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“Simple is Smart”


“There’s almost a cinematic quality [in Beowulf],” Fred Burt exclaimed, his voice crackling with excitement across our international phone connection. “Grendel is swooping across the marshes, absolutely incandescent with rage against mankind. And then, the camera shifts.” His excited tone paused momentarily, then resumed with a chuckle. “A whole load of drunken Danes are swilling mead and thinking that the world is a great place. Then, again, it switches back to Grendel, as the monster gets closer and closer…”I found myself wanting Fred Burt to go on describing the scenes of impending confrontation.

This was not the typical interview on branding and creativity. But Fred Burt is not your typical managing director. Nor, for that matter, isSiegel+Gale, the strategic branding company for whom he works, a typical branding company. Burt, who holds a degree in English Literature from Oxford, passionately explains why he considers Beowulf not only one of his favorite literary works, but influential in his career. “We’re in the business of creating meaning for our clients…[and] here we are with the Beowulf poet, translating a language that was essentially just an oral language into its written form.”

Beowulf – the poem is a crucial bridge to the world we know now—a world in which symbols, letters and logos transmit meaning…

What resonated most deeply with him was the way in which Beowulf’s author conveyed meaning and built written language—in a world with few reference points for such an endeavor. “This is something we take for granted,” Burt remarked, noting that the poem is a crucial bridge to the world we know now—a world in which symbols, letters and logos transmit meaning, and, with that, preference and loyalty. Burt’s literary prowess and fascination with branding concepts melded into a very successful career.

“Simple is Smart”

Now, as managing director of Siegel+Gale’s London office, Burt focuses on the branding company’s unique philosophy of “Simple is Smart”. I asked him what simplifying brands entailed, and how he approached that with clients. He described that in a typical research and discovery phase with clients they make note of the ways in which the brand may be headed down an undesirable path. The group helps brands not only to clarify underlying goals, but also determine the necessary actions to correct course. Keeping consumers central to this process is a fundamental approach to the brand development process.

Keeping the brand simple makes it easier to be authentic with the consumer

“For many clients, [at this point] they’re saying, ‘…We know what we can look like, but we’ve got to do a whole load of new stuff as well that needs to be done to make us credible and walk the walk, not just talk it,’” Burt observed. Keeping the brand simple makes it easier to be authentic with the consumer. “We say to our clients ‘…Let’s sit down and talk about the kind of products, the kind of services [and] interactions that you want to have with your customers… How does that all need to change in order to make this direction a reality?” Burt emphasized, “If it just lives in communications, it’s not actually a fundamental change.”

“Brand, in its simplest form, is a reason to choose”

All this conversation about simplifying a brand, however, begs the question, what is a brand, to begin with? When asked this, Burt replied without hesitation. “For me, a brand, in its simplest form, is a reason to choose.” More than just a logo or tag line, which are merely symbols, a brand, Burt believes, is what makes us reach for some products and ignore others. “It’s not easy to make choices on the actual product quality. You trust a brand to deliver a certain product quality.  It’s not the actual quality that drives that choice; it may be the perception… It’s our job as brand managers to understand how to treat a choice in terms of the types of rational and emotional cards we have to play.”

“All brands, at their heart, want to be trusted”

Trust plays an elemental role in creating this consumer choice. And here again, Burt suggests the concept of simplicity is crucial. “All brands, at their heart, want to be trusted,” he said. “The issue of simplicity, therefore, has become more and more relevant.” In markets growing more mature and competitive by the month, Burt stresses, the winning brands aren’t those that try the hardest to tout the newest feature or latest gimmick.

“Brands can achieve more when they reduce the space between themselves and their customers”

His passion for simplicity is firmly based on an ethical consideration for the consumer—belief that brands can achieve more when they reduce the space between themselves and their customers. Beowulf’s author may have worked to create meaning at the frontiers of the written page, but in an ever more complicated world, Siegel+Gale shows exactly how less is more.

If you found Part 1 of our series with Fred Burt engaging, you won’t want to miss Part 2. In the upcoming post, we’ll get a chance to discuss the role of social media in brand simplicity and working with clients who may have become too close to their current brand.

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