In a thesaurus, you’ll find synonyms for simplicity: candor, clarity, ease. But what do those terms really mean from culture to culture?
That’s what the branding firm Siegel+Gale set out to determine when it canvassed 6,152 consumers in seven different countries about which industries and brands were best at making their lives simpler. After tallying the responses, the firm came up with seven different versions of a Brand Simplicity Index, one global, and others based on each area visited: the United States, U.K., Germany, India, Middle East (Saudi Arabia and Dubai), mainland China.
The differences in what makes for “simplicity” in different regions is quite striking, especially since Siegel+Gale undertook the survey between Sept. 20 and Nov. 1, 2010 -- on the cusp of revolution in the heart of the Middle East.
In Saudi Arabia and Dubai, well-heeled monarchies where true freedom is a genie kept in the bottle, the leading “simplicity brands” are Apple, Gulf News, Amazon and news publisher 7 Days. Siegel+Gale says interviews with survey respondents there show that they love Apple’s elegant design. But I couldn’t help wondering if something else isn’t afoot: Apple is as much a media company as it is a hardware manufacturer. Amazon is a window to a wider world. Two news publishers make the top ten in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, where, like most of the Middle East, the population is young and restless, hungry for a bigger taste of the world.
Here at home, USA Today is rated No. 49, just behind Victoria’s Secret (speaking of transparency) and CBS. No. 1 is Netflix, the movie purveyor. The next four leading brands for communicating and helping to create simplicity are all fast food restaurants – Subway, McDonalds, Dunkin’ Donuts and Burger King.
Fast food ranks high in China, which likes to keep firm control of information, but so do Baidu, the local search engine, and Southern Weekly, the liberal newspaper.
Brian Rafferty, global director, consumer insights at Siegel + Gale, says leading global brands like McDonalds have mastered making themselves both universal and local – everyone knows what to expect in terms of quality but can be assured of finding familiar cuisine. Starbucks, doyen of the world’s most complex coffee menu, gets kudos for creating an easy place to socialize – no matter your location.
Simplicity leads to superior stock performance. The top publicly traded companies in the global simplicity index are up about 80 percent from the beginning of 2009 through 2010 versus 35 percent for the S&P 500. The flipside: Companies could earn billions more if they were to make their products less complex. U.S. consumers say they would be willing to pay 5 percent more for already pricy health insurance if the simplicity, i.e., the transparency, on their policies were improved. Rafferty says in-depth interviews reveal that policyholders believe that complex policies hide the ways the issuers can wiggle out of their obligations.
Alas, Siegel + Gale didn’t ask about Facebook or Twitter. In the private market their values are surging. For access to all that free information, investors are willing to pay up substantially.