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Does Simplicity Make a Good Brand Promise?

by Hank Barnes  |  June 10, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

Simplicity was a hot topic last week.  SAP emphasized it in their new theme, andwhat is effectively a brand promise, of “Run Simple”.   For a company with the brand perceptions of SAP, is this the right move?

I’m not sure.

I agree 100% that making things simpler is a great strategy.  I also agree with SAP’s CEO,  Bill McDermott who basically said, “It’s hard to be simple.”   But a commitment to be simple, particularly for an organization with the size, installed base, and history of SAP, may not be possible to always fulfill.   And creating a brand promise that you know you are likely to break is not a good thing. As Jon Reed mentioned in a post he and Dennis Howlett wrote on their diginomica site,”SAPPHIRENOW 2014 – the cloud analysis”, about the reaction of attendees, “The answer I got from customers was yes, but with an asterisk: simplicity is not just about software, it’s about the entire experience of implementation, after go-live services, and the dreaded patching cycles.”

The problem is not the promise, its the breadth that the promise entails.  If you are going to make a stand around “simple”, then everything about working with you has to be simple.  Simple to buy, Simple contracts, simple support, simple user experience, etc.  The list goes on and on.   A startup might be able to pull it off, with no baggage or installed base–although simple is sometimes viewed by buyers as “not powerful enough for me”.    But for a large company it is much harder.   And every mis-step will be magnified.

Jenga game where the wrong move causes the tower to topple


Customers, Media, Analysts, and Influencers will all turn instances where things are not simple against them. Employees will disengage if policies and procedures make it hard for them to embrace simplicity.  It will be a constant battle.

A similar sentiment appeared this week for another brand promise around authenticity (another important topic for me–something I blogged about last week).  In her post, “If Your Brand Promises Authenticity, You Better Deliver“, Rebecca Newton points out that when you make as bold a claim as full authenticity as part of your promise, it raises expectations.  She uses a coffee shop example of great service, but a failure to match their brand promise.   “While before their campaign I would have been happy with great customer service, in this case I’d feel a lack of authenticity.  I might even feel less attached to this chain that I did before they spent months and millions convincing me of something that wasn’t true… at least not according to my personal experience.”

And that is the challenge with a brand promise that is hard to achieve.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe fully in authenticity and simplicity.  I believe that technology companies need embrace simplicity in everything they do.   On that note, another story, this time in Fast Company,  this week talked about “Why Having Too Many Choices Is Making You Unhappy.”  The complexity of too many choices overwhelms buyers and they tend to back off.  That is why too many options on landing pages is a common cause of poor conversions.   We think buyers want choice—to pick what they want, but they actually want guidance to help them find what they need.

I wish SAP luck as they proceed on the path to “Run Simple.”    Personally, I might have tweaked the promise to be “Run Simpler”, with a promise to “progressively improve the simplicity of working with SAP every day until we are the simplest enterprise software company in the world,” but some might view that as too soft a commitment.  I think it is more authentic (there’s that word again).

But two suggestions as they continue on this journey.  First, make sure the simplify message is pervasive across the organization and encompasses everything they do internally and externally (having worked for SAP as a contractor for one year, this is a big challenge).   Second, increase the focus on and use of advocacy marketing to get others telling stories of how SAP is simpler—encourage, empower, and enable employees, partners, and customers to broadly share stories of how things are getting simpler.

If others embrace and share examples of the new “simple” SAP, the market will begin to believe.   It would be great for the industry if they succeed.



Category: go-to-market  

Tags: advocacy-marketing  authenticity  brand-promise  simplicity  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
5+ years at Gartner
30 years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. He focuses on issues related to positioning, storytelling, the technology customer life cycle, and customer experience. Read Full Bio

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