“When you do something simple in a complicated world, it stands out” – Ken Segall

Ken Segall worked in Apple’s marketing department for 12 years alongside Steve Jobs and wrote Insanely Simple: The obsession that drives Apple’s success, which explores Apple’s commitment to simplicity and shares the lessons you can apply to your own business marketing.

I saw him speak recently at a marketing seminar as part of the Small Business Festival in Victoria, and I found his presentation totally compelling. He shared 5 principles he believes demonstrate the importance of simplicity, and I wanted to share them with you.

Simplicity breeds love.

Speaking to your audience in human terms allows people to form an emotional connection with you and/or your product. At the very least this will build loyalty in your audience, and best case you’ll have evangelical support. Have you ever tried to tell an Apple buyer why your Android is better only to be shouted down? That’s evangelical support!

Do fewer things better.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple one of his first orders of business was to eliminate the majority of their product lines. These days, they offer only a handful of products and they do them exceptionally well. Ken drove this point home by showing a (very short) list of simply-named Apple products contrasted with products available from other well known companies. When was the last time you heard someone say “Oh I just LOVE my Acer R3-131T-P73T”? Yeah.

Use common sense.

Remember, keeping things simple is something you do for your customers, not for yourself. To a tech head, hearing all the specs of a phone in minute detail can be exciting. But to the rest of us, we want to know in simple language what it can do for us (and how easily). When I was shopping for a laptop last year, some sales people spoke to me about RAM and solid state drives and screen resolution. But the guy I ended up buying from confirmed my choice would be fast and it would do what I needed, which is all I really needed to know.

Words matter.

Following on from the above, the words you choose to express yourself, share your core message, or describe your new product, are important. One of my current favourite examples is (appropriately) easy versus simple – on the surface, these two words are interchangeable but the nuances of each mean you need to carefully select which you use.


Distill your message, descriptions, and so on, to the fewest possible number of words. Ken’s example was from an iPod campaign, “1000 songs in your pocket.” This campaign could have listed how many MB an iPod has, or described the innovative little wheely-thingy, or talked about the screen, but all of that is secondary. In 5 words I know I can take a whole lot of my music anywhere, and now I want it.

How to incorporate simplicity.

While these principles are easy to describe, Ken did acknowledge that they can be quite difficult to apply. Here are my tips to incorporate simplicity into your products, messages, and processes.

Simplicity of message

As per point 5 above, to create a simple message you must distill it down to the essentials. This applies to business marketing, for sure, but we can benefit from simplifying all of our communications. Whether it’s emails at work, having an important conversation with a loved one, or explaining a new idea to someone, if you can get to the essence of your message without extraneous details, all parties will benefit.

This is particularly true of difficult conversations, in person or over email. When we feel as though we are going to upset someone or let them down we are tempted to over-explain, to reassure, and so on. Often this is unnecessary and will undermine your message, too. Be kind, but be brief.

If you’re trying to explain a new idea or product, do like Apple do – use human, everyday language, keep it short, and focus on the benefit to the other person, not necessarily what you love about it.

Simplicity of process

Implementing a concrete process around something can be beneficial because it ensures that you complete all the steps and keep key people in the loop.

If your process is too complicated or involves too many people though it can be detrimental to your aim. Examine your processes to see if there’s anywhere you can cut some fat.

Sometimes, a complex process will take longer to follow than the time it was supposed to save and is therefore inefficient. If it feels like you’re wasting time on a process, perhaps filling out paperwork or duplicating steps, look closely at each step and assess its usefulness. What would happen if you eliminated some? You want to get down to the minimum number of steps that will still produce the desired outcome.

If your process involves too many people it becomes hard to get stuff done. Even if people have good intentions, they still need time to assess the item, check it off, and pass it along. The other potential problem is that more people equals more opinions which can result in too much time spent discussing the pros and cons of a new idea before anything happens on it.

For example, Ken spoke about some larger companies that spent time developing two or three ad campaign concepts, assessing them, testing them, tweaking them, testing them again, and so on, while Apple chose a concept and tried it. Each time probably spent the same amount of time and money, but Apple has an advertising campaign while the others haven’t even put anything to market yet. Sure, an Apple ad campaign might flop, but at least they’ve learned lessons they can implement next time.

Simplicity of product

If you’re creating a product (which could be a commercial product, or it could be a meal, a gift, or a blog post) it can be tempting to pack it full of flavour. You want to give the most bang for your audience’s buck, but too much pizzazz can become overwhelming and turn people off. Even with Apple’s commitment to simplicity, I bet there are apps and features on your phone or iPad that you don’t use.

It’s usually the first piece of advice offered about crafting a blog post or article; present one main idea per post. A simple and well-chosen gift can be more meaningful than 4 bits of stuff chosen just so you had something to give.

When it comes to creating a product, stick to one thing: one idea, one benefit, one desired action. You can include additional bits and pieces that support your main aim, but don’t veer too far from your one thing. If you have a lot to offer, make more products! But resist the temptation to cram everything into one spot if it doesn’t naturally fit well together.

What’s one thing you could simplify right now? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. I read the Jobs biography earlier this year and thought it was fantastic. You can read my thoughts here.