The value of simplicity

Simplicity is everything in marketing and advertising. And I say that with 10 years of experience, 10 years of watching people spin convoluted and idiotic ideas that are about 98% meaningless and ineffective. I want to talk specifically about how important it is to adhere to these basic ideas:

  • Simplicity lets you move the needle by increasing sales

  • Simplicity makes the product the star

  • Simplicity keeps the brand’s best interests, traditions and ideas at the fore

  • Simplicity makes research and data a priority

As long as you’re following simplicity, you don’t need to get into fancy rubbish or overblown ideas that don’t work. That’s the rule I’ve picked up from marketing greats, advertising legends, solid managers and about a thousand books, campaigns, courses, experiments and tests. It’s the rule I swear by to this day.

Following the rule of simplicity, you’re more likely to be effective. Because anything overblown and complicated will miss the mark in some way. When you lack the simplicity, you run the danger of clouding your message, clouding your ideas, clouding your product and losing your audience. You don’t want to do that.

Lists of marketing trends are 99% worthless


What’s wrong with lists of marketing trends?

They are the worst poison in marketing.

I say this because those lists of trends and crazes are the reason marketing has become trite, damaging, negative and invasive.

They’re always around pushing nifty trash, pushing the latest way to get masses of people to supposedly pay attention - these aren’t the way to effectively market or advertise anything.

For me, the trends lists are a lot less important than (and have almost nothing to do with) the basics, the building blocks and the research that go into an effective marketing campaign.

When you want to run an effective campaign, you need to take those into consideration more than the latest bunch of Digital Marketing Trends For 2017 pieces. You need to be considering strategies, content and channels, not just chasing buzzwords.

I want to break down one of those screeds for you. This is the top 17 marketing trends for 2017 from Forbes.

This material is laughable at best. Interactive content! Mobile video! Influencer marketing! All of these are little more than buzzwords, and barely any of them have been backed up by research or data.

And that’s really the case with so many of these trends; they’re all about what’s the latest craze, and they aren’t focused on anything that is provably positive for a marketing campaign’s bottom line - selling products.

A bunch of those items have been on the same lists since the 90’s. Interactive content is a horse so dead that its descendents have started inheriting its haunting schedule. But that doesn’t shake the faith of the dime-a-dozen marketing gurus who push this trend nonsense on us year after year. I can’t understand why we still pay attention, and I’m even more at a loss to explain why we let these trend “analyses” influence the marketing and ad campaigns we actually run.

The other issue is that the trends often have very little do with what’s working in the present, or even popular or effective or valuable in the present. For example...

Focus in on that “Influencer Marketing” trend

The fact that influencer marketing is anywhere near a list suggesting what marketers should be doing is ridiculous. And for it to still be there in 2017 is worse. Here’s a piece from last year on the topic that is pretty insightful by Dom Burch:

Is it time to call bullshit on influencer marketing?

You must be the only marketeer on the planet that still doesn't quite get it, stood looking out to sea, wondering where did it all go wrong? Fear not. I'm here to tell you the boat you missed is full of shysters talking absolute bollocks. There's no denying influencer marketing has become one of the hottest topics in the industry. Hence the huge rise in specialist agencies springing up to meet your every influencer need. Tech firms promise to find the right influencer for you to work with, then track every engagement, helping prove beyond doubt the ROI. Any good social media guru worth his or her salt is blogging about the subject regularly.

Dom talks about a lot of the issues with influencer marketing, including influencers’ lack of understanding of basic marketing concepts and regulations and advertising standards, their lack of adherence to brand guidelines, the difficult to measure ROI, the vapidity and the sheer haphazard nature of the beast of asking random semi-famous folks to spruik your crap.

All of his points have been proven by the recent Fyre Festival scandal, when influencers were used to sell a festival that didn’t exist - and in some cases were so irresponsible that the influencers have left themselves open to a class action lawsuit by failing to identify their posts as being advertisements.

So if we’re clearly getting beyond influencer marketing as being something valuable, something that actually works, why is it still something we talk about like it’s the holy grail? It’s pretty simple. It comes down to the laziness of trend following that ignores the actual craft of marketing and advertising.

Here’s the thing. Nobody’s saying you should be a luddite.

Here’s the thing. You really don’t need to be hiding your head in the sand and refusing to engage with new ideas and new tools in marketing. But…

  1. Most of these aren’t effective, aren’t valuable and aren’t worth a dime, as with influencer marketing AND…

  2. Most of them aren’t even trends to begin with!

What do I mean by that? Here’s some research and info on how to tell a trend from bullshit, from the blog Without Bullshit:

Loosely defined pseudotrends are great for trendspotters, because these hucksters can just morph the trend definition to include any new data or examples they see. For the same reason, they’re bad for you because they’re too slippery to act on. To avoid becoming a pseudotrend victim, ask these questions: 

  • Could you potentially measure it? Researchers can verify a real trend with surveys or measurements. Pseudotrends are unmeasurable.
  • Could anyone monetize it? Jeremiah Owyang makes a convincing case for the growth of the collaborative economy by measuring startup funding. If a trend falls into a market and doesn’t make a sound, it’s not actually there.
  • Can you do anything about it? Assume the trend is true. What are you going to do differently about grumpy doctors? If nobody in business or government needs to act differently, then it’s not a trend, it’s bullshit.

So many of the trends listed on these blog pieces don’t meet any measurement of an actual trend. They’re just topics the author has seen people talking about. Which means they only really wind up being echoes of what everyone else is shouting, making them practically worthless as marketing or advertising advice.

What’s important is choosing strategies and following them. Not getting obsessed with trends.

Most of the things that are actual trends aren’t strategies. They’re channels and tactics, and that’s fine, but you can’t exercise them at the expense of real strategy. Samuel Scott wrote about this for TechCrunch:

If a tech marketer creates a video and spreads it on Facebook, here is what he is doing:

  • Strategy = Advertising (one of the parts of the traditional Promotion Mix)
  • Content = The video itself
  • Channel = Facebook

If someone creates informational material that aims to rank highly in Google search results, here is what he is doing:

  • Strategy = SEO (which may need to be added to a new, modern Promotion Mix)
  • Content = The blog post
  • Channel = The company’s blog/Google search results

So the trends are just random activities without strategy. Chat bots aren’t a strategy. Influencer marketing isn’t a strategy. Interactive content isn’t a strategy. These are all content pieces and channels, and they only work when they’re a part of an overall campaign based on - you guessed it - strategy! 

Don’t follow trends lists. They aren’t worth your time, and they won’t help your marketing. I can’t say it any simpler than that.

Marketing is any activity that exposes you to your audience.

I talk to a lot of businesses that don't know what they're doing to market themselves. Actually, scratch that. I talk to a lot of businesses who can't tell me what marketing is in the first place. To their minds, it has something to do with social media or videos or advertising or calling people to hiring more sales folks or writing blog posts but they're just not entirely sure...

...and that's why they're blowing it.
It's not that their marketing isn't working, it's that they don't really understand what marketing is, or how it works, or why it works, or anything else. It's pure chaos, and it's pure failure just waiting to happen.

From our column on

I pay zero attention to any marketing trends.

Forget the trends. Get the basics right.

You know what? I want to come right out and say it. I’m an idiot. A little while ago, I wrote this post thinking that Beme was going to be a huge trend.

I was completely and utterly wrong.
Because Beme is gone. For someone who does a whole lot of marketing, you’d think I’d be a little more accurate from time to time.

But the fact is, until as recently as last year, I was pretty obsessed with following the latest marketing trends.

Hey, some guy who spoke at some conference someone tweeted about thinks that Quora is the next big thing? Great, I’ll spend hours on it this week.

Hey, that influencer who is actually an investor in Snapchat says that Snapchat is the most important marketing platform right now? Sweet, I’m on board and in bed with it.

I was chasing my tail. Chasing myself around in circles. Thinking that I was being productive, when I was really just climbing in bed with a bunch of ideas that had a bunch of money or Big Important People behind them, without considering their wider meaning or impact.

At the end of the day, I was spending so much time on all of these marketing trends, that I wasn’t really spending any time doing any actual marketing. Because marketing and advertising, at the end of the day, are about getting your products and messages in front of your audience.

Fooling myself with the latest fancy apps and ideas wasn’t doing that. Fooling around with all of these fancy platforms wasn’t doing that.

Here’s a quote from a guy I look up to more than anyone else out there, David Ogilvy:

“In saying this, I run the risk of being denounced by the idiots who hold that any advertising technique which has been in use for more than two years is ipso facto obsolete. They excoriate slice-of-life commercials, demonstrations and talking heads, turning a blind eye to the fact that these techniques still make the cash register ring. If they have read Horace, they will say that I am difficilis, querulus, laudator temporis acti. Se puero, castigator, censorque minorum. So what? There have always been noisy lunatics on the fringes of the advertising business. Their stock-in-trade includes ethnic humor, eccentric art direction, contempt for research, and their self-proclaimed genius. They are seldom found out, because they gravitate to the kind of clients who, bamboozled by their rhetoric, do not hold them responsible for sales results.

Man, preach it Ogilvy. He recognised then, as we should recognise now, that the basics of advertising and marketing are a lot more important than flashy trends and sexy ideas.

For me, that’s the focus now. Less on trends, more on the basics that actually work. I’m not going to go around raving about some new exciting platform or some growth hack, I’m going to focus my energies on doing the stuff that has always worked to sell products:

  • Understanding what my audience want and how they talk and how they listen.
  • Communicating honestly with my audience based on that understanding
  • By Writing great copy and creating great content.

That doesn’t mean I’m a luddite. I’ve grown to like Snapchat these days, in a way I never used to (I used to hate the platform) and I’m happy to use it. I’m happy to use the new tools. But only if I genuinely want to. I’m not going to proclaim that they’re the second coming, and I’m not going to call using them “Marketing” if that’s not what I’m doing.

Forget the trends. Get the basics right.

"Sex sells" Is The Biggest Lie Your Ad Agency Keeps Selling You

David Ogilvy didn't believe in the idea that sex sells. He didn't believe in it, because his wealth of advertising knowledge, data, analysis and research had taught him that it just isn't true. In his book Ogilvy on Advertising, he spoke about the problem of using breasts to sell products that had nothing to do with breasts.

From our column on