Less is More

Less Is More: The Enduring Value of a Simple Sense of Self

Written byFIG Team
July 23, 2020

Hone your core values to sustain long-term relevance and enable meaningful action.

Behind every great brand is a great story. And at FIG, we believe that the best stories are the simplest ones. No clutter, no jargon. Just an authentic view of who you are and what you stand for. 

The cascading health, racial, political, and economic crises of 2020 are rewriting the scripts for how brands can and should exist in the world. What was true yesterday is no longer a given today, and brands need to retool themselves for our newly mercurial reality. And your brand story is your north star, a perennial light to guide you through shifting landscapes and climates.

Telling your story is more than a branding exercise — it’s the driver of successful communications. Stories are the best way to convey information and persuade people, and we can prove that over time, compelling stories create enduring business value. That’s why we developed Dynamic Storytelling™, a new paradigm for modern marketing. Comprising three pillars — a simplified sense of self, uninterrupted listening, and a flexible media approach — Dynamic Storytelling™ can grow your business through building your brand equity alongside built-in responsiveness and elasticity. 

The first step of Dynamic Storytelling™ is simplifying your sense of self. Set aside your product or service and focus on the values that animate your very existence: What is it that you care about? Think of the world’s most iconic brands, and it’s easy to answer for them: Apple wants to challenge the status quo; Google wants to organize the world; Coca-Cola wants to bring happiness to everyday life. If you can distill the essence of your brand into a few simple words, you can easily identify your role in the culture at large — and know how to respond when it shifts.

If you can distill the essence of your brand into a few simple words, you can easily identify your role in the culture at large — and know how to respond when it shifts.

Whats Your Story

Stripping your brand to its core isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it: 64 percent of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand because it has simpler communications, and 55 percent will pay more for a simpler experience (Siegel+Gale Global Brand Simplicity Index, 2018-2019). Simplicity pays off no matter your industry, product, or service. Below, we demonstrate why simple wins with four brand examples across food, retail, hospitality, and news.

1. Patagonia: A sense of self rooted in saving the planet 

Patagonia works to fight climate change across every aspect of its business, from product development and manufacturing to marketing and advertising. Launched in 1973 with the mission to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis,” the company delivers on that promise with sustainable material sourcing, low-impact and humane factory protocols, and long-term product life cycles. In 2019, the brand reframed its original mission statement into fewer, more forceful words: “We’re in business to save our home planet.” The new motto reflects the brand’s burgeoning political tilt, evidenced by its recent endorsement of environmentally friendly senators and open criticism of President Trump. From the get-go, the brand has structured its business model to do no harm; the refined promise to do more good simply re-entrenches the brand’s environmentalist values. 

2. Ben & Jerry’s: A sense of self rooted in social idealism

Committed to “making the world a better place,” Ben & Jerry’s has taken a stand on myriad social issues including marriage equality, climate change, and racial justice throughout its 40-year-plus existence. The brand’s diversity of initiatives proves that having a singular sense of self expands — not limits — opportunities for community engagement. For Ben & Jerry’s, a founding belief in social activism acts as a filter for navigating cultural moments, sifting through the clutter to quickly identify events that align with its overarching purpose. 

3. Airbnb: A sense of self rooted in belonging

Spurred in 2007 as a slapdash attempt for two roommates to make rent, Airbnb is now a global brand synonymous with aspirational travel experiences. Its staggering growth can be traced to a 2013 rebranding exercise that cut down the brand’s mission to a single idea: belonging. Over the years, the motto “Belong Anywhere” has guided Airbnb through a number of high-profile challenges, including PR crises pertaining to the health and safety of its host homes, regulatory battles with city governments, and discrimination lawsuits. In response to the COVID-19 health crisis, it launched immersive online experiences, nearby travel destinations, and a host program for housing frontline responders — innovative solutions for our collective isolation, inspired by a corporate mission to bring people together. And as individuals around the world galvanize under the Black Lives Matter movement, the brand set up Project Lighthouse, an interdepartmental initiative to overcome discrimination on its platform. Such nimble responses to the evolving culture are possible because the brand knows who it is and why it exists. 

4. CNN: A sense of self rooted in telling the truth 

In 2016, FIG partnered with CNN to redefine its brand in the face of ongoing attacks and accusations of “fake news.” Drawing from the insights that anyone with a Twitter handle can become a news pundit and the boundaries between fact and fiction are fading fast, we saw an opportunity for CNN to emerge as the arbiter of objective truth. Enter “Facts First,” a fresh brand campaign we designed using the simple iconography of an apple on a white background. Since then, the two-word slogan has evolved beyond advertising into a permanent fact-checking content vertical on CNN.com and a popular social media hashtag. By virtue of its sheer simplicity, the motto can easily be iterated upon for topical news events; for example, we introduced a banana to respond to the Mueller investigation and removed fruit altogether to comment on the COVID-19 crisis. As an extension of CNN’s defining values, Facts First has allowed the brand to quickly respond to unforeseen upheaval while upholding a cohesive message. 

Consumers are navigating a deluge of conflicting news headlines, misinformation from political leaders, and empty promises from brands. In our increasingly uncertain times, elaborate marketing stunts and wordy manifestos fall flat. Your brand story is an opportunity to connect with your customers through clear, honest messaging. And if you can articulate who you are in a few simple words, you create time and space to listen to the world beyond your brand.

To learn more about Dynamic Storytelling™, see our holistic strategy deck and accompanying articles on uninterrupted listening and a flexible media approach.

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