Marketing Simplicity

The movie Gone in Sixty Seconds is generally considered one of the worst of producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s efforts. Top GunBad BoysThe RockCon AirArmageddon. Not really a list of critics’ choices, and Gone in Sixty Seconds, with a critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes of 24%, is no exception. It’s basically like watching someone else play Grand Theft Auto. But, like all Bruckheimer movies, it was a decent box office performer.

There is a rumour that when the movie was pitched to Bruckheimer there was no script, no story boards, just a single line: a gang of thieves have to steal 50 luxury cars in 24 hours. And that’s it –the beauty of Gone in Sixty Seconds.

The premise is so simple, so explainable, so appealing that the whole ecosystem gets it immediately. Whether it’s a studio deciding to invest millions, or a suburban couple on a date night choosing a movie, that single line connects, and that connection turns into good business.

When we started Sonar6 we were very uncertain how to describe what we did. We wanted to make software that helped organizations manage their people. That made sense. We knew that the difference between organizations that prospered, and those that did poorly was often how well they managed their people. We also knew that people were the most expensive resource in a business. Add those things together and it’s obvious that businesses would be willing to spend money on managing their people better. The problem was trying to convince anyone that our software, in fact any software, was actually going to help.

We started by demonstrating that there was a lot more to our product. We made it look complex and scientific. I even wrote a whitepaper called “Talent Science: The emerging science of people management”. It makes me cringe now just thinking about it.

It’s a common trap. Most startups have a chip on their shoulder about being small. One thing they do to make themselves seem bigger is to describe themselves in complicated ways. Because more complex means bigger. And more complex means smarter.

That trip to Sequoia started a sea change for Sonar6. It crystalized something we had been desperately missing. Simplicity.

When we started Sonar6 we were “A talent management system, to help corporations get an accurate inventory of all of their talent; to understand who were their stars, and who were the underperformers”.

By the end of that year we were “At last, performance reviews that don’t suck”.

It turns out that simple is actually better. If something is simple, people are likely to understand it, and more likely to be able to make a connection to it. So while our product was sophisticated software that helped businesses understand the capabilities of all their people, our go-to-market message was a simple one. We made performance reviews that didn’t suck.

People could relate to this. The opening dialog would go like this:
“Does your business do performance reviews?”
“Are they good?”
“No. Everyone hates them.”
“Well, we can fix that for you.”

The conversation was underway. Now we could introduce all the other amazing things that we could do for them, which would hopefully convince them to buy from us and not our competition.

All markets are crowded. The internet is a very crowded space. Everybody is ignoring your stuff. Even if you manage to get someone’s attention, you only have it for a few seconds. Having a business built around a simple message makes all the difference.