Three Words to Sing in 2010

Serve, Shrink and Simplify

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Pete Blackshaw
Pete Blackshaw
If I were blessed with the musical or lyrical gifts of Jack Johnson, I'd kick off the new year with a tune inspired by the guitar-playing surfer's children's classic "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle." You know, the sustainably hummable tune from the Curious George movie.

In my case, my 2010 anthem would be dedicated to my fellow marketers -- yeah that's you -- and it would focus on three equally important words: "Serve, Shrink and Simplify."

Oh yes, I'd sing that tune loud and proud. I'd tweet and retweet the lyrics. I'd hoist a special fan page on Facebook. I'd create a sing-along online community, complete with ratings, reviews and virtual karaoke.

I'm serious! If we could all just start every day with those three words -- serve, shrink and simplify -- we'll take a giant marketing leap forward.

Here's why:


You've heard this from me before, but I'll say it again. Service is the new marketing. Serving trumps selling. If consumers are in control, we can't just sell or wrap ads around them. We need to serve their needs, solve their problems and dial up talk-worthy "brand experiences." And we must do so 24/7, as Twitter-influenced consumers increasingly expect the "service desk" to be on all the time, from the 800-number and brand "chat" line to the Facebook fan page. Serve and you'll touch the nerve.

The good news: We don't need to lose sleep guessing over "service" interventions. The conversation is right under our noses, infinitely quantifiable and increasingly delivered to order via premium "listening dashboards" and services or even free tools. So if we're looking to figure out how to come across as more credible, transparent or "authentic" in our service pursuits, smart listening acts like a real-time and welcome "cheat sheet."

The other good news is that more brands are getting this -- almost intuitively. That's why we're seeing a fire hydrant of service innovation taking place across brand blogs, Twitter and even iPhone apps. Recall my last article on Best Buy's Twelpforce. Or just think about all the retailers who created their own equivalent of Apple's Genius Bar during the Black Friday shopping spree. Or consider the implicit assumption in mega-brand Tide's new iPhone app -- the "Tide Stain Brain" -- which acts as a de facto washing consultant. A critical assumption here --- increasingly validated by research, including my own at Nielsen -- is that you'll bag the sale if you first serve or consult with the consumer. Service, baby!


Our screens are shrinking -- big time. There' no more room for denial. Yes, we're still addicted to large-screen, increasingly high-definition TVs, but 2009 saw a tipping point of iPhone sales, which effectively turn handheld devices into de facto TV, video and gaming consoles. We also saw new launch and fast-follower penetration of new mobile devices and mobile operating systems from the likes of Verizon, Google and Sprint -- all anchored to the same smorgasbord of small-screen benefits and goodies.

With billions of "app" downloads -- certain to explode further in 2010 -- much of our attention is now fixed (often frenetically) on screens half the size of a playing card. That has big implications. We need to adapt to a smaller interface. We need to rethink design. We need to cut the clutter. We need to obsess on the power of "icons" with the compulsiveness of a Steve Jobs or an airline safety card designer. We need to translate "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" brand websites into two-inch screens.

Oh, and this "shrinking" principle also applies to how we tighten and simplify copy. Twitter's 140-character limitation may seem like a climbing Everest to the "diarrhea of the mouth" crowd, but get used to it. Brevity is the soul of wit, my friends. We need to do more with less. Indeed, small is the new big.


Of course, we'll never win on either the "serve" or "shrink" principles unless we really simplify things for consumers. Admit it, we love complexity. We hide essential information in illegible fine-print. We're rather give consumers a 200-page "how to" manual than a simple video demo. That must change. If you want your iPhone app to sing, you darn well better build it on "add water and stir" simplicity principles. If you want your small-screen ad unit to engage, or your sponsored content to drive participation, you better think hard about stripping out the gobblygook.

Consumers will just pass us by if we don't win on this front. Tools like "Add This" or "" make it simple to share content. Search engines and FAQs simplify navigation. Video product demonstrations simplify the learning process. Blogs simplify and synthesize content distribution. Simple feedback forms nurture advocacy and shock-absorb viral rage.

Just think about the upside. Consider all the micro-charges on our bank or Amex statements because Apple computers made it ridiculously simple to pay for content. Then project that to e-commerce sales, or perhaps even the riddle of how to save online content from Jack-the-"Free"-Ripper." Let there be no doubt -- simplicity sells.

So there you have it, three words -- Serve, Shrink and Simplify. That's the "magic number."

Did you write down the words yet?

Pete Blackshaw is exec VP of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services and author of "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000" (DoubleDay). He is also chair of the National Council of Better Business Bureaus. His biweekly column looks at the relationship between marketing and customer service in the age of consumer control.
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