What it takes to Simplify


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Irene Etzkorn, my guest on the Business901 podcast What it takes to Simplify, is a worldwide authority on simplicity. As executive director of Simplification, she built the Simplification practice of Siegel+Gale. Her clients include the nation’s top banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies, utilities, and health care providers. Irene and Alan Siegel have recently authored Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity describing these practices.

This is a transcription of the podcast. In the podcast, she described the 3 Steps of Simplification that was outlined in her book.

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What it takes to Simplify

  1. 1. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 What it takes to Simplify Guest was Irene Etzkorn Sponsored by Related Podcast: What it takes to Simplify
  2. 2. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 Transcription of Podcast Joe Dager: Welcome everyone; this is Joe Dager, the host of Business901 podcast. With me, today is Irene Etzkorn. She is a worldwide authority on simplicity and built the Simplification practice of global strategic branding and customer experience firm Siegel and Gale. As executive director of Simplification, her clients include the nation's top banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies, utilities, and health care providers. Irene is someone who has taken the term Simple and made it a feature. Irene, since your work is based on simplification, I may need you to define what Siegel and Gale do. Are they a branding firm that just simplifies everything? Irene Etzkorn: Well, thank you for having me join you today. Yes, we are a branding firm that works in the realm of corporate identity and brand positioning more traditional aspects of branding. We also have my practice area, which we call "Simplification" and it is a unique specialization. An area, that the founder and chairman of our firm and the co-author of my book,
  3. 3. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 Alan Siegel, really was the inspiration. He realized early on, that if a brand's essence was about simplicity, transparency, usability and clarity, which the only way for customers to experience it was at a tangible transactional level. That gave rise to focusing on frequently overlooked touch points which is something much deeper than logos, signs, uniforms, the traditional expressions of a brand. He had the vision to look at things like insurance policies, telephone bills, and the letters you receive, how useful website is, as a way to express ethos of a brand. Also, it was a way to make complicated information more accessible and more suitable way for customers to interact. So, that's what we do. We take complicated things and we make them more transparent. Joe: Well, you've had a simplification department in Siegel and Gale for a long time. Irene: Yes, we have this inspiration about 35 years ago; when he was given an assignment from City Bank at the time it was First National City. He was asked to redesign cosmetically improve the graphic design and the appearance of a loan note, a legal document. As soon as he got into it, he realized: "Well, this will make it appear more accessible", but as soon as you start reading it, it still going to read like the Dead Sea Scrolls. It's going to be lengthy, it's going to be riddle with legalized, and it's not going to be consumer friendly. That was the germ of the idea that it needed to be written in plain language. It needed it be re-sequenced. The contents needed to be re-thought and then it needed to be re-designed.
  4. 4. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 Joe: With the length of time you've been doing it, why was now the time for a book? Irene: Well, now is the time because the proliferation of information has reached the crescendo, the advent of tablets and smartphones and, of course, computers in general has made that we're all bombarded by massive amount of information. We point out in the book, even our recreation and our entertainment involved the luminous choices. Hundreds of channels of television programming, hundreds of thousands of apps, even the choices on the menu are in the hundreds. So, it sort of reached a level where it's necessary for a company to narrow down the selections and clarify them as it is to reach consumers. It's just more than anyone of us can comprehend or have enough time to digest. It is also the aspect that the advent of social media, Facebook, Twitter, etcetera, means that consumers now are able to express their dissatisfaction, their complaint, sometimes their compliments about companies quickly and easily. So, now, consumers are pushing back and sending out tweets and postings that point out when they think there are hidden provisions in contracts, hidden fees, unfair practices, confusion, etcetera. So, we felt that there was ground swell as there was going to be a change in the relationship between consumers and companies. We are starting to see that. Joe: Well, you work with large firms. The US government, insurance health care providers, IRS, to name a few, is it possible to simplify organizations or are we just talking paperwork? Irene: It's a good point. Most of the major transformative
  5. 5. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 simplification assignment we work on, we were initial asked to focus on a customer's experience, follow up by the paper work or all of the online information associated with the transaction or an interaction which leads to what we call governance changes, meaning to your point organizational structural changes within the company. For us, a mark of a successful simplification project is where we have become a verb. If they hired our firm Siegel and Gale, they'll say they're Siegel and Galeizing something which is usually a good sign. We think in terms of the fact that they have internalized the principles and the approached and look at things with a different filter. The lens then becomes, could I explain this quickly and easily to a family member who was not involved in my industry. Is it something where I am apologizing a thousand times for the fact that it is not clear or I have to give a band aid explanation or something? When a successful organization empowered the group to push back from a communications point of view, usually change the balance of power between legal and communication. Often, we find by default the legal staff and the company will become a communication function, which is not what they usually want to be or what they are most appropriate for. So, it has organizational implications. The most successful simplification work has a high level of executive champions. So, often we find these projects rack their way up to a high level in a company. So, it can have a systemic effect. Joe: Well, you've perfectly led into the next question. I couldn't ask for a better one. Has simplification ideas reached the CEO level?
  6. 6. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 Irene: Yes, absolutely. Some of our projects have been inspired actually by CEOs who are customers of their own companies receiving, for example, a trust statement for investment that they don't understand themselves. Or, they sign up for insurance, and they are horrified by their own correspondence from their own company. It's lack of clarity. Some projects begin there. Some, it's a case where they have worked with us in one firm. For example, a CMO of a major fortune 100 company worked with us in one arena, in financial services, and moved over to insurance and realized there was a similar need for clarity in his next venture and asked us to come in there. That is always a good and successful approach because it makes it clear to all the subject matter experts within a company that the intent is not to explain why things are the way they are. There's always a long legacy and reason for complexity in an organization. But instead, with an executive champion, they are empowered to say: "Well, here is how it could be different". If we took a blank slate approach, here is how we might begin. That is an important and progressive step to start at the top. Joe: What are the secrets to simplification? Is there something that when you walk in, you see the complexity? Is there a secret to understanding how to look at things with simple eyes? Irene: Yes, there is and I think it lies in the fact that clarity is best achieved through an intuitive structure of information. Most often who find people who have a complicated topic or complicated communication want to begin by re-writing and/or re-designing. Those are two ingredients and important skills and certainly ones
  7. 7. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 that we advocate. They are not place to begin. It is necessary to begin and look at the process. What is the data, the content? What do you know about this customer? For example, if you already know what state they live in, you don't have to include a lot of "if-then" clauses that say "if you're in Michigan", "if you are in New York", etcetera, and have the person deal with all that. Instead, you can push out to them a customized communication. Starting further up the chain and providing a summary to detail approach, will answer likely questions for 80% or 90% of the readers or the users upfront? People who have further questions can continue on in the communication, but you haven't created an introductory barrier for the majority of people. In actions, a lot of simplification is about intuitive organization and structure. Another example of that is insurance policy. Property casualty insurance, people do not read their insurance policy, for some, they are novel. They read them usually at the time of need when they have a claim. Putting what to do if you have a loss at the first item in a policy is much more customer focused. It is a reflection of the organization of the company that's producing it and becomes a more meaningful document for the consumer. Joe: I think you make the great example there because it's amazing how many times redundancy is built in. I think of health care right away where I am asked the same question so many times that I feel that I probably answered it wrong along the way. Irene: Absolutely, that's a good example because one of the 3 key principles that we've talked about in the book to achieve simplicity, one of them is empathy.
  8. 8. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 Emphasizing with the circumstance of the communication or the interaction is important when you mentioned health care, that's a great example. Not only are you sometimes being asked for the same information repeatedly, you may be in a state where half the time you are drugged or you’re ill. Obviously, for some reason, you're seeking health care. It's not your finest moment probably in terms of clarity of thought and emotional state, etcetera. So, it's a good example where even more so in that circumstance, you would want things to be accessible, clear and not redundant certainly. Joe: Well, you just mentioned there that you talked in the book about 3 different parts. You mentioned empathy, what are the other two? Irene: Distillation and clarity. Distilling is this notion of not just writing, but writing and then editing; a constant filtration or condensing of information. On the first path, you might get all the information, all of the facts out there. On the second path, you can go through and look at it with a different lens. For example, when we've done communication geared towards diabetic, some of the people with diabetes are brand new to the diagnosis. They need a lot of information; the whole notion of testing their blood sugar is an unfamiliar concept. All of this change in diet, exercise, lots of information. However, many people are life-long diabetics, or they have taken insulin shots, etcetera for years, they don't need the same level of explanation. They are looking for the "what's new", "what's different", "what's something" that I'm already familiar with. So, emphasizing with the circumstances of youth,
  9. 9. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 the level of knowledge that the person already has, then just distilling the information down to the bare essence for those who will be seeking, just this sort of core content is very important. Then clarifying making it as written in plain English as possible, using information design to highly or preview or headline information, a hierarchy of information so you can easily see from the structure of a document or screen what's most important, what's less important, what's detailed versus what's a headline, etcetera. So, truly those 3 concepts coming together that we think achieved simplicity. Joe: I think of the chicken and the egg thing when I think of simplicity and clarity. Which comes first? Can you help us define the different between simplicity and clarity? Irene: Well, we think simplicity is the summation, when clarity, distillation and empathy come together. We think that leads to break through simplicity because for us simplicity is really shortening the distance in whatever way that's possible between the consumer and a company or a citizen and the government, etcetera. And, the shortening of the distance can sometimes have to do with the timing of information. Many companies bombarded you or inundate you with information at the outset of the relationship, but you may not have a real understanding of the implications of that information or even a need for insurance being a good example, until months or years into the relationship. In a similar vein, that happens often with investment. You will literally get a hundred pages of information upfront and have very little sense of what you should be focusing on or what you should retain of that information. So, simplicity, it is a very nuance concept that has a number of facets that
  10. 10. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 for some people its aesthetics, but it is very sort of Spartan, devoid of clutter, etcetera. For some, it’s all about clarity, the expression, the language and the design, the immediate, sort of, visceral reaction that somebody has. For other it's something that's simple if it's delivered in the medium or channel that I prefer meaning like an online mobile device that's opposed to a printed piece. But it is really, all of those aspects together which typically leads to something being perceived as simple and easy to use. Joe: I think most people will agree with you in, you know, that things that need to be simplified, but what do we know is the value of what is not a value? How do we go about trying to define them? Irene: Well, the acid test is always consumer research. Obviously, when you've been working in the field for a long time as we have and consulting on work from many industries, many kinds of consumer. We have a pretty good hypothesis going in, but the real way to find out is to actually test the comprehension and the perception of simplicity. We advocate usually using an online methodology where people are shown "befores" and "afters" as to interact with a communication or an obstruction or whatever the item currently is and then after usually in random order to interact with the simplified item. Then you can actually ask them to perform certain tasks or answer certain questions that would indicate not just whether they thought it was easy, but whether they understood the implication. For example, if you don't pay by this date, how much more will you owe? If you fail to respond to this notice, what will happen? To make sure that people, that their
  11. 11. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 behaviour will be affected by the communication not just that they will say: "Oh I think I understood it". Joe: This might sound like a silly question, but is there a time we need complexity? I mean, it may be a better way to phrase this, can we over simplify things? Irene: Well, certainly, I would say over simplification is any crucial messages are left out simply in the interest of brevity. However, for me there's a distinction between complexity and confusion. What we're really trying to eliminate is confusion. Complexity is inherent in a lot of, modern life. Many investments are inherently complicated. Many medical procedures are complex procedures. So, it is not as though we are saying the space shuttles working are suddenly going to be simplified. What we are saying is the confusion surrounding someone's need to interact with that information is what can be clarified and made clearer. It's often a case of moving the complexity back up stream. The company or the organization deals with the complexity rather than the end consumer. So, if you've viewed it as a chain or continuum, it would be moving the complexity. We are not saying that you can magically remove all of the complexity that's actually an aspect of, for example, scientific topic, it will be a complicated topic always, but the expression of it might be clarified. Joe: In your book, the title of it, I should mention, is "Simple". Is it a how to, does it give me a process to simplify things? Irene: You know, it really doesn't and that was the conscious
  12. 12. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 choice. We felt that this book was more of a call to action and a way of heightening awareness that simplicity was possible and has been attained by many large companies and government organizations. It was something worth striving for. That it has cost benefits and consumer benefits. The book is not primarily a how to, I mean as we just mentioned these three principles we show a number of case studies, we think exemplify how to use empathy and clarity in communication. So, by inference, someone could see some of the tactics and techniques that work. It isn't a primer in terms of how to because we didn't want to limit it to only the audience that would be responsible for achieving this. We really thought it was a topic that needed a broader discussion in society, even if you are not within a company responsible for these kinds of touch points. If you are simply a consumer or a student or patient , you might want to be more aware of what you should be asking companies to do on your behalf and how you can be a more informed consumer. Joe: Well, simplification is something that is in the eye of the beholder. I mean, what is simply to someone over here, is not going to be simple to some else. How do you, from an organizational view, how do you understand this? Is it just customer-focused group, customer's survey, customer's trial and error or is there a way that they can be simplified for you to understand? Irene: We have a number of metrics that we work with clients to put in place. There are a lot of harden fast cost benefits associated with the kinds of simplification we're talking about. Very often, for example, we are consolidating and reducing the quantity of information,
  13. 13. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 which can lead to hard, tangible savings and printing, postage and processing. There are other aspects that are cost saving associated with fewer unnecessary customer service calls when there is less confusion and people understand what action to take etcetera. Something like the IRS, they can track how quickly people are responding to notices and sending in amounts due. There are a lot of tangible metric that clients can use to not just rely on customer perception that they thought it was simpler, etcetera. There are a number of those benefits that are beneficial halo effects for the company and the company brand. In terms of the company that says that they are looking out for your interest, for example as an investment firm, we have a lot of research that shows that consumers trust organizations that use more plain language and that have shorter documents. Consumers often feels that companies are hiding behind legalize or they attribute some nefarious motive to confusion and complexity which may not exist, but they tend to think that there are hidden unfavourable clauses when it's a document that's, you know, hundreds of pages, has 14 or 15 signatures required, they feel at a disadvantage in the relationship. Joe: What did you want someone to take away from your book? Irene: Well, certainly I would hope that the companies launching new products and services would take a step back and say before we build in all the traditional gobbledygook before we just hand this over and get back a 14-page agreement for a rewards program, for a credit card for example. Let's take a look at it and see
  14. 14. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 from a consumer's point of view what would the expectation be? What are the provisions that aren’t what most reasonable people would expect to be in there? Let's clarify those if we intend to keep those provisions. Let's make the information available at the right time in the right medium. So, certainly from any kind of starting point, I think it could be beneficial for companies to think of it from the outset. I mean, Apple products are, of course, widely touted as having been designed that way. That the intuitive nature of their use was always something thought about in the product design as opposed to an afterthought. I think that would be beneficial, I think, for many companies to apply to a whole range of products and services. Companies that are well established may have quite a backlog of complexity to consider. They may find unenforceable provisions, like mutually exclusive communications going out. It is amazing when you start one of these large scale endeavors what you find coming out of the woodwork. Very often, it is astonishing, the company suddenly realizes they have 5,000 forms, and they don't even realize that they are maintaining this inventory that has almost taken on the life of its own. Joe: I assume your book is available everywhere now since I listened to it on audio that's usually the last medium to get it. How long has the book been out and where could someone find it? Irene: Well, they can certainly find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble all of the online booksellers as well as Bricks and Mortar book sellers. It's been out since April 2nd, and it is available on audio. It is available in hard cover currently, we just launched this week in the United
  15. 15. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 Kingdom, if plenty of your listeners travel and it is actually going to be released in Asia next year. Joe: Is there a book page and what is the best place to contact you to find out more about the book? Irene: We have a website called callforclarity.com, all one word that has information about both Alan Siegel and I, the authors, as well as a link to the book or, of course, on Amazon, they can read an excerpt of the book, etcetera. Joe: I want to thank you Irene. I enjoyed the conversation. The book's title is Simple, and as you mentioned the website is called callforclarity.com. Irene: I very much appreciate your interest and thank you for having me on. Joe: This podcast will be available on the Business901 tune store and the Business901 blog site. So, thanks again everyone.
  16. 16. Business901 Podcast Transcription Implementing Lean Marketing Systems What it takes to Simplify Copyright Business901 Joseph T. Dager Business901 Phone: 260-918-0438 Skype: Biz901 Fax: 260-818-2022 Email: jtdager@business901.com Website: http://www.business901.com Twitter: @business901 Joe Dager is president of Business901, a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He takes his process thinking of over thirty years in marketing within a wide variety of industries and applies it through Lean Marketing and Lean Service Design. Visit the Lean Marketing Lab: Being part of this community will allow you to interact with like-minded individuals and organizations, purchase related tools, use some free ones and receive feedback from your peers.