The how, what and when of KISS
Keep it Simple Stupid. Keep it Simple and Straightforward. Keep it Simple and Short.
No matter what versions you’ve come across, it’s a phrase that’s been used across multiple industries, applications and practices for the last 60 years.
But how can a simple phrase still be used in modern business today? Or Is it losing its relevance as our world gets more complex?
Let’s look into this 60-year-old phrase and uncover how (and if) we can still learn something from this simple reminder.
What is the KISS principle?
KISS’ origins are linked to product design. In fact, engineering.
American aeronautical and systems engineer Clarence Leonard ‘Kelly’ Johnson first coined the phrase in 1960 as a reminder for engineers to not overcomplicate product design and keep it simple.
While it has now been adopted by multiple professions (including copywriting and marketing), the principle and its essence remains the same regardless of its application: Keep it simple stupid.
As in, make it as simple as it can get. So simple, its stupid simple.
The KISS principle today
In today’s time-poor world - saturated with more content, products and services than ever before - the KISS principle is more important than ever.
The more simple and straightforward it is, the more likely people are going to remember it, interact or use it, or pay attention to it.
When applying KISS to process mapping, it’s a reminder to simplify the steps, functions and interactions. In turn, minimising failure points and creating efficiencies.
In design, it’s simplifying to increase impact, user interaction or attractiveness. Logo design is a fantastic example of KISS in action, with simplest designs creating the strongest brand recognition.
For presentations and business proposals, it’s about how your service or product will solve the problem and give the customer what they need. And the more simple the ‘how’ is shared, the more clear and compelling the narrative is.
Charts, reports and graphs use the KISS principle as well. Speak to a business analyst and they’ll tell you it’s all about what story the data is telling and making sure it’s clear and compelling. Without simplicity, the numbers do not hold the same storytelling power.
In copywriting, KISS is all about simplifying the message to create a compelling narrative. By simplifying content, the messages are more clear and carry more impact. In turn creating compelling and engaging content clearly leads the reader to the action you wish them to take.
How to apply the KISS principle to your copywriting or customer communications
The more detail you have in your content, the more chance your message will get lost in the detail. This applies to your content, marketing, communications and designs.
Regardless of the medium - whether your content is a blog post, newsletter or marketing campaign element - to apply the KISS principle ask yourself:
(1) Is it adding value to your content?
This is a great question to ask yourself if you find you’re adding in more detail - especially at the 11th hour - and helpful whether you are a copywriter, marketer, or an executive communicating to stakeholders. Take a step back and ask:
Does this add any value to my audience?
Does it pass the “So, what?” test?
If it adds no value, it will only complicate or dilute your message. It will also sadly disengage your reader as it isn’t relevant to them. For the “So, what?” test, imagine your customer asking you “So, what does that mean to me? How does that help me?” If it doesn’t mean anything to them or help them in any way, the information is irrelevant and shouldn’t be included. This can be a tricky exercise to undertake, especially if you’re close to the topic, and why having someone edit or proof your copy can come in handy.
(2) Is the detail required in your copy or a ‘nice to have’?
Very similar to analysing your content for value, this challenges why copy should be included. If you have copy you love and want to it include it - even though it holds no value - just remember these words: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” - Stephen King.
Although we are talking about corporate writing and not horror fiction, the premise still applies. The darlings in this case are sections we love to the point we don’t care if they matter to the reader or not; we just love them. Or the ‘nice to have’ bits of information that mean something to us - or the company - but mean nothing to our target audience. If they don’t add value to your overall message or audience, you need to be prepared to kill your darlings for the sake of your reader. In corporate writing there is one overriding rule: if it is required. This applies to statements you need to include legally or for compliance purposes (to ensure something is not misleading to your customer) or is important information the customer needs to know to be truly informed. This is something very important in finance, superannuation or other industries where you have a duty of care to your customer. In this case, even if it’s not adding value to your overall message but is required, find a way to include the information in a meaningful way.
These questions can help you not only keep your content simple, but compelling and reader focused.
Having trouble creating simple, compelling copy?
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