4 questions to ask to help you simplify your comms

Simplification is often useful to raise engagement with an audience. Not always, but often.

It's not about dumbing down, or making things superficial, or losing the nuance. The aim is simply to take away anything that isn't essential for the message. Get rid of the extraneous. Be brutal. It's like tuning out the white noise so you're left with a perfect signal; there's less to distract your audience, and a greater chance they'll understand the message and respond do it. Everyone is overwhelmed with information so anything to cut through that and make it easier for your audience is worth doing.

There is a check list of four questions you can ask yourself (in descending order or severity!) which can help to simplify your comms and your key marketing messages. I do this all the time in my day-job and I absolutely guarentee it makes a difference in the level of engagement I get from my audience.

1) Do we need to send this at all?

If we over-saturate our audience then our communications begin to loose value over time. So we have to be careful to only communicate when we have enough of important to that particular audience. The first way to simplify, then, is the most extreme: do I really need to send this? Most of the time the answer is yes, but occasionally opportunities to hold back arise, and those opportunities need to be taken.

Think of it from your audience's point of view. Would you want this if you were them?

2) Can we get rid of anything extraneous?

Again, it's not about making it TOO short. It's not about superficiality. It's about making it as short as possible whilst maintaining the meaning and the nuance of the message. Every sentance or element should be scrutinised - if it doesn't NEED to be there, get rid of it.

Some elements of your message can be present for the user at the next stage, rather than this initial contact - so for example, if the comms is to ask users to go to a website, some of the key information can be on the website without needing to also be included in the comms themselves.

For the user, a long message is a) more likely to make them not even read / watch at all, b) more likely to make them stop reading / watching before the end and c) make them less likely to retain the key information in their head afterwards.

3) Can we cascade this over more than one message?

Sometimes once you've got rid of what's extraneous you're still left with a LOT. To cut it further would be to leave out essential information. From a marketing point of view, it can be worth marketing one big thing at a time rather than trying to market everything at once - allowing your audience a chance to lock in on one key theme at a time, reducing the risk of getting lost in the detail. This is risky, because it can lead to over-communication (which goes against the first principle above) so you have to make a judgement call. But with something like academic induction, for example, telling everyone everything simply doesn't work. We KNOW people can't remember all that. So in that scenario it can be worth trying to cascasde one large message into two or three smaller ones.

4) Can the language be made clearer?

So you've done 1 - 3: yes it's essential and needs to go out; it's as short as it can be without losing nuance; it needs to be just one message. So can anything be done with the language and tone to make it clear and simple to follow? Can it be less formal without losing credibility? Is there any obscure terminology that your users won't all be familiar with? Are there acronyms that need replacing or explaining?

You can't always simplify comms, and it's not always desirable to do so. But if you ask yourself these four questions before disseminating key messages, the chances are you'll get a higher level of engagement from your audience.

BONUS QUESTION: Can we segment our audience?

Segmentation is too complex to get into detail here, but the basic principle is to divide your audience up into smaller groups and tailor the communication to each one. This often presents opportunities for simplification, because you're not having to include all of the information all of the time - you can pick and choose the parts that matter most to each segment.

A library marketing manifesto


I just delivered a keynote at the LIANZA Conference, #SHOUT15, in New Zealand. It outlines a Library Marketing Manifesto - an attempt to boil everything down into five things we must do to be heard and listened to above the clamour of modern life. I know some people are uncomfortable with the word marketing, but essentially this is all about communication between us and our communities.


1. We will be community orientated
2. We will do what people need, but market what they want
3. We will cater for library novices and for library experts
4. We will keep things simple
5. We will coordinate our marketing into campaigns

Here are the slides:

The talk was recorded. Although the video inevitably mortifies me a bit, I'm delighted to have a record of the whole thing because I was so excited to be there, and the audience were so fantastically receptive.

Watch the talk here.

And finally, here are some excellent tweets which help explain the slides a little more. (I'll write about the experience of actually being in New Zealand and the rest of the conference later on.) The embedded version doesn't cover the full thing - you can view that online here if you wish.

Libraries! Let's stop underestimating simplicity. (Simplicity is user-friendly)

Simple image of a display on a bare wall I think one excellent way forward for most libraries would be to adopt an aggressively pro-simplicity stance. We often make decisions about services or models based on the need to accommodate everyone - the need not to put anyone out, rather than the need to really inspire people to use what we have. It's very difficult, perhaps impossible, to be both inspirational and compromising at the same time. Look at loan periods as a really basic example. Most libraries have a lot of them - this is an attempt to make sure everyone is catered for. But sometimes it's so complicated as to be detrimental to the users.

Simplicity is great for many reasons.  It allows focus. It allows us to market with clear messages about what we do. It helps the user feel like they know where they are. It stops the model being too diluted by attempts not to offend. And - and this is the key point I want to make in this post - people can often prefer simplicity even to desirable options.

Think about your own experiences. Let's take a mundane example - sometimes it's nice to go to a coffee shop and have a choice between an Americano, an Espresso and a Latte, in two sizes. Even if you really like cinnamon lattes or whatever, you might prefer the simplicity of options to 7 different types of coffee, in three different sizes, with syrup options ago-go.

There's all sorts of retail experiences like that - booking hotel rooms or flights, for instance, or choosing a sandwich in Subway... - where options that are designed to personalise the experience to suit you actually just get in the way of some sort of essential process.

So I think (and I'm thinking about all this because I suggested it at a work meeting the other day) that all new processes and models and services should be designed to be simple and to make an impact, rather than to cover all the bases. (I realise librarians often feel a sort of moral obligation to make sure we're not disadvantaging anyone, and I'm definitely in favour of that as long as it doesn't come at the expense of our actual future.) And I think any services we re-design should be re-designed at least partly with the question 'What would users who'd NEVER EXPERIENCED THE OLD SYSTEM really want her?e' uppermost in our minds, as well as the need not to offend existing users. Chances are, they'd want something efficient, non-complicated, and easy to understand.

- thewikiman

p.s some of the themes in this post are also covered in my previous one