Matthew Soakell
Matthew Soakell 17 August 2020

Less, But Better in the Noisy World of Advertising

Why we do what we do, how we do it, and how doing less can still bring about great results.


I noticed something I hadn’t missed in recent months as the UK emerged from state-wide lockdown rules. There was one thing that had previously gone quiet and was creeping back in as stores and other amenities were allowed to open again.


The constant bombardment on the television of the latest cheap sofa deals, and why I should buy these white goods from company A over their competitors because they were so much cheaper and God forbid I didn’t buy, otherwise I’d miss out. Or how I really needed to put a bet on before watching lifeless behind-closed-doors football.

Advertising was back, and it was like an STI; unpleasant and off-putting to say the least. But I work in advertising. Should a digital marketer really be thinking like this, let alone sharing this viewpoint by writing about it?

The whole experience has made me think about business, productivity and task management. I’d like to outline why I think we risk the advertising world becoming a constant noise, and how as marketers we can regain some joy in what we do, something which ultimately could benefit others.

Understanding What You Do & Why

“In finite games, like football or chess, the players are known, the rules are fixed, and the endpoint is clear. The winners and losers are easily identified.

In infinite games, like business or politics or life itself, the players come and go, the rules are changeable, and there is no defined endpoint. There are no winners or losers in an infinite game; there is only ahead and behind.”

When you complete a task, are you completing it to get it ticked off or to get the project finished and move on to the next thing on your to-do list, or are you completing it to actually make an impact in the hope of seeing your hard work go and achieve tangible results? And whilst there are most certainly instances where both are achievable, now seems like more apt a time than ever to possibly re-evaluate how and why we’re doing what we’re doing in the world of marketing.

The game of business is an infinite game, states Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why (I highly recommend it). So often we’re obsessed with being number one and beating the competition; again, this is important in the larger scale of business if you want to be successful, however how do you judge that success? How do you scale that? Revenue? Staff numbers? Profit? Market share? I could go on.

A finite player competes with everyone else. An infinite player competes with themself. They ask 'How can I be a better version of myself today; a better version than I was yesterday?'.

This works in both business and in personal development. Marketing falls into this category all the time. It can be useful, as stated. It can bring success for the wider company, but what about instead of rushing for success and trying to constantly get ahead, how about if we looked internally and evaluated what and why we’re doing what we’re doing?

When was the last time you heard Apple talk about why their iPhone is better than a Samsung phone? Or why their MacBooks are better than Windows’ laptops?

They don’t.

They tell you how well their product is designed, how simply it works and how it can enhance what you’re using the product for. The origins of Apple’s design and marketing came down to understanding that they’re dealing with people, and that people buy from people. They do less of the shouting about their competitors, and they let their own products shine. They’re never shouting externally about why they’re better than anyone else, in fact they let others do that for them.

Your email campaigns; why are you emailing everyone on your mailing list twice a month? Why did you create an email list in the first place? What was it all about originally? Your social campaigns; are they just about having more likes and a bigger following than your competition? Your paid search; why is its performance judged as a completely separate entity to the rest of your business and not evaluated as something that also starts leads and sales as well as the immediate revenue it generates?

Simply put: why do you do what you do?

Becoming More Radical

The word radical comes from the Latin word radicalis, which meant root. Perhaps in our marketing efforts, we should be more radical - in the original sense of the word - with why we’re doing what we’re doing.

There are two great designers in technology that I admire; Jony Ive & Dieter Rams. Ive was responsible for the design of so much of the brilliant Apple equipment we take for granted, and Rams was responsible for overhauling the products Braun make even to this day - obsessing over simplicity and innovation. Both these great men understand what it means to design something well, in the simplest way possible.

What Rams went about achieving wasn’t just about design and aesthetic. It encompassed philosophy: essentially asking what does design need to be and how design can be responsible for itself?

Rams ten principles of design are as follows:

  • Good design is innovative
  • Good design makes a product useful
  • Good design is aesthetic
  • Good design makes a product understandable
  • Good design is unobtrusive
  • Good design is honest
  • Good design is long-lasting
  • Good design is thorough, down to the last detail
  • Good design is environmentally-friendly
  • Good design is as little design as possible

Rams’ three word mantra was “Less but better”. He understood what made a great product, and that it didn’t require overcomplication. “Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with nonessentials.”

I appreciate we’re not all designers, creating the next lightweight, slim, fast-as-lighting laptop for a worldwide conglomerate, however I firmly believe that there are many elements of Rams’ principles that we can implement into our day-to-day working life.

Rams was unapologetic about his design principles and didn’t waiver. We look back now with our modern understanding of the word radical and think he was quite radical in his design, which led to great achievements. But Rams also never fluctuated from the root of what he was doing and why he did it. His continued pursuit of the philosophy of less but better was what made him a pioneer and what led to Braun’s design success.

Do Less, Better

I’m not saying just do less work. Not at all. Don’t become work shy overnight and think you no longer need to care - quite the opposite. Invest time in thinking about what it is you’re working on and only work on that task or project where time allows. Take into consideration why you’re performing that particular task. In certain instances, try to do less but try to do it better.

Over the last four years I’ve worked in PPC and one standard task of maintaining a healthy Google Ads account is to perform an AB test on ad text. We evaluate the various ads in an ad group, pause the poorest performing one and create a new one. You rinse and repeat and always look to improve. You can’t ever win the game of writing ad text. You can always look to improve CTR (click-through rate), and get more conversions at a lower cost per conversion at an increased conversion rate, but it’s an infinite game. Whilst the aim is to have someone click your ad over your competitors ad, you can’t see what their CTR or what the conversion rate is for their version of your ad. And while at first this task sounds quite fun and intriguing, you can all too easily be dragged into improving ads - en-masse - for the sake of it; changing small details on ads across a whole campaign just so you can show a client how busy you’ve been, or just so you’ve tried something new.

However, I want to argue that going forward, you could try optimising smaller pots of data and really spending time to craft a new, different, never-tried-before ad. You could give more attention to 10 ad groups, rather than 50, and potentially achieve so much more through those ads because they’ve had genuine time spent thinking about what the product is and why the user would benefit from clicking the ad and purchasing. This same process could be applied to analysis and researching into problem areas or competition.

There are a whole host of different tasks within the world of PPC that this could be applied to, so much so I’m quite positive you could also apply it to a huge range of tasks and processes in the wider marketing universe.

Next time you’re struggling with productivity, don’t beat yourself up. Take a step back and think ‘What is it I’m doing and why?’, and ask yourself if there’s a different approach you could take; one that leads to actually getting back to the radical root reason you’re performing that task.

Do less, but do it better.

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