This article appears in the Global Brand Simplicity Index 2015 – view the report now.
MM: What is your role, and what are you personally responsible for within your organization?
AY: I’m the Chief Marketing Officer for the new Gannett and I lead the new consumer marketing organization. Our team focuses on not only building our brand and our communications strategy for USA Today—and 92 local properties across Gannett—but we also design and develop programs that engage our consumers and generate revenue. I have a significant amount of revenue that my team is responsible for driving from a consumer standpoint. USA Today is our national brand and the leading brand in our portfolio.
MM: What does your brand stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise?
AY: USA Today is in the business of informing consumers on a wide variety of topics that impact their everyday lives. Consumers rely on us for trusted, up-to-the-minute news on topics from politics to sports, entertainment and breaking news. People look to us to learn a lot in a short amount of time while enjoying themselves in the process. That’s the heritage of the print product, which now has translated nicely to digital properties as well. So we’re really in the business of telling stories that allow people to better understand the world they’re part of in a way that’s digestible and easy to understand.
MM: What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?
AY: From the standpoint of USA Today, simplicity is really crucial to the design of our product and allows us to have a direct impact on consumer engagement with our brands. We are able to connect our audiences to the things that matter most to them, across all the platforms that are most relevant. People don’t have the time anymore to digest and analyze lots of information in this busy world we live in, so it’s our responsibility to take that content and design it in a way where the news and information are streamlined and consumed by how customers want to consume it.
MM: How does your organization strive to create simple experiences? Please provide a specific example?
AY: In our sports category we have a great product called “For the Win.” It’s our first mainstream media property focused on social news, with a stream of stories fans either are or will be talking about in the moment. What’s great about this is the content is designed specifically to resonate on social platforms, where the audience is, and on non-traditional media channels and platforms, specifically mobile. So it’s the intersection of the great sports content you expect from us, delivered in the voice and on the platforms that matter to customers.
In a world of sound bites and digestible news, people are looking for meaningful topics with meaningful explanations that they can share with their social network. We produce this content in a way that’s easily consumed and shared, and in a voice that’s natural for a social conversation.
MM: What are the challenges in creating simple experiences for customers?
AY: In a large company, nothing is truly simple. So there’s a level of complexity there, and I think the challenge we face daily is getting the organization aligned on prioritizing and communicating what we want to achieve for the business. But what’s great is once we rally around what we believe will provide the best consumer experience possible, we create strong products that deliver simplicity. And that’s how initiatives like “For the Win” come about.
MM: How do you strive to conquer complexity within your own company?
AY: I think it comes down to understanding consumer needs and which of those needs our product can serve best. I think that helps with prioritization opportunity, which leads to simplicity. A lot of work has been done recently on how we position our brands to consumers in the market place. What has come out of that is the position of “next generation” news in terms of being personal, being multi-platform, and the visual storytelling. The three supporting dimensions of that are being smarter, faster and more colorful. So everything we’re doing is designed to meet those three dimensions, and in doing so, it leads us to develop solutions that speak to simpler experiences.
MM: What benefits has your company experienced from simplifying?
AY: A key benefit is having a product that always errs towards being simple or more oriented toward being digestible. Where we’ve had success in recent years is shifting folks to engage with us on mobile devices in significant ways. The reality is a majority of visitors accessing usatoday.com are coming to us from their personal devices. I think that’s a testament to the fact that our content is designed in this simple way that fits nicely into our customers’ on-the-go lifestyle.
MM: How do you strive to keep things “simple” for your marketing team?
AY: Focusing on efforts we believe will have an impact. I’m challenging my team every day to make sure what we’re doing is making a difference. It comes down to aligning our actions with our goals–whether they are growing our audience, or increasing engagement with that audience, everything we do needs to achieve. A lot of that requires clear and concise goals and strong communication so that people understand where they should focus.
MM: How do you lead as a simplifier?
AY: Setting clear goals, communicating frequently and in an empowering way. I try to empower everyone on my team to be part of the solution. I can’t do this job alone, nor can my leadership team. We need the best ideas, and we need highly engaged employees to develop them. Through empowering folks to make decisions, we can create better, simpler customer experiences.
MM: What’s the most recent, simple customer experience you’ve had personally (e.g., product, service experience, etc.)?
AY: I currently drive Audis. What I like about my Audi experience is that not only is the car designed simply, pretty much everything in the car is intuitive. I’ve driven other cars where I have no idea what half the gadgets are meant to do. Audi’s product design is simple, but so is their customer experience. I have no issues when I have to take my car in for maintenance—it’s a seamless in-and-out customer experience. And the costs and charges are clear—there are no hidden or surprising costs. This makes me feel good about buying another one of their cars in the future.
MM: What is the top piece of advice you’d give to other brands trying to simplify?
AY: Play to your strengths. Know what your brand stands for and don’t deviate from that. I think we continue to do that here at USA Today. Even as we move from our traditional newspaper platform to digital experiences, the history we’ve developed in the print world translates nicely to digital. We have been able to maintain what our brand stands for and stay true to that.
MM: What are the key indicators that simplicity is driving your business?
AY: Looking at the metrics in terms of how products we’re developing and putting on digital platforms are being used. We are doing research on a regular basis that helps us understand our brand strength in the markets we serve. Not only USA Today but also our local brands as well. I think that gives us a measure of knowing how consumers feel our brands are delivering against their needs.
MM: What is the biggest mistake brands are making in regard to simplifying?
AY: I suspect some brands, if simplicity is viewed as the latest fad, approach it from the wrong perspective. There’s probably some danger in them saying “simplicity is what we should move toward” and “I’m going to make things simple,” but not understanding the ultimate implications to their product or what that means for customers. It’s dangerous when it’s handled in a reactionary way.
MM: What does “simplicity” mean to you?
AY: Simple is powerful. Simple could be viewed to be a weak thing, but for simplicity is clarity. It has positive connotations in terms of the stressed life I have. I value things that are easy to understand and help me be more efficient. Simplicity is even empowering.
MM: Is creating simpler customer experiences a focus for your brand with a planned approach? (e.g., a conscious initiative), or do you think it is a byproduct of other initiatives?
AY: Our brand and products have historically played to the concept of simplicity. And from a marketing standpoint, the programs we develop build on key elements of our brand. By staying true to who we’ve always been, we challenge ourselves to develop marketing programs that align closely with that. I think by default we’re continuing to maintain that simplicity and approach.
MM: Is simplicity part of your vernacular? Is it overt, or more of a consequence?
AY: We try to abide by the “smarter, faster more colorful” elements of our brand, and I think inherent in that is simplicity. Do we live our brand position around “smarter, faster more colorful?” Absolutely—it’s in everything we do, say and produce. It’s what we do every day, it’s not an afterthought.
Margaret Molloy is global CMO at Siegel+Gale. Follow her on Twitter: @MargaretMolloy