A very smart man once said, "If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself."

That man, of course, was Albert Einstein. I first heard this genius quote from my intermediate microeconomics professor in college and immediately fell in love with its simplicity. It’s now a trusted ‘diagnostic’ test I run pretty regularly to this day, and it has yet to fail me.

It’s a maxim that most adults, not just marketers, can benefit from adopting.

Simple Does Not Mean ‘Simplistic’

When did simplifying become a bad thing? In this age of ‘quick wins’ and ‘low-hanging fruit’ that necessitate a ‘view from 30,000 feet above’ to avert misguided efforts to ‘boil the ocean,’ it seems marketers have lost focus on the things that matter most: RESULTS.

Own your simple brilliance, marketers! We have more powerful and effective tools at our disposal than ever before. We now have the ability to prove the business impact of our efforts and report real-time ROI. Integrated marketing software and analytics tools (like HubSpot) are making our lives so much easier. It’s high time we embrace the simplicity and start working smarter -- not harder.

Complexity is Overrated

Technology is great, but it’s only as smart as we are. At the same time, complexity is way overrated. Overcomplicating things does not make you smarter. (It also does not make you ‘seem’ smarter.) In fact, more involved systems, intricate campaigns, and blown-out marketing plans are a great way to delay progress and ultimately deter results. 

It’s time for us to stop bogging ourselves down with never-ending busy work. We instead need to focus on reducing the clutter and noise so that fewer, high-impact actions can yield more tangible and meaningful results. Let's keep talking. 

Focus on the Essentials, Tune Out the Noise

You’ve probably heard of the Pareto Principle. Many people know it as the 80/20 rule. Simply put, the principle states that roughly 80% of the results come from 20% of the efforts. In everyday terms, this translates to roughly eight hours of your week’s effort resulting in 80% of the productive outcomes you’ll be able to share with your boss on Friday. Take a second to process that; it might actually blow your mind.

Now, to be absolutely clear, I am NOT advocating you give it your all on Mondays and overindulge on Buzzfeed and 2048 the rest of the week. (Though, research shows, a little goofing off never hurt anybody.) But just imagine the untapped potential to kick butt just by focusing on what really counts and filtering out the busy work.

Suddenly, we’ve discovered an extra:

  • 4 hours to draft a second blog post for next week
  • 2 solid hours to catch up on the latest in digital marketing trends
  • half an hour to revisit the results of last week’s email sent to see what worked well and find areas for improvement the next time around
  • and even 6 whole hours to complete your Inbound Marketing Certification!

You’re welcome.

It’s just so easy to revert to autopilot and begin working through your endless task list mindlessly. The smarter approach would be to take three (or maybe ten) steps back, determine your ultimate goal(s) and critically evaluate every item on your task list to determine whether or not it actually helps you reach your goal. If not, delegate or eliminate.

Less Really is More

"The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." - William James

The ability to focus on the essentials truly is an art, one that every marketer can perfect over time. For example, there is no reason to report on 12 different email-related metrics when focusing on one number -- the number of contacts converted on the landing page -- will tell you if you hit your email's goal to generate 50 webinar registrants or not. If, instead, the goal of the email was to identify which of two subject line variations results in more emails being opened, testing two versions in an A/B test and comparing both open rates is what you should be focused on.

Without this often-underrated skill, we run the very real risks of complacent wheel spinning or analysis paralysis. Or both. And neither has every helped anyone succeed.

So now, here are a few simple tips to get started on the road to simplicity.

5 Tips for Mastering the Art of 'Simple' Marketing Success

1. Start With Why

If you can clearly articulate why you’re doing something, you’ll be able to identify exactly why you shouldn’t be doing something just as easily – for the simple reason that it doesn’t bring you closer to your ultimate objective. If you own your goal, really own it, you’ll never fall into the ‘obfuscation trap’ because your default behavior will be to bring it back to 'the why' every time.

2. Know Thy Audience

I strongly believe that starting with 'the why’ is just as important as starting with 'the who’ -- especially for marketers. Knowing your audience intimately will help you answer some of life’s greatest questions: Should we create an ebook or a webinar? Focus on Twitter or LinkedIn? Invest more in high quality video content?

The truth is, we’re only as effective as our most targeted campaign. It seems like such a logical place to start and yet, in our daily shuffle to launch, ship, promote, announce, we often lose sight of this fundamental cornerstone of marketing success.

3. Make Sure It’s Measurable

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Or improve it. Or effectively report on it. Numbers are your friends, fellow marketers. Embrace their definitiveness. They will never lie, sugarcoat or exaggerate.

And that’s why we love them.

4. Give Yourself Strict Time Limits

Marketers usually make great planners. The problem is: planning ain’t gonna get you results. It’s time to stop pontificating and start shipping! Then, use the measurable data (see Tip #3) to refine and reiterate.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

Old habits die hard. Trust me, I get it. We’ve all been overcomplicating too many things for far too long and change is not easy. It’ll take practice, diligence and dedication but change will come and the rewards are so worth it! Take things one day at a time and, pretty soon, you’ll prove to the world that you can teach an old dog some fancy new tricks.

And, if all else fails, just remember to run it by your six-year-old nephew.

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Originally published Jul 10, 2014 9:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017