The Power of Simplicity for B2B Tech Brands: Less is More

Exploring the why and how of B2B tech's fear of simplicity

In my car there are no knobs. If I want to turn the air conditioning up or down, I have to press a button on a screen, and then press more screen buttons to make it warmer or cooler. My old car was better. It had knobs and all I had to do was reach down and turn one of them to change the temperature. It wasn’t a chore and was easier than it is now.

I like to moan about this to anyone that’s unlucky enough to be in the car with me. Well, now there’s a study to prove that I’m not alone…

A recent JD Power survey on Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout shows that overall satisfaction among car owners has decreased for two years in a row - the first time in the 28-year history of the study that its shown consecutive declines. Frank Hanley, senior director of auto benchmarking at J.D. Power said, “Despite the technology and design innovations that manufacturers put into new vehicles, owners are lukewarm about them”.

I wonder if this will sink in with manufacturers.

I’d argue that this infatuation with new features is even more powerful in the B2B tech space. The product-driven mindset dictates that if we subject the B2B buyer to a barrage of product features - more than the competitors - then we’ll convince them to buy us. The incorrect assumption is that because they’re talking to B2B buyers, all they want is rational information, and you can never have too much of it. We see this frequently on websites where dull, detailed, technical product information is vomited at the browser right from the get-go. No soft landing, no sense of the experience or the emotional, just a firehose of tedium.

I think this is what happens when marketing reduces people to consumers, forgetting that they are much more rounded human beings. To communicate effectively with a human being, the most important thing to do is sound like a human being. Introduce yourself, make some charming small talk, share a joke or two, and then get into a bit more detail if it feels appropriate. There are simple hierarchies for effective communication which do tend to get lost in B2B and exacerbated in the Tech space.

In addition to forgetting to treat customers as humans; there’s also a driving philosophy within these organisations that more is always more. And I think it’s understandable, given they tend to be founded or run by brilliantly technical people. But unchecked, this feature first mindset gets out of control. If we can turn physical knobs into digitised sliders on a screen, then that’s got to be a good thing, right? I mean it’s made it better. It’s made it digital. And digital is always better. Because it’s tech.

Tech products are so hopelessly over specced with features that most people don’t use. My laptop is used for web browsing and word processing. I’d be surprised if I use 5% of its technical capabilities. Similarly, at Good, we once took out a subscription for a piece of project management software. It was a disaster because it was so heavily laden with extra features and add-ons, that it was almost incomprehensible to anyone trying to pick it up from scratch. We gave it up after six months and went back to the old system of online spreadsheets.

From a marketing perspective, I guess the challenge here is that these manufacturers aren’t thinking properly about who or what they’re competing with. The race they’re running is against the competition to be the best and most innovative tech company. They’re not thinking about the customer and what they might want. And how sometimes the status quo is worth leaving alone. I think Nest did a brilliant job in making a bang up to date thermostat that incorporated a tactile, rotating dial which modernised, but didn’t replace, the act of turning the heating up or down. I wish the car manufacturers had done the same!