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Less is more, but less is harder

Last week I attended the FutureM conference here in Boston. There were a lot of sessions to choose from and some great speakers, but one presentation was so simple it caught my eye. The session was called Future: Simplicity with Chris Colbert (@cmcolbert) from @hollandmark. The session was an hour and a half, which seemed long, but it flew by and I was even disappointed when it was over.  Chris is a definitely an engaging speaker, but it was the content of his presentation that gave me a lot to think about, both personally and professionally.  His session reminded me even with all the technology available, sometimes “it” just gets complicated; “it” being everything from crafting your value proposition to explaining a TV ad about Massachusetts' Question 2 to your 7 and 9 year old.  Sometimes life is just complicated.  When it comes to the future of marketing, I believe having an eye for simplicity and the discipline to focus are key success factors.

Throughout the presentation, Chris saw the simple in the complex, understood the need for focus, valued the currency of time, talked about the human need for comfort, and the fact that comfort is often found in simplicity. I thought a lot about where simplicity breaks down in my world as a marketer, and for me it is often when there is a loss of focus.  I would say I am a pretty goal oriented person and staying focused on those goals and how to achieve them gives me the discipline I need to stay on target. That being said one of the biggest things that can challenge my focus is the sheer volume and variety of data I have coming at me real time. Social, CRM, financial data, customer experience…I have a headache just thinking about the sheer volume of it all.

How do you connect all the dots? How do you uncover the story? How do you focus on the data that matters? It all comes back once again to simplicity and focus.  Focus on the business problem you are trying to solve, the key questions you need to answer and the ability to go from data to insights and deliver those insights in a way that makes them relevant to those who need to make the decisions. That’s a lot of what we do here at CMB.

Man with whiteboardThis brings me to the next quote I jotted down that really hit home; “less is more, but less is harder.” It takes discipline to focus on the one or two things your product or service does really well because the temptation to try to be all things to all people is so great.  It also takes that same kind of discipline to focus on the key data sources and points you need to make a decision, and the confidence tune out the rest.

Simplicity requires focus, and focus often drives results.  This point rang true again in a recent study from the Marketing Leadership Council. They reported the best performing marketers are the “Focusers,” those who prefer depth of focus over breadth. Unfortunately, the same study also found that most CMOs’ are looking for someone very different from the Focuser. They are looking for the “Agile” marketer, those who are early adopters of technology who embrace change and are fast movers. Ironically, the Agile marketer often suffers from lack of focus and fell to the bottom of the list when rated by their manager on performance.

We all desperately need simplicity and focus, but how do you find it within this complex (and growing morecomplex every day!) world?  The answer is not to rely solely on the “agile” person who embraces every change and is quick to bounce from technology to technology.  Instead, the answer is cultivating a culture where people can be focused, and not become distracted in an ocean of data and by shiny new objects.

Kristen is CMB’s VP of marketing, an adjunct professor at Boston College Carroll School of Management and a mom of two. You can follow her on Twitter at @KristenGarvey

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