Steve Jobs: “Simple can be harder than complex”

What we can learn about marketing from Steve Jobs: “Simple can be harder than complex”. Steve Jobs put a computer inside a phone that made it into 120 million pockets. He was a boundary breaking thinker and astute marketer. Apple stock increased over 1700% since 1980 to $378 in 2011. There are very few brands that can deliver such an astounding return on shareholder value. And very few companies generate so much revenue from just four product lines- Macs, iPhones, iPods and iPads.

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Walter Isaacson wrote a 571-page biography of Jobs, which went on sale earlier this month. The book confirms what we know today: Jobs was focused on exploring new and interesting ways of doing things. There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to WWSJD (What would Steve Jobs do?). Here are three themes that marketers can use as guideposts when developing marketing strategies:


1. Get your thinking “clean to make it simple”


“Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end.” We often hear about the need to “keep it simple” in marketing campaigns. But most marketing strategies don’t follow this principle. For example, in product development today, the emphasis is on new variants instead of original product ideas. A twist on keeping it simple is to start with a simple concept and stay true to the original brand idea. Jobs summed it up really well- “it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important”.


Steve Jobs told Fortune magazine in 2008, “Apple is a $30 billion company yet we’ve got less than 30 major products. I don’t know if that’s ever been done before”. He went on to add: “Certainly the great consumer electronics companies of the past had thousands of products. We tend to focus much more. People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. The clearest example was when we were pressured for years to do a PDA, and I realized one day that 90% of the people who use a PDA only take information out of it on the road. They don’t put information into it. Pretty soon cell phones are going to do that, so the PDA market’s going to get reduced to a fraction of its current size, and it won’t really be sustainable. So we decided not to get into it. If we had gotten into it, we wouldn’t have had the resources to do the iPod. We probably wouldn’t have seen it coming.”



2. Understand feelings and emotions


“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google and former Apple Board Member said in an article in Bloomberg Business Week, “One of the things about Steve is, he was always in the realm of possibility. There was a set of assumptions that Steve would make that were never crazy. They were just ahead of me.” He added, “he had a level of perception about feelings and emotions that was far beyond anything I’ve met in my entire life.”


At Arcus, we have found that the biggest insights and ideas come from observing and analyzing in real time how consumers interact with products in their daily lives. Jobs believed that technology can be a tool for individual definition and self-expression. A pink iPod is about much more than just listening to music. Simple insights can lead to great campaigns. This goes against conventional thinking about market research. Focus groups and quantitative research generate insights but these tools will never match the depth of understanding that observing feelings and emotions of people in real life situations can offer.


3. Anticipate surprising and completely new strategic directions


“Creativity is about connecting things”. We live in a connected world. Interaction between brands and customers has never been more complex with so many touch points. However, some things never change. Good ideas are scarce. No matter how complex we think marketing has become, the most successful strategies tend to have a simple premise that captivates and delights audiences. Jobs’ last advice to the new Chief Executive Officer of Apple Inc., Tim Cook, was to ‘never ask what Steve would do’. He would suggest, ‘Just do what’s right’. He felt that followers tended to spend all their time thinking and talking about what someone else would do.