Behind every brand delivering a great experience is a leader who recognizes the value of keeping things simple. In Simplifiers, Margaret Molloy, our Global CMO, interviews business leaders who put simplicity to work. 

In this Simplifiers interview, Margaret speaks with Norman de Greve, CMO, CVS Health.

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 CVS Health?

NdG: I am the chief marketing officer of CVS Health, which includes the three retail business that we have: CVS/pharmacy, CVS/caremark, and CVS/minuteclinic.

MM: What does CVS Health stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

NdG: Our purpose is to “help people on their path to better health.” That’s how the organization is built, enabling people to access our pharmacy, the MinuteClinic. Our brand personality is “leading with heart.” We set high expectations and we get there with heart.

MM: What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

NdG: A big role. We’re a Fortune 10 company with multiple lines of business. These businesses were operating independently previously, but the creation of CVS Health got us all to work together with one purpose. It’s a great example of how brand strategy drove simplicity.

Simplicity in how we describe what we do is relatively new. We’ve adopted: Clear, beautiful, useful and fresh as our definitions of that, and it plays role in a number of things, particularly digital, and how we educate consumers and inspire them to make better decisions.

MM: How does your organization strive to create simple experiences? Please provide a specific example?

NdG: I think a good example is the digital lab that we built. We have an entire group in the organization that looks at the future of digital and healthcare and how it will enable simpler experiences for customers. Healthcare can be confusing and fragmented and we are building partnerships with multiple telehealth providers to determine what will work best in that space. You should be able to talk to healthcare providers through apps, use them to help diagnose yourself or a family member, etc. This would make customer’s lives simpler.

MM: What are the challenges of creating simple experiences for customers?

NdG: If you don’t have clarity of purpose and you don’t have clear your brand differentiators then you get people who are trying to create simplicity, but that are moving in different directions. That doesn’t feel simple to the customer. The purpose needs to guide every decision you make.

MM: How do you strive to conquer complexity within your own company?

NdG: It is at the core of every decision we make. It’s at the core of the culture. When we talk about purposeful decisions – we make them by getting senior executives to want to believe in simplicity, and stand on the podium and preach it. People also remember things that strike an emotional chord, so we tell stories about how we’ve helped people. We lead with the heart, and set high expectations and deliver with love.

MM: What benefits has CVS Health experienced from simplifying? 

NdG: Clarity and focus. Everybody has to meet objectives and grow and it’s easy to get distracted. Every day, you can make decisions that will deliver on profit. These may be OK decisions, but they can eventually lead you down the wrong path. Simplicity gives you clarity on what you will and will not do. We sacrificed two billion dollars in annual revenue by giving up tobacco, because of purpose. But we believe that if we stick to our purpose, our revenue will come.

MM: How do you strive to keep things “simple” for your marketing team, every day? What’s working?

NdG: You have to know the biggest strategic and tactical drivers of your business, and you have to stay focused on them. For example, a strategic driver could be that the business has to own more healthcare share of wallet. The tactical might be that the circulars get people in the stores.

MM: What’s the most recent, simple customer experience you’ve had personally (e.g., product, service experience, etc.)?

NdG: Interface design is a major value driver—it’s hard to deliver a simple and effective design. Those products that are dominating in our culture today are those that use simplicity in design. Uber is a brand I know and the one I love. What’s fascinating is that they have no cars – and they’ve created $50 Billion in market value.

MM: What is the top piece of advice you’d give to other brands trying to simplify?

First, find a purpose you truly believe in—you need to believe it in your heart. Second, align your company along a common set of differentiators to deliver on that purpose.

MM: What do c-level execs need to do to operationalize simplicity?

NdG: Focus on how you are making things better for your customer. The center of gravity in big companies is often inside the company, and not outside it. It’s interesting that for a small company, the center of gravity is usually the customer.

MM: What organizational changes need to be made to build a culture of simplicity?

NdG: It comes from the top. It comes from the president, the CEO who has a passion to help customers. Without that, it’s a struggle for companies. That passion is making decisions based on your best interest when I could easily make them in my own best interest. That’s very different from tweaking a spreadsheet to be more profitable.

Ultimately, all long term growth is customer demand growth. When you get focused on that, you can rally an organization of thousands of people in one direction. Nothing complex is going to work. There’s power in the simplicity of purpose–something everyone can internalize and repeat every day.

MM: Why do you think it is so difficult for the majority of companies to deliver simple experiences?

NdG: Not all employees are rewarded for the same things and the incentive and measurement systems aren’t aligned to purpose.

MM: What does “simplicity” mean to you?

NdG: An experience that is three things–something easy to understand, easy for customers to use, and easy for lines of business to adopt and replicate.

MM: Thank you, Norman.

Margaret Molloy is global CMO at Siegel+Gale. Follow her on Twitter: @MargaretMolloy