Behind every brand delivering simpler experiences for customers is a leader who recognizes the inherent value in keeping things simple. In Simplifiers, Margaret Molloy interviews business leaders who put simplicity to work. Here, Margaret speaks with Tracy Keim, VP Consumer Marketing + Brand, 23andMe.


Margaret Molloy: What is 23andMe?          

Tracy Keim: We are the only FDA authorized, direct-to-consumer genetics company.

MM: And what does 23andMe stand for?

TK: We stand for three things—the first is giving people access to DNA; the second is helping them understand it, and the third is everyone being able to benefit from it.

By offering people access to their genetics, it allows them to be in control, and at 23andMe we believe knowledge is power. If you have access, the choice is yours to do with this knowledge what you want. And then to benefit from it, it’s how do you understand your results and then how do you benefit from it? We anchor all of our initiatives around this—does this project offer the consumer more access, does it help them understand genetics or themselves better, and will they benefit from it today or in the future?

MM: How do you deliver on that promise every day? 

TK: It gets back to how we guide our decision-making and how we behave as a brand. If the activity doesn’t serve one of the tenets mentioned earlier, it may not be on our roadmap or our radar. We could be doing something as big as therapeutic research or as small as a genetic insight; we will still apply the same three tenets.

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

TK: If we’re not giving people access, if they don’t understand what we’re doing and they’re not going to benefit from it, we won’t roll out the initiative. Identifying what you don’t do is as important as identifying what you actually do. Said principles serve as filters to facilitate that simplification.

MM: What benefits has 23andMe experienced from simplifying? 

TK: We’ve seen it in our business results. We’ve been able to grow with a more simplified, focused message. We’ve seen extraordinary results in our awareness by keeping a consumer-facing message simple.

Brands get caught up in thinking that everything they do is so important, but really, you’re in service of the consumer. It’s not about you; it’s about them. Consumers are inundated with more messages and information than ever, so if you can potentially impact a consumer with one message, what would it be? That’s what guides our marketing campaigns and internal decisions.

MM: As a marketing leader, how do you keep things “simple” for your team?

TK: The art of distillation. Years ago, when I first started, I gave everyone on the marketing team a book called “The One Thing” by Gary Keller. The message was to determine the one thing you want to accomplish today, or the one thing we want to tell a consumer in this campaign and making sure you don’t get caught up in creating lists, checking lists, and continually trying to get ahead.

MM: Personally speaking, what’s the most recent simple customer experience that inspired or impressed you?

TK: I love services that solve problems. There’s a small internet brand called Handy that I’ve used countless times. Most recently, my dad needed assistance in removing and discarding his mattress. From California, I was able to arrange Handy for my father in Connecticut, and Handy made it happen in three hours. It was so evident by the app experience, the service and the execution of it that they have their process and business down pretty well. They never fail to execute when I’ve used them

MM: What are some of the biggest mistakes that brands make with regards to simplifying?

TK: When you ask somebody what they remember from a brand, it’s usually a feel-good moment or something that emotionally connects with them. Sometimes with company leaders, they focus so much on everything they can do, but like great storytelling, they have to remember the moral of the story. In other words, what’s the takeaway? I always say, keep a brief, brief. Marketers try to do ten things at once because dollars are tight, and time is tight. However, brands need to be mindful that people remember stories—not information.

MM: Any recent examples of a difficult decision that you made at 23andMe, that you had to make for the sake of simplicity? 

TK: Internally, we decided not to launch a product after six months of blood, sweat and tears went into it. We learned so much throughout the process that we realized it wasn’t the right thing to do and it would complicate things more. The choice was all in service of the consumer and I think it was a healthy one to simplify and not do more, just because we put effort into it. Being able to step back and make tough choices is all part of simplifying.

MM: What does “simplicity” mean to you?

TK: I’m a minimalist, so to me, simplicity means focusing on one thing and doing it exceptionally well.

MM: What advice would you give other brands trying to simplify?

TK: I would tell brands to remember it’s not about them; it’s about the consumer. I also suggest trying things out on family members or people who are not your customer. Years ago, I called my sister to find out how she enjoyed her 23andMe results, and the first words out of her mouth were, “What’s a haplogroup and why should I care?” She’s now the first person I call when we have a big idea because it’s great for a marketer to find that one logical person with fresh eyes. What does the person outside your company, outside Silicon Valley, outside the metro areas, think of your product or service? Finding people that you can try things on with is extremely helpful.

MM: Thank you, Tracy.