Chaos Makes The Customer Run The Other Way

I discovered on vacation that people will want anything when you present it to them in rows. I took these photos at the generous breakfast buffet at the Tropicana LV, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

You can take the most disgusting leftovers out of the fridge, but if you chop them up in neat squares and put them in tins of different colors, people will line up to put them in bowls and eat them.

This is why food service places offer you things in rows rather than individually in the containers they bought them in.

People like rows because they make order out of chaos and simplify the process of acquiring and using products. Food, dishes, cosmetics - everything looks better and is more appealing as a coordinated set.

The idea of rows underscores the basic principle of branding. This is that you simplify the process of thinking - actually you remove the need to think. (A point well-made in Brand Simple, by Allen Adamson and Martin Sorrell.)

Here are a couple of anecdotes that bear this out.

In the first instance, the family was watching TV and the Nationwide Insurance commercial came on. This is the one where there's burglars in the house replacing everything and the narrator tries to explain how Nationwide gives you peace of mind. 

I could never follow this commercial and I asked my older daughter, a Communications major, what she thought of it as versus the commercial for that came afterward. 

My daughter said, "The commercial is much better. I have no idea what's going on in the first one."

In the second instance we were shopping for food and my younger daughter picked up a bottle of olive oil. 

She said, "Mom, I really like the branding on this."

My head spun around. "Did I just hear you say branding?"

(She is not into marketing at all, and so in those moments when she meets me in the branding place I feel such joy.)

"Yes, I just wanted to tell you - look at the colors on the label, the lettering." 

The bottle was elegant, smoky glass with an unusual shape and the name of the brand was printed in bold block pastel colors, something simple and bold.

As I recall I did not look at all the bottles of oil on the shelf because the display was too cluttered for me. Even when I am shopping, if there are too many choices I shy away from any of them.

Back to the food example - the below arrangement was too messy for me and I think that's why I couldn't find the creamer.

If marketing depends on simplicity and alignment how much more so does communication more broadly. 

Whether it's your products, your words, or you personally, people respond better to a coherent and coordinated package, arranged in an order they can follow, than to a mess. 

5 implications for government communication:

1. Think about how to unify the disparate parts of an agency or an offering in a way that makes sense to the customer. Don't focus on the internal units that provide the service, but rather on the output.

2. This normally means you will have to cut across organizational lines to communicate externally.

3. On a broader level it often makes sense for different agencies to work together on a coordinated message. Try to get out of the mindset that your agency should get credit for the work it does. This is not the point of communication it is the outcome of doing good work for the customer, i.e. the general public.

4. It saves the taxpayer money if the communicators are skilled enough to work together and fight stovepiping - rather than taking the easy way out and hiring a contractor who will tell you the above.

5. It also saves the taxpayer money if the communication is done well enough that the customer doesn't turn to private vendors who sell them what the government offers for free - and people are happy to buy it because it's presented in terms that are simple and make sense to them.

* All opinions my own.