

The KISS Principle is useful from the consumers perspective. But it is also beneficial for a company internally to anchor vision and strategy. And if we understand as individuals how marketing works, we have a better chance to be immune to it and avoid a pattern of consumerist overspending.

Albert Einstein once said, ‘Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.’ That is the KISS Principle in perfection.