Our “What the Leading Brand Thinkers Really Think” series looks to bring you the most forward-thinking firms and individuals in the branding/marketing/advertising industry. When these interviews center on major studies, we update our readers on subsequent iterations of the research (such as our update on the Brand Relevance Index from Prophet).

In this installment, we’ll look at the results of the 2017 edition of The Global Brand Simplicity Index, from brand strategy and design consultancy Siegel+Gale. If you missed the first installment, and the interview with Co-CEOs Howard Belk and David Srere, we encourage you to read it, or at minimum watch the introductory video. In this update, we talk to Brian Rafferty, the Global Director of Analytics & Insights, who is more than intimate with the details of the research and its findings.

Please watch this brief video, and also read the entire interview, which contains a wealth of research results and insights that should be useful to any brand marketer.

Brandingmag: This was, I believe, the sixth installment of the Global Brand Simplicity Index. Are you seeing big changes year over year, or are the results fairly consistent?

Brian Rafferty: In large part, it’s on a consistent trend in the sense that the brands that rank at the top of the index reappear year on year. Brands like Aldi, Amazon, Netflix. There are also always a few changes or surprises, but a lot of consistency typically.

Bm: In terms of industry categories, did you observe any unexpected movement relative to those delivering – or not delivering – a simpler brand experience?

BR: Not so much, in the sense that — at a category level — it’s always the same sectors at the bottom, like insurance and car rentals. Some insurance brands, like GEICO, do better than others, but as a category, insurance still did not do well, from a simplicity standpoint.

Bm: And does the impression of simplicity by category vary by region?

BR: Yes. In the Middle East, for example, social media is seen as simpler than it is in other areas. But then, our findings show that internet retail is actually seen as more complex than brick and mortar, which links to the fact that consumers in the Middle East see shipping as much more complex.

Bm: So simplicity can’t be completely brand-determined. It’s at least partly ecosystem-dependent?

BR: Correct. In this case, the shipping category impacts internet retail, because if you can’t ship things you can’t buy them online.

“People are more disbelieving of the potential for a brand to simplify.”

Bm:  Back to the survey results. One noticeable change was that last year, 69 percent of consumers globally would recommend companies delivering a simpler experience; this year it’s only 61 percent. Is that decline significant and, if so, to what are you attributing it?

BR: Yes, it is significant. Actually, the number has gone down in the last few years. I don’t attribute that to people wanting less simplicity or wanting things to be more complex. I attribute that to the fact that people are getting more jaded or more disbelieving at the actual potential for companies and brands to simplify.  And I think it’s actually more of a reflection of the general public starting to feel disenfranchised with the complexity of their lives.

Bm: The current survey also notes that, globally, 64 percent of consumers report being willing to pay more for products and services that are delivered more simply. But there’s less of an advantage in developed countries. Why?

BR: What we’ve seen, having done lots of global research across both Western and Asian countries is that, depending on your consumer sets, regions have a different benchmark or base rating. Chinese consumers and Indian consumers, for example, always rate much more enthusiastically and positively than Western consumers do. Interestingly, Germany used to always rate very negatively ­— until they won the World Cup a couple years ago. Then all their ratings, across the board, went up.

There really is an interesting thing that you see when you do this type of brand research…that the overall environment of the consumers you’re serving live in has an impact on the way they respond to any question. You have to normalize the rankings so that they’re truly global and that you’re taking into account, if you will, the pessimism of the Western societies versus the optimism of the Asian ones.

Bm: Of all the statistics in the index, which do you find most persuasive as you present them to brand leadership?

BR: The one that has, I think, been the most persuasive finding is the tracking of stock price for the brands at the top of the index. We haven’t created an index, but have aggregated the stock prices of the top brands each year, and then looked at how that — again, in aggregate — compares to how the indexes do.  And it always does better.

Bm: Not just better, but dramatically better.

BR: Correct.

“Companies delivering what consumers consider to be the simplest experiences are also reaping financial benefits.”

Bm: Do you ever get any push-back as to “That just can’t be so?”

BR: The reality is it is that, having brands like Amazon and Google and Netflix in there, you’ve got brands that have been doing tremendously well from a business-in-general standpoint, not just stock price. It does correlate. And I’m always careful to say simplicity is not creating a bigger stock price; this is a correlation, not a causation. But it’s nice to see that the companies  delivering what consumers consider to be the simplest experiences are also reaping financial benefits.

Bm: One of the things we had not noticed in previous editions, was an emphasis on the impact of simplicity on the internal brand and employees. This latest study, however, points out that 62 percent of employees working for simple brands can be considered brand champions, versus only 20 percent within more complex organizations. Are you tracking what accounts for that difference?

BR:  I’m very happy you asked that question, because we are tracking it. We have the benefit of doing this very large brand study, and every year we add different questions in, at the end, on different topics. Last year, we not only looked at which industries respondents work in, but also how they see the companies where they work.

We asked a series of questions about their workplace, one being what we always ask when we’re doing internal brand research: How much do you understand what your company stands for? People who understand what a company stands for and are committed to it, we qualify as brand champions. We also asked questions around how productive they felt, how likely they were to recommend their company’s products and services, and a lot of other questions around outcomes.

That data point you quoted is actually a teaser for this follow-up study we’re going to publish, but it’s just first nugget of the data.

“If you haven’t defined a purpose for your brand or company, it’s going to make things harder.”

Bm:  What do you see as the biggest stumbling blocks to achieving the functional simplicity that correlates with a higher stock price?

BR: Unfortunately, I think that there are many. The first gets back to this idea of purpose. If you haven’t defined a purpose for your brand and company, it’s going to make things harder, because you just don’t have that basic strategy in place to align people and then deliver on it.

The other piece is determining what experiences you need to fix, what touch points you need to improve. It’s a matter of, “What are the ones that are going to have the greatest impact?” Because it could be that you’re delivering a sub-par experience on a certain touch point, but if that point doesn’t matter much to consumers, it’s probably not even worth fixing.  So you need to focus on whether fixing, improving, or innovating the experience will provide the greatest bang for its buck.

BM:  Thanks for the update, Brian. We’ll look forward to what you uncover in 2018.

Image: Scott Webb