Strategy Trends

Simplicity: The next competitive battleground

Consumers crave it. The most successful brands are doing it. You probably need more of it. We’re talking about the practice of simplicity in your online customer experiences.

Always a virtue, simplicity is fast becoming a necessity in our increasingly mobile, multi-screen and distracted world. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

  • 90% of all US media consumption now takes place across a combination of phone, tablet, computer and TV screens [Source: Google]
  • Tablet PCs will outsell desktop PCs next year and laptop PCs by 2016 [Source: Microsoft and DisplaySearch]
  • Mobile internet usage is projected to overtake desktop internet usage in 2013 [Source: Gartner]
  • 71% of mobile browsers expect web pages to load almost as quickly or faster as web pages on their desktop computers [Source: Gomez]

Simplicity has become the new competitive battleground as we transition to a more mobile, multi-screen and distracted world.

Simple or dead

The business value of simplicity has long been understood. Fewer choices, shorter paths and simpler messaging lead to higher conversion rates in study after study. Examples of simplicity’s triumph are all around us: mint.com in personal finance; Apple in software; Google in search. Yet simplicity has remained an elusive ideal for most organizations.

Now the rise of mobile is forcing our hands and changing the way we design websites and software forever. Mobile and desktop design standards are converging toward a more streamlined aesthetic. HTML and apps are becoming indistinguishable. This September USA Today pushed the envelope with a new website that looks and acts like an iPad app.

4 ways to a simpler you

If your organization is struggling to achieve simplicity, here are some simple techniques that can help you cut through the clutter:

  1. Start with your site traffic. A look at your site traffic is probably the best and fastest way to understand what your customers most value and what they can do without. Which of your content and features are getting the most attention? Which are being ignored? What are the top user paths? Which content is searched for the most? You’ll likely find that the 80/20 rule – where a small sub-section of your content sees the majority of activity – applies.
  2. Try mobile first. The emerging practice of “mobile-first,” whereby companies organize their business around mobile as the primary channel, is gaining in prominence (Google declared itself a mobile-first company in 2010). Whatever you think of mobile-first as a business practice, trying it out as an experiment can help you boil down your offerings to their most bare and useful essence.
  3. Get more objective. Designers, developers and even executives can frequently get too close to their online initiatives. Install a decision-maker who knows your business and customers well, but isn’t involved in the day-to-day of design and development. That person will have the objectivity to ask hard questions and – where necessary – slaughter the sacred cows.
  4. Test, test and test. There’s nothing like the feedback of real users to break your internal logjams and provide clarity about what’s valuable to them. If budget or timeline are concerns, testing informally with friends and family can still produce valuable insights. And it’s better than no testing at all.

It’s time to get ruthless

Ruthlessly simple, that is. We’re moving quickly from a world where we stuffed in all the features we could, to one where we must strip away everything we can. The future belongs to the brands that can specialize, synthesize and consolidate for a faster-moving and more distracted audience. Only the most disciplined will prevail.