Archive for June, 2012

One message is better than five

June 8, 2012

Ken Segall, a creative ad man who worked with Steve Jobs through the heyday of building the Apple brand, has an idea worth considering in investor relations:

Minimize your messaging.

Segall came up with the “i” in the iMac brand (which led to iPod, iPhone, iPad …) and worked on memorable campaigns for Apple and other leading companies. Segall’s book Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success came out this spring and is a good read for people involved in telling their companies’ story.

“Think minimal” is an idea at the core of Apple’s simplicity, Segall says. For example, Apple offers five choices of computers rather than dozens of variations sold by HP or Dell. Segall spoke Thursday at the Mid-America Corporate Growth Conference hosted by Association for Corporate Growth in Kansas City.

Minimalism works in getting your message across, too, he says. From the book:

Human beings are a funny lot. Give them one idea and they nod their heads. Give them five and they simply scratch their heads. Or even worse, they foreget you mentioned all those ideas in the first place.

Minimizing is the key to making a point stick. … Your point will be more quickly understood, and more easily remembered, if you don’t clutter it up with other points.

When talking to investors, our temptation in IR is to unleash a tsunami of facts. More details in the earnings release, more slides, more bullet points, more pages. We want to overwhelm doubts by flooding people with every piece of information.

Though Segall’s expertise is in marketing consumer goods, he’s right when he urges us “Don’t bury your fact in facts.”

Segall tells a story of discussing an ad with Steve Jobs for an iMac computer. Jobs considered four or five major facts critical to the ad – and thought 30 seconds was plenty of time to make these key points. Segall’s ad-agency boss, Lee Clow, tore off several sheets of paper and wadded them up into little balls.

Taking one ball, Clow said “Here, Steve, catch,” and tossed the ball to the client – who caught it. “That’s a good ad,” Clow said.

“Now catch this,” the ad man said – tossing five balls at once across the table. Jobs couldn’t prevent paper balls from bouncing all over the place – and caught none. “That’s a bad ad,” Clow said. And Jobs was convinced.

So next time we’re working on the quarterly release, or slide deck for the road show, let’s try to remember. As Segall says:

People will always respond better to a single idea expressed clearly. They tune out when Complexity begins to speak instead.

Yeah, yeah, I know. In investor relations, we have a lot of information we must get across to the audience. A lot, even, that we’re required to communicate. But the principle of simplicity holds true. Advice we should heed: Less is more.

© 2012 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.