Jeff Jones

What does Target stand for, and what role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

The Target brand stands for great value, which is expressed through our brand promise: “expect more, pay less.” It’s the combination of those two ideas that truly differentiates us from other retailers.

Simplicity plays many roles in this. At the highest order, simplicity guides what we sell—our guests trust us to scour the world and find the best products at reasonable prices.

Simplicity also impacts our store layout design. We use the racetrack, an aisle that helps people navigate the store and different departments. And we position products strategically based on customer needs. For example, we put women’s ready-to-wear near children’s products so a mother who’s shopping for her family can easily find other products that are relevant to her. This design helps people discover new products they wouldn’t have otherwise.


How do you strive to create simple experiences within Target?

We start with the belief that being simple is good, not bad. I think many people in corporations think they’re creating value by making things complicated.

There’s a book that was given to me called Obvious Adams. It’s a story about an advertising person who was unafraid to say what was obvious. It’s not easy for people to see that the simple solution is often the best. Our job as leaders is to simplify.

For example, I created a simple framework for initiatives based on three questions: What’s the problem, what’s the guest insight and what’s the idea? If a person on our team can’t answer those three things clearly, no amount of homework or research matters.


What are the challenges of creating simple experiences for customers?

Being simple is an extraordinary skill—it means taking lots of ideas, possibilities, and challenges and distilling them into the essence of what matters most. This is being lost among generations of marketers whose education emphasizes technical skills like data analysis and underemphasizes the strategic art of simplifying.


How do you strive to conquer complexity within Target?

It’s important to be a model and be unafraid to be the person that says the most obvious thing. Embrace it along with the power of clarity. My role is really to bring hope and lucidity to the team.


What benefits has Target experienced from simplifying?

Part of my role is head of communications for Target, which includes team member communications. This requires communicating with hundreds of thousands of employees in a way that sticks. One of our teams came up with the concept of Target Briefly, a newsletter sent every morning to every team, that includes three things no one knows—what we’re working on as a firm, mistakes we made, etc. It has become our most successful internal communication and changed the way we connect as a company.

We’ve also gotten great benefits from the Cartwheel app, which helps people find products they want and save money. It’s personalized, has a gaming component and is easy to use. And it has helped drive more than three billion dollars in sales for Target.


What’s the most recent, simple customer experience you’ve had?

I had an unbelievable order pickup experience at Apple. I was able to make the purchase on my phone, received a QR code that was stored in my Apple Wallet and get a message when my order was ready. When I arrived at the Apple store, a team member scanned my QR code. While the item was being retrieved, my payment was processed and by the time I signed the receipt digitally, an employee was there with my MacBooks offering to carry them to my car. It was the absolute benchmark for order pickup.


What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to executives trying to simplify?

Shift your frame of reference from simplicity as an “aspiration” to “it’s my job.” Then it becomes the most important job you have and a strategic priority.

Put metrics in place that demonstrate whether you’re delivering simple experiences for customers and employees (e.g., workplace productivity and the Net Promoter Score). Find opportunities to celebrate and acknowledge the people who deliver wonderfully simple solutions to problems.

The bottom line is that it’s hard to simplify. You have to be willing to make sacrifices and prioritize some things over others. This is where brands make their biggest mistake: they lose sight of what matters to the people they’re serving. When you do what you think you should do, as opposed to what your buyer needs you to do, you make poor decisions. Some people say the customer doesn’t really know what solution he needs. Don’t look to the customer for the solution, look to them for the problem to solve.


This interview of Jeff Jones, EVP and chief marketing officer of Target, was conducted, edited and condensed by Margaret Molloy.


Andrea Riley

What does Ally stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

The brand is positioned around this idea of being a relentless ally for our customers. We offer financial services products that are integral to our customers’ lives and financial well-being. We empower our customers financially.


How specifically do you empower your customers?

We invest in tools that make the financial process easier for customers. For example, we have 24/7 customer service. On our website, we list call wait times for our call centers.

We have a tool on our website called the dejargonator. Financial terms can be hard for people to understand, so if you come across a term that’s confusing, you can hover your mouse over it and we’ll explain it in plain English.


What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

We launched our brand amid the great recession seven years ago. When we launched, we said the world doesn’t need another bank, it needs a better bank. Our ongoing promise is to solve for customer pain points, many of which revolve around complexity in the financial services sector. Simplicity is at the core of everything this brand was built on.


What are the challenges of creating simple experiences for customers?

Creating simple experiences can be expensive. For example, when we launched, many people expressed that they didn’t like offshore call centers. So we made all our call centers domestic.


What benefits has your company experienced from simplifying?

The benefit has been tremendous growth in a short amount of time. We have over a million customers, $62 billion in deposits in 7 years.

Another significant benefit is our brand has become the hallmark for customer service. We like to say we created emotion in a category that was emotionless by delivering a simple, pain-free, intuitive experience to our customers.


Who are your customers?

Our customers likely have accounts with multiple banks. You might have your checking account at a large bank, and your savings with us. We’re also the largest auto lender in the country.


How do you personally lead as a simplifier?

We’ve streamlined processes. Instead of heavy governance and multiple layers of approvals, we’ve designed an efficient workflow whereby plans are set at the beginning of each year, and people have the autonomy to move things forward.

I also practice what I preach by maintaining my own work-life balance, reminding the team that life comes first and work second. Colleagues have the option to work from home.


What’s an example of a simple customer experience you’ve had recently?

I’m working from home today, and this morning we lost power. I first thought the process of contacting the electric company—Consumers Power—would be miserable, but my experience was so pleasant: on their website they had a simple procedure where you put in your phone number and address, reported your problem and they texted you updates on the progress of restarting your power throughout the day.


What’s the top advice you’d give other brands trying to simplify?

Deliver the experience you’d want as a customer.


Why do you think it’s so difficult for companies to operationalize simplicity?

Simplicity can be expensive and difficult to implement, especially for mature companies that have legacy processes. Companies are around to make profit, and plans to simplify often don’t show instant return, so they can be difficult to justify.


How front and center was simplicity at the inception of Ally?

Very much so—complexity was a huge part of the business opportunity we saw. Financial services was ripe for disruption—there was a huge opportunity to simplify, speak in human terms, and deliver products and services that people need in order to control their finances.


How do you keep simplicity front and center?

Simplicity is a competitive advantage. Now it’s harder and harder to maintain because everyone’s after simplicity now—not only have people seen the success we’ve had, but customers are demanding simplicity, which has made it a cost of entry.

We’re maintaining simplicity by focusing on our brand tenets—do right, tirelessly innovate and obsess over the customer—and relentlessly delivering on them.


Is there anything else brands should keep in mind when simplifying?

Don’t just compare yourself to other brands in your category; compare yourself to other best-in-class brands.


What’s the biggest mistake brands make regarding simplifying?

Brands often assume too much. They don’t ever really go out and ask people what they want. Ally has customer panels we reach out to on a regular basis, especially around new product launches, and adjust accordingly based on the input we receive.


What does simplicity mean to you?

Simple experiences are those that work the way you expect them to work, the way they should work.


This interview of Andrea Riley, chief marketing officer of Ally Financial Inc., was conducted, edited and condensed by Margaret Molloy.


Seth Farbman

What does your brand stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

We say at Spotify that we are for music fans and by music fans. What the brand stands for is a connection between artists who seek audiences and audiences who seek artists.


What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

The experience has to be highly intuitive; it has to feel like Spotify already knows who you are in order to enable discovery. When you have that simple and tailored experience, you get the feeling that Spotify knows you better than you may even know yourself, which makes you want to come back over and over.


How does Spotify strive to create simple experiences?

First, we believe that if you have an organizational structure that’s simple, you’ll usually have a simple outcome. We’re structured for autonomy, which allows people to feel like they own their part of the user experience from start to finish. We keep teams small and focused.


What benefits have have Spotify experienced from simplifying?

We’ve seen deep engagement, passion and love for our brand and its products. The sense of connection between music fans and Spotify transcends what most companies and brands have.


What metrics indicate that Spotify and its customers have that deep connection?

The amount of time music fans listen to Spotify, the positive engagement on social media and our Net Promoter Scores. And of course the organic growth we achieve through the greatest of all marketing channels—word of mouth.


How do you lead as a simplifier?

We’ve adopted a squad structure—with small teams—so everyone has a simple goal to focus on.

I also lead with the notion that we should first improve the experience for the customers we already have, and then find ways to encourage those customers to share their experiences. We’ve found this to be a powerful customer acquisition tool.


What’s the most recent simple customer experience you’ve had?

I had a great experience when I set up what I feared to be a complicated home audio system. I had committed an entire day to setting up my Sonos, which in the end took about half an hour. Not only was it simple to set up, but it was fun.


What do you think c-level executives need to do to operationalize simplicity?

You need a system. Process enables creativity, and constraints are the mother of invention. Be rigid about your process and allow complete freedom within that framework.


What’s the top piece of advice you’d give other brands trying to simplify?

Prioritize simplicity as an outcome. Your customers lead busy lives and carry anxiety with them throughout their day. So you should strive to give your customer the feeling that you know and care about them.

Use simplicity as an approach to structuring your team. People thrive when they understand the mission of the team. That level of clarity improves the quality of work and employee satisfaction. So try new ways of structuring the team, and don’t be afraid to get it wrong. You’ll know you have it right when there isn’t much friction and people feel motivated.


Can the same people in a new team structure get the job done, or do you sometimes need different people?

Both. However, fluid structures aren’t for everyone. In many businesses, especially ours, things move so fast that all you know about tomorrow is that it’s going to be different from today.


At Spotify, do you make simplicity a deliberate focus? And how do you define it?

Yes. I think of simplicity as providing everything you want and nothing you don’t. I think of simplicity as being highly useful.


Why do you think it’s so difficult for the majority of companies to deliver simple experiences?

It’s difficult with so many legacy systems to prioritize simplicity. There’s an especially great risk of this at successful companies, because the thing that brought them success initially may not be what brings them success again.


What are the biggest mistakes brands make regarding simplifying?

I think they’re hurting themselves when they play it safe and follow a path of improvement along iteration. They should step back every now and then and ask, “Is what we offer customers still useful to them?” Ask this about the product, the way you communicate and employ data to understand your customer.


Is simplicity a lost cause for established companies?

No, it’s attainable—although it requires greater focus, more bravery and greater investment to achieve. It’s a price you have to pay for success. If the company is successful for a period of time, there’s a high cost to reinvent yourself, whereas a company that hasn’t been around for a while, like Spotify, may reinvent itself every two years.


This interview of Seth Farbman, chief marketing officer of Spotify, was conducted, edited and condensed by Margaret Molloy.


Deborah Wahl

What does McDonald’s stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

We’re aligned around a global purpose: making delicious feel-good moments easy for everyone. Having this brand purpose helps us determine how we manage operations and the way we deliver service to our guests.


What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

A key role. Today’s consumer is inundated with information. We try to make their lives simpler in a few ways.

First, we’ve simplified our menu. Previously, we were trying to deliver everything the consumer wanted and the menu got unwieldy. Having too many choices was stressful for customers. So we simplified, going back to the basics of what our guests love.

Second, we’ve focused our marketing strategy on developing bigger and simpler marketing platforms. We used to launch a new offer each month with a new idea, name and platform. This was confusing, so we started focusing on consistent platforms that offer the variety consumers want in a consistent way they can keep track of.

Third, we’re simplifying the food itself. From what’s in the food—eliminating artificial colors, preservatives and hormones—to how we prepare it—only using freshly cracked eggs and fresh fruit.


What are the challenges in creating simple experiences for guests?

In retail, it’s often new offerings that bring people in. But if you have too many new offerings, it confuses guests. We’re exploring ways to serve that craving for the newest thing in an organized fashion. Despite the fact that news drives traffic, people also crave consistency.


What are the benefits McDonald’s is experiencing around simplifying?

By simplifying, we’ve seen increased crew productivity, a better product and ultimately a better guest experience.

Simplicity has a big effect financially as well. From increased sales because customers respond positively to products, to decreased spend on advertising and superfluous initiatives. Simplifying eliminates waste that comes with inefficiency and allows you to focus on what makes the biggest impact.


How do you strive to keep things simple for your Marketing team?

We recently took a step back to look at the entire customer experience and realized that a unique brand voice is more important than ever, especially now that we have so many channels of communication. As we fluidly communicate across channels, we work to ensure our brand voice remains consistent and strong.


How do you lead as a simplifier?

I’ve invested in building a sturdy marketing communication architecture. It’s important to be clear on process and brand voice. This goes back to the Marine philosophy: You have the mission and the purpose, but you don’t tell people how to do their job every step of the way, you give them a framework and they know how to get the job done.


What’s the most recent simple customer experience you’ve had?

I love what United Airlines has been doing. I travel a lot and have found that United has done a great job of personalizing their services—like menu and seating options—according to travelers’ needs.


What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to other brands trying to simplify?

Always start with the aim of creating value for your customer. Keep the brand strategy and customer journey top of mind. Don’t be distracted by different channels—in most cases, the same customers are using all the channels. Look at the customer journey in a holistic way.


What do you think c-level executives need to do to operationalize simplicity?

Simplicity has to be a goal the entire organization works toward. Simplicity comes when you focus on what has the biggest impact, and align all departments and resources around pursuing it. Bring simplicity into the conversation around performance objectives and how resources are allocated. Give your team permission to get rid of the little projects in favor of focusing on the bigger things.


What’s the biggest mistake brands make regarding simplifying?

It’s easy to prioritize the wrong thing. For example, we offer lots of sauces to accompany our Chicken McNuggets. The data said hot mustard was the least popular so we eliminated it. Well, we didn’t realize how passionate the hot mustard fans were. When we eliminated it, there was a massive outcry on social media. So we brought it back.


How would you define simplicity?

In the marketing context, simplicity is focusing on what adds the most value to your customer.


This interview of Deborah Wahl, chief marketing officer of McDonald’s USA, was conducted, edited and condensed by Margaret Molloy.

Marketing Director

Mark Evans

What does Direct Line stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise?

Direct Line stands for being a fixer: our staff are fixers, we fix things. We deliver on this across the whole matrix of customer experience.

For 20 years, all providers talked about was price and the process of buying insurance, rather than the point of need.

To activate on our promise, we helped show our frontline staff that they’re fixers, and help them feel proud of what they do: they get stuff done, they don’t let you down, they make it happen. It’s a simple thought everyone can understand.


What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

Fixing things in a simple and pragmatic way is not easy. For example, in the past, it may have taken three weeks to get your car repaired. Recently, we’ve digitized the process so we guarantee it will take seven days maximum or we’ll pay you 10 pounds a day. We’re simplifying the insurance process for the customer—but in order to do that, a lot of work goes into the back end.


What are the challenges in creating simple customer experiences, and how have you overcome them?

The problems that previously would have taken weeks and days to solve, we’re now fixing in hours and minutes. That’s a challenge. How do you lead as a simplifier? I lead with the understanding that consumers have busy lives. So if you’re going to get through to them, you need to keep it really simple.


How have you operationalized simplicity at Direct Line?

We link our goals to our brand promise of being fixers. And we made the Net Promoter Score a key part of everyone’s bonus, so people care explicitly about customer outcomes.


What’s the most compelling simple experience you’ve had as a consumer recently?

I think it’s brilliant how Fitbit has gamified their experience and made the UX perfect. In the wearables space, there’s a low tolerance for things not working because it’s on your body.


Why do so many c-levels struggle to implement simplicity?

There’s an inherent belief that surely things can’t be that simple. People believe for me to personally put my stamp on something, it can’t be simple or else it negates the need for my intelligence. But humility is a good thing.

Marketing executives often believe competitive advantage comes from something complicated and hard to copy, as opposed to from something that’s simple.


What piece of advice would you give other brands that want to simplify?

Marketing hasn’t changed. The craze around social, mobile and digital obscure the fact that the basics of Marketing haven’t changed. It’s about finding what consumers want, challenging the organization to deliver it as simply as possible and telling consumers that they can have it.


What does simplicity mean to you?

I love the paradox: The bigger the market, the bigger the challenge, the greater the disruption you want to cause, the more “simple” you need to be.


What’s the biggest mistake brands are making regarding simplifying?

Knowing when to get in the way and when to get out of the way. Multichannel is a big conundrum. You want to provide convenience and let consumers do whatever they want, on whatever channel, at whatever time. But at the same time you can confuse them.


What’re the key indicators that simplicity is driving your business?

We track metrics such as how quickly we fix problems, customer satisfaction and whether customers feel we’re on their side. And we’re market leading on these metrics.


This interview of Mark Evans, marketing director of Direct Line Group, was conducted, edited and condensed by Margaret Molloy.


Matt Jauchius

What does Hertz stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

We deliver a car rental experience that we believe is second to none. Our target customers value time to an incredible extent. Our ability to deliver a simple experience that minimizes time booking and picking up is of the utmost importance.

That being said, we are not at all satisfied with where we are today. We’re proud of what we do for our customers but we don’t just compare ourselves to other car rental companies, we compare ourselves to best-in-class companies. We see opportunities to improve our customer experience.


How are you evolving your customer experience?

There are many pain points in the car rental category: it’s not fun dropping off your car, it’s not fun making sure you get your receipt so you can expense your travel, it’s especially not fun filling up the tank with gas before you return it. We have innovations underway for each of these tasks. You can now drive your car to the lot, park it and leave without checking in—we’ll check you in and email the receipt.


How far do you think you’ve come in terms of simplicity?

Was it Robert Frost who said “I have miles to go before I sleep”? We’ve come a long way, but we have miles to go before we sleep.


What advice would you give other brands embarking on the journey to simplify?

Focus on the customer and what’s important to them. Companies are often focused on their internal goals. Customers don’t care about that. Instead, eliminate every distraction between what customers want and what your brand offers.


How do you define simplicity?

No wasted motion. I apply that framework to everything.


What do c-level executives need to do to operationalize simplicity?

Keep customer truths as a lens to guide decisions. For an organization like yours, what are the obstacles to simplicity? Achieving simplicity is expensive and challenging. While it can be cost-effective once you’re there, the interim can be costly. Additionally, simplicity is a lot like losing weight: it’s easy to say how to do it, but difficult to achieve.


What gives you confidence that simplicity is important to keep in mind when it comes to the customer experience?

There’s an emotional feeling simplicity engenders, ease, which is closely linked to purchase decision satisfaction. When a consumer makes a choice to try your brand and their experience is simple, they think, this brand is for me.


What organizational changes need to be made if you believe in infusing a culture of simplicity?

We’ve rigorously instituted the Net Promoter Score (NPS) throughout our organization. Everyone at Hertz is focused on the NPS, and it factors into our compensation. Additionally, we have customer councils—large cross-functional groups of people who get together at multiple levels to discuss the customer experience.


What are the key indicators that simplicity is driving your business forward?

Loyalty and the NPS are big ones. We also use operational metrics that are linked to simplicity, like speed of service—we measure how long it takes for someone to be served, from the time they come in to the time they drive out. Clean cars and short wait times have greatly enhanced the NPS.


Why do you think it’s difficult for many companies to deliver simple experiences?

Three reasons: First, it’s not easy to understand what the customer wants because the customer is not always able to tell you. Second, the whole ecosystem has to support simplicity. And third, it’s hard to accomplish simplicity, especially when there are competing incentives.


What mistakes do people make regarding simplicity?

One would be failure to align around a central customer metric. NPS isn’t perfect, but it helps us move our goals forward. If a company doesn’t align around a central metric and doesn’t prioritize it, for example, by paying people for it, change won’t happen.


What’s the most recent simple customer experience you’ve had that inspired you?

Starbucks—it’s amazing that their app stores my morning coffee order, allows me to preorder it and by the time I arrive at the shop it’s waiting for me freshly brewed. This interview of


Matt Jauchius, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of The Hertz Corporation, was conducted, edited and condensed by Margaret Molloy.

Chief Customer Officer

Liza Landsman

VP of Marketing

Sumaiya Balbale

What does your brand stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

Liza: Jet.com stands for transparency and fairness in e-commerce. We deliver on this by designing an experience that reveals the hidden “levers” in e-commerce—for example, disclosing the cost of returns and allowing the customer to waive his right to free returns to save money on a purchase. This brings transparency and empowerment to the customer.


How do you try to create simple experiences within your organization?

Sumaiya: We’re a startup, and part of being successful as a new brand is focusing on where we can have the biggest impact. From the get-go, we organized ourselves around the goal of delivering a great user experience.

Liza: We’ve had strong discipline around only innovating where we need to innovate. Sometimes there’s a temptation to rethink every aspect of an experience, but our working mantra is to be innovative about the things that are going to create meaningful value for the customer.


What are the challenges in creating a simple experience for customers?

Liza: Simple is challenging. It forces you to consolidate and make hard choices about what matters most.

Sumaiya: At Jet.com there’s a lot of complex work going on behind the scenes. It’s tempting to explain the details of how it works so customers know why we’re unique. As a marketer, we have to resist that urge and simply communicate your point of differentiation.


Is simplicity something you actively discuss and value at Jet.com?

Sumaiya: We’ve been discussing simplicity since before we launched. The Marketing team’s goal is to filter our story down to a simple set of messages without condescending to the customer. We believe our customers are smart, and have the ability to understand the value proposition we’re putting forward. But we also understand that they lead busy lives, and Jet.com isn’t the number-one thing on their minds.


How do you strive to conquer complexity at Jet.com?

Liza: We break all problems down into small components, allowing us to solve them faster with fewer people. We have a squad-based organizational structure—for example, a small group of people works on checkout. This allows employees to develop subject-matter expertise and not have a cast of thousands always weighing-in.

Also, we have a strong bias toward decision-making. I’ve seen other large organizations that also had this bias, but also a bias to re-decide. At Jet.com, when we decide, we go.


Marketing is getting to be a complicated discipline—how do you keep things simple on your Marketing team?

Sumaiya: One of the biggest challenges and opportunities marketers face is the immense amount of data that’s now available. You can get lost in all that data, and it won’t necessarily lead to the best outcome. We focus on staying in touch with the metrics that matter, and keeping them simple and contained. When using data, we ask: will this information lead me to act differently?


What are the key indicators that simplicity is driving your business forward?

Liza: At Jet.com we’ve used simplicity to tell our story. In a world of practically infinite stimuli, you need to find a message or two that resonates with consumers and connect with them on that. This demands simplicity and consistency.


Why do you think it’s difficult for companies to deliver on simplicity?

Sumaiya: No one wants to be the company that got left behind. When there’s so much innovation happening, to stick with something that’s working is a risk. Because of that, it’s hard for people to avoid chasing the bright shiny object. It’s that tension—making sure you’re moving the brand forward but not at a pace that creates confusion for customers.


What’re the biggest mistakes brands are making regarding simplifying?

Sumaiya: Brands sometimes take simplicity to a stark, transactional or personality-free zone. That’s something to avoid. Customers are looking for simple experiences and delightful is part of that.


What’s the most recent, simple customer experience you’ve had personally?

Liza: Dark Sky Weather, the app. Weather isn’t necessarily fun, but Dark Sky makes it easy to digest lots of information with simple visuals. And it has a map of the globe that you can spin to see the weather anywhere in the world, which gives you this dopamine kick.

Sumaiya: This is a boring answer, but I love Google Maps. I use it constantly. They’ve taken the world of maps and given people the ability to use it in the simplest way.


What does simplicity mean to you?

Sumaiya: For me, simplicity is about the absence of clutter and unnecessary distraction.

Liza: Distillation of understanding your customers’ needs. When he created the Pietà, Michelangelo said he had to find the statue in the stone. With simplicity, you have to get rid of all the distracting and excess stuff around it to reveal the truth.


This interview of Sumaiya Balbale, vice president of marketing and Liza Landsman, chief customer officer of Jet.com, was conducted, edited and condensed by Margaret Molloy.


John Costello

What is your role, and what are you personally responsible for within your organization?

I’m the president of global marketing and innovation. This encompasses advertising, marketing digital, social, mobile, R&D, culinary, and consumer products business.


How do you measure your personal success?

Success boils down to three things: Strength of brand equity for both Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins brands; growing profitable sales for franchisees; and growing profitable sales for Dunkin brands.  


What does your brand stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

“America runs on Dunkin’” is more than just a slogan, it’s our brand purpose. Our goal is to get customers running in the morning and keep them running all day long with great coffee, beverages and food, at great value, in convenient locations.  


What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

I’m a big believer in simplicity. One of the keys to brand marketing success is to build strong differentiation for your brand, and I define brand differentiation as providing the answer to the question, “why should customers choose your brand over all others?” In my career, I’ve found successful brand have a simple brand premise and that the strongest brand differentiation can be summarized in a simple but relevant context. In too many cases, brand marketers complicate their premise. We put lots of emphasis on boiling down to the core. For Baskin Robbins, for example, it’s a simple premise of making people happy: more flavors = more fun. It’s helping people recapture the fun they had as a child searching for a favorite flavor.  


How does your organization strive to create simple experiences? Please provide a specific example?

For example, our culinary and product development efforts are focused on creating differentiated products that are easy for franchisees to make, quick to prepare, and very portable for the customer. There’s an example of where getting people going morning and keeping them running all day is a fundamental premise of R&D and product development efforts. We work closely with franchisees to give them training on hiring and employee retention. Much of our success is based on great customer experiences our franchisees provide. We are known for intense loyalty—we’ve won Brand Keys for 9 years running, and part of that is the intense loyalty consumers feel for their local Dunkin’ Donuts. Franchisees know their cities, towns, and neighborhoods more than anyone – connecting with customers on a one to one basis is critical to the success of our brand.  


What are the challenges creating simple experiences for customers? One could argue about the complexity of serving fresh food and beverages. Each cup of coffee and sandwich is prepared fresh for every customer. Food service is actually a complicated business, particularly when you try to apply speed, value and simplicity into the experience. We also introduced 40 new Dunkin’ Donuts products in the U.S. last year. But providing a simple guest experience can be very compelling. When you stop for breakfast at a Dunkin’ Donuts, you can get coffee, sandwich, or donut quickly. Simplicity and speed of customer experience is an important, along with cost and convenience.  


How do you strive to conquer complexity within your own company?

We have both a consumer and a customer. Consumers are the end users, while the franchisees are our customers. So we are developing in-store experiences critical to the consumer, but easy for our franchisees to implement. The Dunkin’ Donuts app has more than 11 million downloads in 2 years, and the DD Perks loyalty program has 3 million in just more than a year. We built a mobile app that was not only very compelling for consumers, but that could be handled by our restaurant crews in store, in a simple way. We did a fair amount of consumer testing to ensure it was easy to use, but also operational testing to make sure it could be implemented in our restaurants and didn’t slow up the drive-thru..  


What benefits has your company experienced from simplifying?

I think there are several benefits for us, and for customers. We built the mobile app based on features the customers told us they wanted. This includes the ability to pay with our mobile app and a store locator. We were also one of the first to launch a bilingual app in Spanish, and we layered that on with a compelling DD Perks program that provides meaningful incentives for our most loyal customers.  


How do you strive to keep things “simple” for your marketing team every day? What’s working?

We focus on fewer, bigger things—it’s a mantra we have. Find out what makes a difference and eliminate the little things that create a clutter. We get people to focus on the 3-5 things in their area that make a difference, and ignore the noise.  


How overt is the focus on simplicity?

Very overt. Sometimes we refer to it as simplicity and sometimes we just call it focusing on what is most important to customers and franchisees. We are interested in focusing our efforts on the most important things required for growing a profitable business, while differentiating our brands. Focus and simplicity are cornerstones of that. We try to avoid the course of “incrementalism” — which is making every little thing better than the previous year – and instead focus on a few things that will make the biggest difference.  


What’s the most recent, simple customer experience you’ve had personally (e.g., product, service experience, etc.)?

I purchased new glasses on Warby Parker it was a fantastic experience. I make a practice of visiting different retail outlets across the country, and I was intrigued by their store in Atlanta. My first experience was with their website, which was highly curated and had a good selection of current styles. I then went into an actual store where sales associates were terrific, followed up by a store manager and optician who helped me pick the right frame and prescription. Ten days later I got the glasses in the mail. The company’s combination of a curated selection, great customer service, tech support and great value was compelling. I tweeted at them that I had a great experience there. Three hours later they responded by thanking me. I would say the Warby Parker experience is probably my most recent, very positive, omni-channel experience. I also continue to be pleased by how Amazon keeps getting better and better. I am a Prime member, and what has been fascinating to me is how each year they capture a higher percentage of my total non-food spending. Both Warby Parker and Amazon have compelling brand differentiation, and both provide a simple customer experience.  


What is the top piece of advice you’d give to other brands trying to simplify?

I would say, first, develop a simple, compelling point of brand differentiation. I’m a big believer that you can separate winners and losers by how simple that is. Second, focus on fewer bigger things. Have the discipline to say “no” to the clutter. Third, build a very strong team that buys into brand differentiation and simplicity. Fourth, as a leader, walk the talk. As leaders we need to not only set a focused direction, but to make sure we can help our teams focus on the most important things, and clear the non-important things off their plate. Also don’t clutter team members with projects that don’t meet the priorities.  


What is the biggest mistake brands are making in regard to simplifying?

Letting complexity creep in. I once read a compelling two-page brand manifesto which was inspirational, but the brand only ran 15 second ads.. So what was the relevance of the two-page manifesto? The two big challenges are always scope creep, and the inability to say “no” to good small projects.  


What does “simplicity” mean to you?

I would say simplicity to me means focusing on those things that are most compelling to your consumer and your company. To me simplicity is focusing on the things that differentiate our brand, build strong brand equity, and produce profitable sales for our company and the franchisees. It’s worth focusing on the importance of saying “no.” It’s more compelling to start with a simple marketing plan than letting tier 2 ideas creep in. Saying “no” to what is not important is as important as saying “yes” to the right things.  


Norman de Greve

What is your role, and what are you personally responsible for within your organization?

I am the chief marketing officer of CVS Health, which includes the three retail business that we have: CVS/pharmacy, CVS/caremark, and CVS/minuteclinic.


What does your brand stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

Our purpose is to “help people on their path to better health.” That’s how the organization is built, enabling people to access to our pharmacy, the MinuteClinic. Our brand personality is “leading with heart.” We set high expectations and we get there with heart.


What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

A big role. We’re a Fortune 10 company with multiple lines of business. These businesses were operating independently previously, but the creation of CVS Health got us all to work together with one purpose. It’s a great example of how brand strategy drove simplicity.

Simplicity in how we describe what we do is relatively new. We’ve adopted: Clear, beautiful, useful and fresh as our definitions of that, and it plays role in a number of things, particularly digital, and how we educate consumers and inspire them to make better decisions.


How does your organization strive to create simple experiences? Please provide a specific example?

I think a good example is the digital lab that we built. We have an entire group in the organization that looks at the future of digital and healthcare and how it will enable simpler experiences for customers. Healthcare can be confusing and fragmented and we are building partnerships with multiple tele-health providers to determine what will work best in that space. You should be able to talk to healthcare providers through apps, use them to help diagnose yourself or a family member, etc. This would make customer’s lives simpler.


What are the challenges creating simple experiences for customers?

If you don’t have clarity of purpose and you don’t have clear your brand differentiators then you get people who are trying to create simplicity, but that are moving in different directions. That doesn’t feel simple to the customer. The purpose needs to guide every decision you make.


How do you strive to conquer complexity within your own company?

It is at the core of every decision we make. It’s at the core of the culture. When we talk about purposeful decisions – we make them by getting senior executives to want to believe in simplicity, and stand on the podium and preach it. People also remember things that strike an emotional chord, so we tell stories about how we’ve helped people. We lead with the heart, and set high expectations and deliver with love.


What benefits has your company experienced from simplifying?

Clarity and focus. Everybody has to meet objectives and grow and its easy to get distracted. Every day, you can make decisions that will deliver on profit. These may be OK decisions, but they can eventually lead you down the wrong path. Simplicity gives you clarity on what you will and will not do. We sacrificed two billion dollars in annual revenue by giving up tobacco, because of purpose. But we believe that if we stick to our purpose, our revenue will come.


How do you strive to keep things “simple” for your marketing team, every day? What’s working?

You have to know the biggest strategic and tactical drivers of your business, and you have to stay focused on them. For example, a strategic driver could be that the business has to own more healthcare share of wallet. The tactical might be that the circulars get people in the stores.


What’s the most recent, simple customer experience you’ve had personally (e.g., product, service experience, etc.)?

Interface design is a major value driver—it’s hard to deliver a simple and effective design. Those products that are dominating in our culture today are those that use simplicity in design. UBER is a brand I know and the one I love. What’s fascinating is that they have no cars – and they’ve created $50 Billion in market value.


What is the top piece of advice you’d give to other brands trying to simplify?

First, find a purpose you truly believe in—you need to believe it in your heart. Second, align your company along a common set of differentiators to deliver on that purpose.


What do c-level execs need to do to operationalize simplicity?

Focus on how you are making things better for your customer. The center of gravity in big companies is often inside the company, and not outside it. It’s interesting that for a small company, the center of gravity is usually the customer.


What organizational changes need to be made to build a culture of simplicity?

It comes from the top. It comes from the president, the CEO who has passion to help customers. Without that, it’s a struggle for companies. That passion is making decisions based on your best interest, when I could easily make them in my own best interest. That’s very different from tweaking a spreadsheet to be more profitable.

Ultimately, all long term growth is customer demand growth. When you get focused on that, you can rally an organization of thousands of people in one direction. Nothing complex is going to work. There’s power in simplicity of purpose – something everyone can internalize and repeat every day.


Why do you think it is so difficult for the majority of companies to deliver simple experiences?

Not all employees are rewarded for the same things and the incentive and measurement systems aren’t aligned to purpose.


What does “simplicity” mean to you?

An experience that is  three things – something easy to understand, easy for customers to use, and easy for lines of business to adopt and replicate.