Why simple is extremely effective
It often perplexes me how many organisations fail to address the basics. It’s easy to get caught up in the latest fads without proper planning. Pokémon Go is a prime example: from craze, to crazy growth, to rapid decline. Short, sweet and pretty much dead.
Don’t get me wrong, I love innovation – especially as a marketer, but I believe that you need to have a solid foundation before you can do all the fancy stuff. Trust me, I’d love to play with augmented reality, but if your basics are not there, the gap will widen between what you’re promising and what you can actually deliver.
A few years ago, I met Ken Segall, author and advertising guru who famously named the Apple ‘i’ products. He was presenting at an alumni event in Melbourne. One thing resonated and has stuck with me ever since: “Keep it simple. It is harder to do simple than complex”. This blatantly obvious piece of advice should be a Breadfruit; a fundamental ingredient in our marketing. But too often we overlook the basics, introduce complexity and miss the mark. Simplicity is a challenge, which is why I classify this story as my Starfruit.
Coming into my current role as Business Partner, International at La Trobe University Australia, was at first a bit like walking into ground zero. The latest restructure had decimated the international marketing communications landscape and left the international recruitment team in a difficult position. I remember coming home and thinking, "Where on earth do I start? How does this place work?"
I remember thinking, "Where on earth do I start?"
I would classify myself as a good problem solver, and after a few days of contemplation I thought, "I’ve just finished an MBA unit on Business Consulting; let’s put it into practice!"
First step: understand the problem, and we did have big problems. We had no basics.
In my career, I’ve worked in a lot of different markets, but I have to say I have never worked as intimately with any other as I have with China. This story will focus on the journey to rebuild China.
I will admit, I was at first a little daunted by the task at hand, and how far behind we were. What is really needed in China from a marketing comms perspective? How would I do this in a highly complex and sophisticated market which is completely different to any other? Plus, I don’t speak Chinese!
Information search (market research):
A few things in my favour: I love to learn, love to travel and I love finding out about new cultures and the way things work. I am by nature a curious person.
I started with desktop research at work and at home (late nights with a glass of red) and asking the international team for insights and questioning them constantly. It became apparent that if I was to understand this market, I needed to be there.
Do your research. And look at more than one source. In my experience, talking to internal teams and conducting desktop research will only get you so far. Live and breathe your market, visit the country, get firsthand experience and meet with a variety of stakeholders on the ground – not just your ‘go to’ people.
Actively listen. Ignore popular maxims, be objective and ask clarifying questions. It is easy to slip into personal and cultural biases. I found the Chinese people to be very ‘polite’ and not willing to openly provide negative feedback to save face. I had to be tactful in finding ways to draw it out.
Evaluate the options:
My report took about two weeks to develop post-trip as I analysed all the information and condensed it into an insightful, concise format. The biggest challenge was to remove the complexity of all the information and simplify it, focusing on key pieces of intelligence that would be practical for a marketing strategy. In the end, I had a pretty simple list of insights and recommendations, which presented some very basic solutions.
Look for patterns. There will be key themes that come up over and over in slightly different variations. Analyse and understand it, as these insights are often the most powerful.
From here I had a pretty clear picture of what we needed to do. It was time for the strategy.
Strategic development and solutions
The marketing strategy for China was by no means revolutionary, it was really Marketing 101. It consisted of:
- Creating brand awareness.
- Developing materials in language for our events, agents and parents.
- Opening communication channels in mediums that were appropriate for our target market.
- Creating a strong digital presence.
- Supporting our partners.
The strategy was all about understanding and meeting the needs of the market. It focused on providing our target audiences with what they wanted, in a way they wanted it, and when they wanted it.
Two key initiatives were the above-the-line advertising campaigns and the launch of our social media channels (see the samples in the image gallery below!).
Do it: implementation
The development of the advertising campaign was extremely challenging. This was because all other elements needed to be developed at the same time to support the lead generation activity.
There was no point spending the money to have the back-end fall over (i.e. nowhere for the leads to go or a lack of information if students searched for us). I had to think about the end-to-end – leads to conversion and all the in-between. Adding to the challenge was that everything needed to be in language. No English. At the same time, we were developing the WeChat platform for our social engagement to not only support the campaigns but to use as a longer-term tool.
This strategy was all about providing the right information to the audience at the right time, using the right channels. The challenge with simplicity is you need to work harder for it. We needed a small A-team that had the right skills, and were going to be dedicated and committed to the project. I was lucky enough to have it.
We needed a small A-team that had the right skills, and were going to be dedicated and committed to the project.
Action and implement. I always say that any great strategy is only as good as its execution. There is no point having a great strategy if it only sits on a piece of paper. Bring it to life, inspire your colleagues and stay focused.
Evaluate your activities and strategy. I’ve always been an intuitive person, I had a strong gut feel that all this would work, and work well, in China. However, when the results came in, I was a little surprised.
When the results came in, I was a little surprised.
The Chinese webpages are now outperforming our domestic pages. Although looking at the population of China this shouldn’t be surprising, we’re comparing this against a well-informed domestic audience who use university sites all the time. This is an amazing result.
We well and truly exceeded benchmarks across all engagement metrics. People actually know who we are now. As China is a longer-term market, I expect to see impact on applications later this year and early next year, but so far it is promising.
We still have a little way to go on our WeChat and Weibo channels. I would like more followers but I am confident that over time this will build.
Review and learn. Avoid getting caught in the trap of thinking, ‘job done, move on, what’s next?’ Take the time to look at what you did and what could be optimised for next time. Look not only at what didn’t work and why, but also what worked and why? Don’t be afraid to adapt and be patient.
As a professional, my equation for success is: ‘Simple = Effective = Results’. I hope you found some takeaways in this Starfruit story.