How to Make Complex Ideas Simple

by | Nov 12, 2021

In marketing, we must take complex ideas and simplify them for our audiences. Sometimes it can be difficult in the midst of the chaos.

Following is a guest post from our friends over at Long & Short of It, masters of ideation, customer insights and market research. They like to say they “dig and find lots of data and then turn it into actionable insights.” Following is their guest post. 

Your organization may be complex, with a wide variety of products and services, and you have a lot you want to say. However, too often in our excitement to tell the world about how awesome we are, we tend to say too much and only end up confusing people. Finding a way to simplify your message and distill what your company has to offer is important.


Why it’s important to simplify varies based on what you are trying to do. If you are advertising or posting on social media, you only have a few words or seconds to get your message across. Just look at any billboard. Most are an awful mess. They attempt to say too much – often, the font is too small and there are confusing images, and the result is a message that gets lost in the medium.

Or you may have a complex service with many offerings and need to find a way to summarize what you do and how it’s done, otherwise people will get overwhelmed. They won’t understand what sets you apart from your competition and why they should buy your product or service. Have you ever read through a website or a brochure and even after a few paragraphs, you still aren’t sure what they do or the simple thing you think should be easy to find is just not evident? Yeah – sad because these are just all lost opportunities.


There are many way to do this, though one of our favorite exercises to conduct with a client is taking them through a value attribute map or process.

  • Begin with listing out your product or service features. Write them out in a horizontal row. Keep it to the most important 5 to 7 to start with. For each feature, identify the benefit to the user, and write that above your row of features. For example, my travel mug (S’well for Sue/Yeti for Dean) is thermally insulated. That’s a feature. The benefit is it keeps my coffee or tea hot for a long time. Keep in mind, a feature can have more than one benefit.

  • The next step is the most important – keep laddering up. For each benefit, describe why you believe that benefit is important to your target audience. What value do they attribute to that benefit? You have to look at this from your target audience’s perspective – an outside-in approach. Following through from the travel mug example, the reason I value my drink staying hot for a long time is because it tastes better hot, saves me time from having to re-heat, and it’s one less thing to worry about through my crazy day.

  • Do this for every feature. You may and should find that many features end up having the same benefit and end-value. And that’s the key. It’s laddering up to what is most important to your target audience.

  • Think about those end values – your key message is in there. It won’t say everything you may want to, but it’s the perfect way to get the initial message across and break through the clutter of competing messages. You don’t have to tell them everything at once, just enough to help them understand what makes your product/service meaningful to them and unique enough that it gets them to want to learn more. And then that’s your opportunity to then tell them more.

Using a value attribute map is just one way to help bring clarity from chaos. There are other methods, and they have many things in common such as getting organized, creating hierarchies, and thinking about what is important from the perspective of your target audience. Because in the end, it’s about the audience, not about you.

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