Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Whether he actually said those words is in question, but the idea is not new and the concept should be put to the test whenever you’re developing strategic solutions.
Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman also backed the relationship between simplicity and understanding. He once agreed to explain a complex physics concept to a freshman class at Cal Tech. He later came back and said,
“You know, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reduce it to the freshman level. That means we really don’t understand it.”
Philosophers and scientists have historically supported the benefits of simple explanations. Simple hypotheses are easier to test and prove. Occam’s Razor (also the name of Web analytics guru Avinash Kaushik’s blog) is a problem-solving principle attributed to William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), an English Franciscan friar, scholastic philosopher and theologian. The principle can be interpreted as stating:
Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. (Wikipedia).
Okham’s actual Latin phrase is “Non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate,“ which translates to “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.”
Sometimes we overthink strategic solutions when simple answers are hidden in plain sight. I had the honor and pleasure of working with the Temple University team that won the 2016 Gold Collegiate ECHO. (Victoria Bak, Mollee Douglass, Rachel Gallucci, Niamh Murphy, and Finnian Saylor). Their challenge was to increase awareness and consideration of Facebook Custom Audiences. It’s a B-to-B offering where businesses share their customer files with Facebook, and in turn, Facebook includes the businesses’ sponsored posts in their customers’ News Feeds, as well as in the feeds of look-alike Facebook users.
The team spent a lot of time trying to define the best target audience for the product. They debated large and small companies, online and offline retailers, universities and cultural organizations, and several other potential targets. They pored over NAICS codes to match them up with list counts to define the size of their universe. Yet they couldn’t agree on how to simply define the audience.
Then, they took a step back and asked some fundamental questions:
- What are the requirements for using Facebook Custom Audiences?
First and foremost, you need a customer email file.
- What do businesses do with their email files? They send promotional email.
- What happens to promotional email? Only 20 percent of it is opened and read.
By contrast, a larger percentage of people notice promotions in their Facebook News Feed.
Suddenly, their target audience was simply defined as anyone who has a customer email file (Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity), and their strategy became simple and clear:
Position Custom Audiences as a more efficient and effective alternative to promotional email.
It was this simple, elegant strategy that led to their creative campaign, “Don’t be spam. Be seen.”
You can see the team tell the story of their road to a simple strategic solution in this video.
Temple University Students Win 2016 Collegiate ECHO Marketing Challenge https://t.co/YS6PaxKUPQ
— (((HeatherFletcher))) (@HeatherReporter) February 7, 2017
The simplest solutions are always the best.