Go Forth and Simplify...But How?


By Irene Etzkorn
Chief Clarity Officer, Siegelvision

The Securities Exchange Commission recently proposed a Variable Annuity Summary Prospectus to give consumers a condensed version of the typically daunting prospectus issued with annuities. It is the latest in a series of calls by regulators for audience-centered, plain language communications and it won't be the last. The increasing complexity of products and the proliferation of choices, has created a perfect storm of confusion.

To respond to the spirit of these regulations--developing communications that educate, reinforce the value proposition, and engender trust—requires more than clear writing. Companies find themselves needing to instill a "Simplicity Mindset" throughout their organizations.

Many companies have restructured marketing efforts to consider the customer experience holistically, an essential step towards simplification. This action brings together those who don't usually work together as communicators; and when structured as a collaborative effort, these cross-functional teams offer valuable insights by focusing on audience needs rather than defending internal silos.

However, that is only the beginning. Companies need to teach their in-house teams to simplify existing communications and to create new ones through the lenses of empathy, distillation, and clarity. As Chief Clarity Officer at Siegelvision, I have found that companies can benefit from "Simplification Workshops" that explore these three principles in depth.

Workshops can educate cross-functional teams about the benefits of simplification, giving them skills and tools to achieve clarity, informing them about dimensions of simplicity beyond writing and design and jumpstarting the simplification process. Participants benefit from the guidance of simplification experts who possess these skills and have the ability to convey practical techniques and tools to others. With examples rooted in familiar collaterals they currently produce, the specificity of the workshop helps them to understand how seemingly remote concepts apply to their product set and market.

There are several reasons that companies have difficulty instilling a Simplification Mindset. However, all of those are fixable. One is that the most knowledgeable subject matter experts have the most trouble writing about their subjects precisely because they are so close to the topics. They are so used to speaking to other experts that they can't convey their insights without falling back on acronyms, jargon and insider references. Here, storytelling is critical to the solution—teaching colleagues to interview an expert to draw out a conversational, relatable description of a subject that would otherwise be "as dry as toast."

Similarly, the very talents that make people experts in finance, engineering, medicine, architecture, or aerospace are not naturally compatible with high-quality writing. Once again, allowing people to dictate nuggets of content will likely produce less academic prose which can then be transformed by a trained writer/editor. Guided conversation can be a critical aspect of a successful Simplification Workshop.

Developing audience-centered communications initiates long-lasting change because it considers the lifecycle of the customer journey and the associated information needs over time. Gathering representatives from marketing, product development, user research, sales, regulatory, operations, and communications in a collaborative setting and giving them a tailored presentation peppered with actual material from their company provides actionable content, techniques, and observations.

Many companies are plagued by jargon-ridden communications, convoluted processes, and tolerance for bureaucracy. They yearn for clarity, simplicity, and efficiency and rightly so--we believe that complexity is a thief that robs all of us of time, money, optimism and patience. It nickels and dimes consumers while eroding a company's bottom line. Simplicity can prevent this crime.

Let's start a conversation on how to instill a Simplification Mindset in your organization.