Aviva’s Raj Kumar explains why simplicity equals freedom

It may seem counter-intuitive, but achieving simplicity is often one of the most difficult tasks within a business.

To achieve this, however, the goal must be to simplify things for the customer, not the business, according to outgoing Aviva Group brand and reputation director Raj Kumar.

Speaking today (May 17) at Advertising Week Europe, Kumar pointed out that teams often complete projects because the outcome will be easier for the business, rather than maximized for the client. He explained that businesses are largely designed to be efficient in silos, whereas the key to simplicity requires bringing different silos together.

“It’s not a simple task, but simplicity for me as a leader is about allowing and removing roadblocks to keep the team focused on what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s about pushing back those favorite projects that very senior leaders often tend to pitch to you, so we keep an eye on the prize,” he added.

Describing simplicity as the absence of chaos, Kumar also noted that cutting unnecessary red tape removes bureaucracy that people often rely on in business to demonstrate their expertise.

Although it is a large organization covering savings, investments and insurance, Aviva’s goal is to use the brand’s purpose – “It takes Aviva” – to guide the strategy.

We know from science and research that consumers are overwhelmed with too many choices. So let’s make it simple for them.

Lorraine Barber-Miller, Philips

Kumar describes this positioning as a simple way to articulate the brand promise, which is understood by everyone in the company.

“Internally, it’s up to all of us to say, ‘It takes all of Aviva to do something.’ Each of us has a role to play in this. So internally, externally, in society. It’s a very simple articulation that allows people to understand who we are and what is expected of us,” he explained.

The brand promise is the “guiding star” behind how product development is prioritized, which customers are targeted, and where to increase marketing support. Kumar explained that he also holds the team accountable, noting that the brand is working hard to improve every day.

From a customer perspective, Aviva has seen a strong correlation between improved simplicity and higher NPS scores, a meaningful metric for the board and management team. Marketers also look at customer effort, satisfaction and time to resolve issues, Kumar added.

When it comes to simplicity, Lorraine Barber-Miller, director of marketing and e-commerce at Philips, takes inspiration from iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel.

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“I have long admired Coco Chanel for simplifying fashion in such an elegant way with the Chanel suit and popularizing the little black dress and pants for women,” she said.

“The brand remains true to its DNA and its values. We all know that the experience is very characteristic of Chanel and it is the hallmark of the brand.

Back at Philips, the company worked hard to “align” roles and responsibilities across the marketing function. Barber-Miller explained that Philips has redesigned the whole way it works from start to finish, often making “intentional and difficult decisions”.

“Namely, shifting investments and focusing our work on fewer and better activities, which has resulted in a significant reduction in what we call non-integrated, product-driven planning and redundant activations,” a- she declared.

Driven by the “less, more, better” mantra, there has been a push across the business to focus on simplifying innovation, solutions and customer engagement. That being said, Barber-Miller recognized that it’s possible to oversimplify to the point where a brand isn’t clear about its value proposition or how it differentiates itself in the marketplace. Focusing on customer needs keeps teams on track.

“I would say don’t be afraid to reduce and simplify,” she added. “Thanks to science and research, we know that consumers are overwhelmed with too many choices. So let’s simplify them so that they truly deliver on that commitment and that promise.

Intrinsically simple

For Giffgaff CMO Sophie Wheater, the most beautiful, elegant and simple experiences are those that people find almost innate. While from a manufacturer’s perspective, simplicity can be hard to achieve, Wheater encourages its team to strive to deliver beautiful experiences that are simple and easy for customers.

Since Giffgaff launched with a promise to improve mobile – without contracts, call centers and stores – as the company grew, the team prioritized keeping of this same level of simplicity.

“We are accountable to our community on a daily basis. It has been very difficult to ensure that we have maintained this ease and simplicity in our products, throughout our experiences as we have grown. It’s something we care about across the business and it’s certainly not just in marketing and branding,” she explained.

I see so often that where we compromise, we drive complexity.

Sophie Wheater, Giffgaff

Wheater described an “implicit understanding” within the company of the importance of simplicity. A popular expression within Giffgaff is “It’s just not very Giffgaff”, meaning that an experience or product is not straightforward or straightforward. As the wider world becomes increasingly confusing and complex, marketers are focused on creating “human” experiences for the Giffgaff community.

To accomplish this mission, marketing works closely with the technical team. Wheater speaks regularly with the Chief Technology Officer and Chief Product Officer, as well as the technology developers, to ensure the drive for simplicity is understood at all levels.

“Steve, our CTO, and I will have joint meetings about how brand and technology are truly forging together in our world. I’m as challenged by our technical colleagues as I am by anyone else in our company as to what exactly we intend to do as a brand in a product or experience that we develop,” Wheater explained.

She advises companies to go back to their roots and decide what they stand for, cutting out anything that seems unnecessary. It’s a job as much for sales, finance, data science and technical teams as it is for marketers.

Second, from a development perspective, it’s essential that technical teams have the ability to build “without compromise”.

“I see so often that where we compromise, we drive complexity,” Wheater added. “The cleaner the codebase that techs have to work from, the easier it is for them to start building these really beautiful, easy, and simple experiences for people.”

About Carl Schroeder

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