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How To Look Smarter By Dumbing It Down
Let’s take a break from focusing on the practice of analytics this week to focus on a single idea I think both search marketers and analytics people alike can benefit from enormously. We need to learn how to make the message simple.
With all of the complexity involved in what we do, it’s easy to forget that the world at large interacts with all of our efforts in very simple ways, and has no real appreciation for what goes into those experiences.
Let’s say you want to buy a cheese grater. You go to bing (show them some love) and type in “cheese grater,” click on a link to CheeseGraters.com, get through the site, and make the purchase. Never mind that someone spent hours crafting the creative that got you to click on their paid search ad or optimized the site to gain top position in the natural search results. Never mind that some ninja badass conversion guru designed the landing page to make you feel like this is the perfect site and page for you to find your culinary soulmate. Never mind that the IT folks programmed the sickest hooks into inventory and logistics backend systems to ensure accurate shipping times and availability of the product. You don’t care about any of that because you didn’t enroll in a course on jet propulsion, you just bought a damn cheese grater.
But inside the four walls of CheeseGraters.com (it’s a parked site, but let’s go for the hypothetical), the usability guy, the IT maven and the search marketing dude probably aren’t keeping it so simple. Based on my experience, the SEO is trying to educate the CEO about how Googlebot works, while the CEO tries to silently kill himself. The IT guys are saying it will take 6 months to make the landing page because they have to bisect the flux capacitor and engage the xenon x86 API. And the usability and analytics people are showing a brain-melting Powerpoint about the confidence intervals of the latest multivariate test.
The world loves and appreciates all of the knowledge we have packed into our brains, but when we try to communicate that knowledge, we have to do it in a simpler language. The business oftentimes wants to understand our work in these same simple ways that consumers do, but for various reasons (arrogance and wanting to look smart being big ones), we have a hard time avoiding the fire hose approach. We have to distill things down into core messages and communicate the simplest, business-focused ideas first, building into the complex only when asked for more supporting detail (trust me, you will be asked).
When detail comes first, people get overwhelmed, confused and generally shut down, or worse yet, they think you’re being condescending and talking over their heads on purpose (which we do a lot of). If you’re wondering why you’ve spent five meetings trying to explain Googlebot and still nobody understands it, you’re probably focusing too much on the details, and you should examine how valuable the topic itself is, while people are probably emailing pictures of Urkel around with some sound bites from your latest ruminations on web crawler technology.
Why does this fit into an “Analyze This” post? Because analysis is a part of all of our lives, in some fashion, and we have a horrible understanding of what the end result of analysis is. What it isn’t is a bunch of charts and tables and data and tactical recommendations. Much like a nice Swiss watch, the end result of analysis is a very simple message about a very simple concept (e.g., a specific step of a cheese grater purchase) with a lot of complexity lying underneath. Yes, recommendations, data, charts and tables may all be a part of that simple communication, but they don’t stand in for it, they stand behind it.
Here’s a quick formula for a good, simple statement that the business people will understand:
- Relevant topic: Where on the urgent/important chart does this fall? Choose your battles carefully.
- Defines opportunity: Don’t just say something is broken or bad—what is the value of it being fixed or better?
- Defines cost: What effort and money goes into this effort?
- Defines timing: When will we be able to judge effectiveness?
- In context: How does this fit into the rest of the circus in terms of importance and disruption? What may feel vitally important to you may not be important to others, and showing you are making an effort to understand their point of view can go a long way.
If you present the idea in this way (your “elevator pitch”), you will be asked for more detail if you’ve been effective in communicating the value of the plan. Guaranteed. Of course you’ll have that detail and it’ll wow everyone. If you are not asked for more, it was a crappy idea, a crappy sell, or too complicated for people. Give it another shot if you really believe in it, but dumb it down to a focused, clear point.
This formula works for both the positive and the negative! If you need to make a case against a tactic that has unclear goals, opportunities, costs, timelines, or may undermine other high-value projects, use the same idea to demonstrate (in simple language!) the impact of a bad decision. I’m afraid you’re still going to have to do all of the hard, complex work to get to the message, but the message at the end will be straightforward and effective.
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