Behind every brand delivering simpler experiences for customers is a leader who recognizes the inherent value in keeping things simple. Here I interview leaders, often CMOs or CEOs, that we deem simplifiers. In this Simplifiers interview I speak with Evan Greene, CMO at The Recording Academy.
MM: What does The Recording Academy stand for and how does it deliver on that promise every day?
EG: For the past 60 years, The Academy has stood for improving the cultural condition of music and those who create it. We seek to give music as much as music gives us—to honor, celebrate and cherish it, and always look for ways to give back to music.
MM: What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?
EG: We are a somewhat complicated organization. We have different divisions responsible for charity and philanthropy, we give out awards, we have a diverse membership of well over 10,000 members and we have an iconic television show. When you think about these different business objectives, it becomes complicated to string it all together. However, we’ve been able to identify a single narrative that everyone can take ownership of—we seek to give music as much as music gives us. Having a single unifying vision and rallying cry translates what everyone here does, and becomes a guidepost against which we can measure progress.
Making the complex simple is the key to good marketing and good messaging.
MM: How do you strive to conquer complexity within The Recording Academy?
EG: We start by focusing on internal communication. We make sure to articulate to all our internal stakeholders what we stand for as an organization, along with our business strategy, vision, identity and messaging. Internal stakeholders need to understand who we are in order to communicate that vision to the world.
To conquer complexity externally, we make sure we start communications from the standpoint of understanding who we are and what we stand for. In today’s marketplace, authenticity is extremely valuable. If you understand who you are and speak with a credible voice, your authenticity leads to trust. And that trust serves as the foundation of a strong relationship with your friends, fans, followers and constituents. Making the complex simple is the key to good marketing and good messaging.
MM: What benefits has The Recording Academy experienced from simplifying?
EG: While we’re only in the beginning stages of this game-changing effort to increase simplicity, we’ve already seen it pay dividends both internally and externally.
Internally, it has started to bring departments, divisions and disparate business units together into a shared conversation and a one-for-all mentality.
Externally, simplicity is incredibly relevant to the complex environment in which we live. People are looking to believe in something that they can trust. The simpler your communications and brand narrative, the more authentic, credible and trustworthy you will be to your audience. For us, smart brand work will be rewarded with higher ratings, greater loyalty and engagement, and increased valuation and monetization opportunities. But in order to get there, it’s necessary to do that upfront brand work to simplify goals and clarify the brand mission.
MM: How do you lead as a simplifier in your marketing organization?
EG: I spend a great deal of effort developing my team. I invest in onboarding team members, providing them with the right tools, making sure they understand the company vision, and then helping them collectively hone team dynamics. Once my team is trained and has a deep understanding of the company’s objectives, I give them the freedom and flexibility to execute on these objectives as they see fit.
MM: What’s the most recent simple customer experience you’ve had and why did it inspire you?
EG: I found a recently launched IKEA product inspiring in its simplicity. Cook This Page is a piece of paper with stenciled drawings that, like a recipe, direct you to lay out the various ingredients for a meal. Once you’ve placed all the necessary ingredients on the paper, you fold it, put it in the oven and cook it. When you pull it out, you have a complete meal. Not only is IKEA selling you the kitchen and the food, they create a link between the two to offer a simple, easy to use and infographic way to create high-quality meals.
MM: What do C-level executives need to do to operationalize simplicity?
EG: Shifting corporate culture is probably one of the most complex and challenging endeavors an executive must tackle. The best way to operationalize simplicity is to conduct a deep audit of your organization—oftentimes by engaging an outside expert. Start with your end goal and work backwards to identify the largest operational and political roadblocks, grandfathered institutional hurdles and sensitivities. You need to look at the chain to identify where you have the greatest chances of success and where the hidden obstacles are.
Simplicity takes investment and buy-in from people at every level, from the general staff all the way to the CEO. In order to make simplicity part of the culture, your brand vision must be communicated to everybody. The people who will implement simplicity must understand its value in order for it to take hold in the organization. You can’t force simplicity on people, it must be adopted.
Ultimately, the things that look simplest are what took the most work and strategic forethought to put into place.
MM: What are the biggest mistakes brands make when trying to simplify?
EG: Not understanding what simplification means or looks like when implemented. For example, brands fail to recognize that each social media platform requires a separate way of communicating. You can’t simplify by sending the same message to all social platforms. You need to understand each and tailor your message to maximize impact. But even deciding which social platforms to adopt requires doing the upfront, strategic work to understand what you stand for, which initiatives are priorities and how to best execute them. It often takes a lot of work just to get to the beginning. Ultimately, the things that look simplest are what took the most work and strategic forethought to put into place.
MM: How would you define simplicity?
EG: Simplicity means having the wisdom and courage to understand what you stand for.
MM: What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to other brand leaders trying to simplify?
EG: Many people misunderstand the purpose of simplifying. Simplicity for the sake of simplicity doesn’t make sense. You must spend time upfront to research what strategic objectives you’re looking to achieve and how simplicity is going to help you accomplish these goals. Once you understand where you’re going, you can figure out the best way to get there. Simplicity is often a great strategy.
MM: Thank you.
This is this an ongoing Simplifiers series. See interviews with CMO at Mary Kay,Sheryl Adkins-Green; Head of Marketing at Home Centre, Rohit Singh Bhatia; SVP, CMO of Aflac, Gail Galuppo; SVP and CMO at Cambia Health Solutions, Carol Kruse, Managing Director of The Nature Conservancy, Geof Rochester, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer of Motorola Solutions, Eduardo Conrado, EVP; SVP, Chief Marketing & External Affairs Officer at Abbott, Elaine Leavenworth, GE CMO, Linda Boff; McLaren Automotive Head of Brand Marketing, Stephen Lambert; Ascension Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Nick Ragone; Hertz CMO, Matt Jauchius; Direct Line Group Marketing Director, Mark Evans; McDonald’s CMO, Deborah Wahl; Jet.com President, Liza Landsman and VP Marketing, Sumaiya Balbale; Target CMO, Jeff Jones; Spotify CMO, Seth Farbman; Ally Financial CMO, Andrea Riley; Gannett CMO, Andy Yost; CVS Health CMO, Norman De Greve; Dunkin’ Brands CMO, John Costello; Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh; Southwest Airlines CMO, Kevin Krone; and Google CMO, Lorraine Twohill.
Know a simplifier or would like to be included in the series? Please recommend an executive for my next interview: firstname.lastname@example.org