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Four Reasons to Simplify Before You Digitize

Announcement on Apr 9, 2014

First, let me state that I’m largely in favor of companies who are moving “all things paper” to digital. However, I have some doubts that businesses are getting the full benefit offered by technology companies and their solutions.

A case in point: Recently, a Fortune 100 company implemented a robust technology platform to shift printed customer materials to a digital environment. Long after the business goals were defined and months after proof of concept testing was successfully completed, the company hit a snag on the way to implementation. The moment of panic arrived as the team recognized that its existing communications were being replicated in a digital format, but weren’t being truly improved or streamlined. And while cost savings metrics and technology ROI would likely please management, the light bulb went off around the table as our team at Siegelvision summarized it:

“Simplifying changes what it is. Digitizing changes where it is.”

Great projects always include a diverse team of players—business partners, technologists, finance and legal—rowing in the same direction. It’s rare that a technology solution can’t add value or long-term capabilities. But let’s raise the bar for tech programs. Let’s set some bigger expectations beyond conversion timelines and cheaper document management costs. Let’s provide customers with:

  • Easier access to important data
  • More insights and patterns across data
  • Something they don’t know about their interests or relationship with your company
  • Solutions to nagging service problems, caused by incomplete and confusing information that typically raises more questions than it answers

Missed the conversion train? Now what?

If you’ve recently been through a technology upgrade and haven’t achieved the true impact of simplification, you’re not alone. Increasingly, companies will have to periodically reassess the relevance and quality of their digital communications. Beyond the technology platform implementation, market leaders recognize that communications are organic and evolving and CMOs, CIOs and others business leaders share responsibility for getting communications right.

If you’re considering new technology to give your organization an edge—whether it’s cost, control or capabilities—don't skip the simplification:

Four reasons to simplify before you digitize:

1) Seek out and eliminate redundancy before you begin writing system requirements. If you’re focusing on how quickly you can convert (paper to digital), without squeezing out the inefficiencies of what you’re converting, you’re missing the best part.

2) Build smarter communications. Identify slight variations that convey minor nuances and build robust templates that contain customer-specific variables. Not only does it provide more relevant information to customers, but it also simplifies how business, legal and technology staff can organize workflow, providing savings into the future. You’ll maintain fewer versions that work harder.

3) Eliminate one-size-fits-all generic information and transform it into customized information that underscores the value of your customer relationship. Seize this pre-implementation moment to trap the boilerplate and the monotonous. Instead, refresh your customer service mission to reviewing your corporate identity and voice guidelines. Remember that each and every document and interaction is an opportunity to build your brand.

4) Test before you implement. Without a true commitment to clarity and simplicity, you may be tempted to short-cut research with customers. Our findings have definitively shown that sources of confusion and complexity can be precisely pinpointed with rigorous customer research. More to the point, each iterative draft becomes more effective and customer-focused, saving extensive costs (customer service, claims, reprocessing, etc.) in perpetuity.

As a final thought:

Industry leaders understand that technology is an enabler, but never the communications driver. A $117 million example is Simple, the online bank that distinguished itself from traditional banks by re-imagining how rich transaction data could drive powerful budgeting, spending in one account, accessible via web and mobile. BBVA acquired Simple in February 2014 to aggressively grow its base the U.S. and globally. Simple’s technology interface and data mining is smart, but the clarity of its customer-empowerment philosophy is its heart.

Business leaders don’t ask what technology can do for them; rather, they ask what they and technology can do together. That requires a clear strategic vision to guide the entire enterprise across business lines, technology organizations and service.

Charlene Raytek is a Senior Strategy Director at Siegelvision.

View coverage of Charlene's article on Bank Systems & Technology

Retail Dive Discusses the Impact of Siegelvision’s Call for Clarity Survey Findings on Retailers

Mention on Mar 31, 2014

Consumers want clearer communication from retailers

Publication/Site: Retail Dive

Excerpt: "Although this survey touched on businesses that included but weren’t limited to retailers, its findings are important for them. Consumers are busy and want clarity, but they aren’t getting it. The consequences of that are enormous, as consumers abandon rewards programs and online shopping carts. The study notes that customers are increasingly willing to let businesses know when they’re confused or frustrated by policies that make their life difficult. That's good, as long as retailers pay attention to them."

Read the article on Retail Dive.

Irene Etzkorn Explains the Crisis of Complexity & the Call for Clarity Survey Findings to

Mention on Mar 28, 2014

'Simplicity warriors': Consumers demand understandable insurance documents


Excerpt: "Finance and insurance are the most complicated aspects of daily life, according to the 'Call for Clarity Survey,' released by Siegelvision, a communications and branding firm in New York. More than half of consumers say they have trouble understanding information from insurance companies such as life insurance statements and explanation-of-benefit statements, or EOBs, the documents health insurers must send to explain how, why and whether a health insurance claim was paid. And the vast majority finds insurance information too time-consuming to read. 'It's never going to be a simple topic,' says Seigelvision Chief Clarity Officer Irene Etzkorn. 'But it could be expressed more clearly.'"

Read the article on

LifeHealthPro Discusses Siegelvision’s Call for Clarity Survey and the Emergence of the Activist Consumer

Mention on Mar 25, 2014

Finance, insurance docs take top spots as most complex

Publication/Site: LifeHealthPro

Excerpt: "Lengthy policy application forms and underwriting times have long been complaints that consumers have leveled against life insurers. And the complaints don’t stop at the point of purchase. A new survey by Siegelvision indicates that insurance and annuity statements are among the top five most confusing vendor communications. More than half of consumers polled in the study (55 percent) indicate they’re wasting time and energy endeavoring to decipher these documents."

Read the article on LifeHealthPro

To Catch a (Complexity) Thief

Article by Alex Goldstein on Mar 24, 2014

Like many consumers, I am dazed and confused by complicated contracts, incomprehensible financial forms and hard-to-use gadgets. And who can tell the difference between the jars of mayonnaise labeled as either “reduced fat,” “low calorie” or “light”? Not me.

That’s why I was interested in attending a recent panel discussion hosted by the Financial Communications Society in New York City. Moderating the crowded session was branding icon and simplicity guru Alan Siegel, president and CEO of Siegelvision. Also speaking was Irene Etzkorn, Siegelvision’s Chief Clarity Officer and one of the nation’s leading experts on plain English writing. Alan and Irene co-authored a critically acclaimed book called Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity.

So what did I learn? Complexity is a thief—and needs to be apprehended. It steals money, patience and time. It erodes consumer confidence, which is bad for the economy.

And it threatens our health, privacy and safety.

For example, does anyone really understand the Affordable Care Act? It’s 20,000 pages long. I doubt the legislators who enacted it know what’s in it, so how can anyone else? What about the millions of people who spent countless hours trying to access the government’s healthcare exchange website? Can they ever get their time back?

An interesting finding from Siegelvision’s recently published Call for Clarity Survey shows how confusing product instructions can lead to dangerous circumstances.  Seventy-four percent of consumers said that car seat installation instructions were “easy to understand.” But the truth is that 75% of car seats are installed incorrectly. It’s scary that so many consumers think they understand more than they actually do.

But there is good news. Companies are realizing that simplicity and clarity are essential. They recognize that developing more consumer-friendly products and services will make them more successful. The online bank Simple, which was recently sold to BBVA for $117 million, made this approach its mantra. State Farm Insurance produced a mobile app that allows its customers to quickly and easily file a car accident claim at the scene. And Target rolled out a flattened prescription bottle with easier-to-read labels and plastic rings that can be color-coded for each family member.

These organizations recognize that having empathy, striving for clarity and distilling their messages can shorten the distance between company and customer, hospital and patient, government and citizen—and increase their bottom line.

Delivering on the promise of simplicity isn’t easy. But it’s essential to achieving dramatic results. And it’s the best way to catch—and banish forever—the complexity thief from our lives.


Alex Goldstein is a consultant at Siegelvision.

RetailWire’s Discussion Article Focuses on Siegelvision’s 2014 Call for Clarity Survey Findings

Mention on Mar 21, 2014

Consumers want straight talk

Publication/Site: RetailWire

Excerpt: "New research shows that consumers are tired of communications from retailers and other entities that don't provide clear and honest information, and that this frustration leads to a loss of trust and sales. The Call for Clarity Survey, released by the strategic communications firm Siegelvision, found that consumers are taking their unhappiness with them online. Forty-eight percent report having made a complaint online to a company. Sixteen percent have written a bad review and 10 percent have complained publicly on a social media site."

Read the article on RetailWire

Siegelvision Announces Its 2014 Call for Clarity Survey Findings

Announcement on Mar 20, 2014

Siegelvision's Call for Clarity Survey reveals that U.S. consumers are openly expressing their dissatisfaction with companies that don't provide clear, honest and easily comprehensible communications. Frustrating contracts, click-through agreements and product instructions lead to loss of sales, goodwill and trust. The good news is that consumers are fighting back and demanding more clarity from the companies they interact with. View the press release and the 2014 Call for Clarity Survey.

Alan Siegel establishes The Siegel Fellowship in Strategic and Non-Profit Communication at John Jay

Announcement on Mar 17, 2014

Alan Siegel, President and CEO of Siegelvision, recently announced the establishment of The Siegel Fellowship in Strategic and Non-Profit Communication at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The Siegel Fellowship, a five-semester certificate program focusing on strategic messaging in public and non-profit sectors, will be awarded to ten sophomores per year. Siegel Fellows will be immersed in the world of strategic thinking and will be taught how to improve communication within and between organizations and their audiences. The seniors in the program will collaborate with branding professionals on a public communication issue or campaign and present their research and creative work at the Siegel Symposium, which will be hosted by Alan Siegel.

The Crimean Identity Crisis and What it Can Teach Us

Article by Remington Tonar on Mar 17, 2014

The crisis in Crimea is a harsh and unwelcome reminder of how vital a shared identity is to any social association—be it a country, a city or a corporation—and how important space and time are in shaping that identity.

The ethnic divide driving the secessionist tumult in Crimea represents nothing less than an identity crisis. Many Crimeans identify as Russian, not Ukrainian. Their ancestry is Russian, their primary language is Russian and their culture is largely Russian. But in the western Ukraine, the majority of the people identify as, well, Ukranian.

Having a strong identity is critical

The ethnic tensions on the Crimean peninsula have concrete historical causes. But it is the lack of a strong unifying Ukrainian identity that has allowed conflicting allegiances to erode civic stability.

The United States, in contrast, is a potpourri of ethnicities. Yet most still identify themselves as American. Our common identity brings people together even in the presence of ethnic and ideological difference. This lesson doesn’t just apply to nation-states, but to any organization struggling to unify disparate factions.

Importance of space and place to identity

The Crimean crisis also highlights the importance of space and place in establishing and managing organizational identities. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Crimea became part of Ukraine, which had previously declared independence from the USSR. This created an uneasy geographical union of conflicting cultures and values. Indeed, the electoral maps of Ukraine show heavy support for pro-Russian candidates in the east and more support for pro-western candidates in the west. This highlights the fact that people are inseparable from place and that their place—and the places around it—impacts how we view ourselves and the world.

Space and place matter. Where your organization is—and is not—shapes its culture and identity. Location and workplace design can enable or hinder community and collaboration. The unwillingness of Ukrainians—in the east and the west—to integrate geographically bolstered the ideological and spatial divides that are now tearing the country apart. To avoid this scenario, organizations cannot let their focus on efficiency and cost reduction create silos or demoralize their workforce.

The times we live in also influence our identity

Intrinsically tied to the importance of space is the importance of time, which informs who we are and how we think. In Crimea, many younger people—even those who are ethnically Russian—identify as Ukrainians, not Russians. In fact, some pundits have proposed that the real divide in Ukraine is between young and old. Younger generations were born into a post-Cold War Ukraine, with its own laws, culture and flag.

The context of the times we live in has a tremendous influence on our ideology and preferences. Organizations can’t forget to take this into account when managing their own identities. They must remember that the world around them is constantly changing and that nobody is immune from such changes. How you relate to one generation of stakeholders—whether they’re consumers or employees—will be very different than how you relate to the next.

Preventing fragmentation and suppressing the rise of factions is critical for all organizations. And it requires that leaders account for the impact of space and time, unifying people across both. More importantly, they must recognize the importance of a strong, shared identity and support it strategically. Ukraine reminds us of what will happen if we don’t.

Remington Tonar is a strategist at Siegelvision.

Merrill Lynch’s John Thiel puts “Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity” at the Top of His Favorite Book List

Mention on Feb 28, 2014

Merrill Lynch's John Thiel Leads Charge Toward Goals-Based Planning

Publication/Site: InvestmentNews

Excerpt: “‘Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity’ has made it to the top of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management head John Thiel's favorite book list, and it's easy to see why. As the man in charge of keeping Bank of America's broker-dealer unit profitable, he believes the brokerage industry is undergoing a fundamental shift toward keeping things simple. The book, by Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn (Hachette, 2013), serves to inspire Mr. Thiel as Merrill's leadership team invests $100 million in the new Merrill Lynch One technology platform.”

Read the article on InvestmentNews

BBVA and Samsung Bet on Clarity and Simplicity…and Customers Win

Article by Irene Etzkorn on Feb 25, 2014


Today was a very good day for clarity and simplicity. Major companies in myriad fields are recognizing the operational value and consumer appeal of simplicity. BBVA acquired Simple, the innovative, online bank devoted to all things unlike traditional banking—clarity, customization, visual appeal, and minimal clutter. Samsung announced new flagship smartphones and watches with the proclamation that its customers don't want complex technology and unnecessary features.

As Chief Clarity Officer at Siegelvision and the author of “Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity,” I am heartened to see that others are learning what I have found to be true during my career. When clarity of expression reveals authentic purpose, it creates clear and compelling customer experiences. Using clarity as a compass never leads companies astray. True north can always be divined by having empathy for customer needs, not necessarily their wants.

Samsung is smart to fight companies' typical impulse to give in to customers saying that they want every bell and whistle that can be dreamed up. In reality, consumers find too much choice and too much function overwhelming and frustrating.

Similarly, the online bank, Simple, makes check writing prohibitively expensive because that function doesn't fit the profile of its target customers. Simple doesn't offer every banking product under the sun, but it provides the perfectly appropriate services to its target market of digitally oriented consumers.

Smart companies lead by charting a course while continually using customer research as a guardrail to keep them on course.

The Age of Clarity. Perhaps a new constellation is forming.


Irene Etzkorn is Chief Clarity Officer at Siegelvision and believes complexity is the greatest barrier to progress. Siegelvision helps organizations achieve clarity of purpose, clarity of expression and clarity of experience.


Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn to Present at FCS’s “Cocktails with Content—Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity.”

Event on Mar 12, 2014 in New York, NY

Alan Siegel, President and CEO, and Irene Etzkorn, Chief Clarity Officer, will present ideas from their book Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity, for the attendees of The Financial Communications Society's "Cocktails with Content."  Alan and Irene will then lead a panel of senior financial marketers who will discuss how to apply the principles and practice of simplicity to the financial sector.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
6:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
New York, NY

Register here

Treating the Problem of Inadequate Hospital Communications

Article by Irene Etzkorn on Feb 19, 2014

In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Theresa Brown, an oncology nurse, wrote about the inadequacy of doctor/patient communications. She astutely zeroed in on one major point: it doesn’t matter what a doctor or nurse says, only what the patient hears.


In my book, Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity, I discussed the need for empathy when writing, speaking, drawing or otherwise communicating. While the unfamiliarity of medical terminology is often what springs to mind as a communication impediment, several other factors also play a role in miscommunication.

One key element is the context of the interaction. A patient lying in bed, talking to a doctor who is standing over her, is an unnatural setting for conversation. Similarly, the patient never knows when a doctor will appear; as a result she is unprepared to capture vital information. Of course, the anxiety associated with medical news often blurs memories and clouds mental processing, but even just realizing the setting can be revelatory.

As Ms. Brown mentioned, studies show that a doctor sitting down, rather than standing, improves the interaction because it makes the doctor seem more interested in the conversation and less hurried. It also helps when doctors verbally repeat what a patient says to affirm that there is mutual understanding. Providing a pen and paper for patients to write down questions and record answers can also aid retention of key information.

Another communications issue is the degree of engagement. This has become critical with the advent of electronic records. Doctors spend the majority of a conversation inputting data on a computer, rather than making eye contact with the patient. This is a dehumanizing scenario, which is likely to make patients feel that they are “interrupting” the doctor if they speak over his typing.

Lack of time also leads to poor communication. Doctors are not the villains in this piece. Ponder the fact that a dermatologist must sign his name on forms almost 30,000 times a year, according to an article in the Southern Medical Journal, and you can sympathize with their curt interactions. Add the fact that they are working 20-hour shifts in hospitals and the stage is set for brisk, abrupt conversation.

What to do? Eliminate all the unnecessary complexity in the hospital experience and mitigate what must remain. Most hospitals, insurers and healthcare providers tweak and modify small moments of the patient experience but rarely step back and take a comprehensive, blank-slate approach. Voluminous paperwork, repetitive questions, confusing care instructions, multiple phone trees and intimidating terminology all affect the patient experience—often adversely.

A rare few healthcare institutions recognize that empathy is the key to clarity and simplicity. Patient experience is the culmination of myriad interactions—every sight, sound and engagement is important. As one leading hospital found, simply noting the questions and impressions formed by patients during their journey from diagnosis to treatment can be remarkably revealing, and lead to insights for improvement.

Mapping a patient journey illustrates several “hassle factors” that surface:

1      Interminable waiting. Wait times in doctors’ offices are reaching the 20-minute threshold, which many surveyed patients cite as their tolerance limit. The average wait time jumped nationally to 19 minutes, based on a report from Vitals, a healthcare survey organization that analyzed patient-reported wait times in 2012 from its database of more than 870,000 physicians. Updating patients via text or in-person announcements about delays would reduce frustration. Giving them surprisingly useful information (not the typical waiting room video about eating your vegetables and exercising regularly) would also help to mitigate frustration.

2      Annoying repetition. “I told a nurse my entire medical history in the ER and she entered it in a computer at my bedside and then someone asked me the same questions upstairs when they admitted me.” In addition to the annoyance of constantly explaining symptoms, repetition also plants a seed of doubt about the validity and accuracy of the institutions’ recordkeeping.  Faith and confidence are critical in healthcare much as they are in finance. If my brokerage firm asked me to recite the history of all my stock trades every time I transacted business, I would feel mighty uncomfortable. Instead of asking again, tell the patient what you have already gleaned and ask them to verify the information.

3      Jargon and verbosity.  Jargon is intimidating to patients, and unnecessary.. Wake up from coronary bypass surgery and the nurse asks if you are in pain from your “cabbage.” Patients must also ask when they don’t understand—you wouldn’t skip over it if your homebuilder told you he had to “sister-beam” the house.

4      Digitizing complexity. There has been a lot of discussion (and some progress) about the liberating promise of information technology and the power of a single platform for electronic health records. We couldn’t agree more. However, unless we first address the underlying complexity in processes and communications, we fear that this will lead to incremental, rather than comprehensive, change.

Streamlining and simplifying how patients, doctors, scientists, managers and public health officials communicate, transact and interact with each other can deliver dramatic increases in productivity and efficiency. We know this from our work with insurers, providers, pharmaceutical companies and government agencies. What’s also clear is that these efforts can lead to savings of hundreds and potentially billions of dollars each and every year.

Accept the simplification challenge

We challenge everyone in the industry to take a deep breath and remember what the mission of healthcare is: to treat patients. A valuable first step in healthcare reform will be to adopt a truly patient-centric approach by spending the time, effort and resources necessary to simplify and rethink patient communications.

Complexity is the coward's way out. Breakthrough simplicity requires empathizing (by perceiving others' needs and expectations), distilling (by reducing to its essence the substance of one's offer) and clarifying (by making the offering easier to understand or use). Hospitals, doctors and patients will benefit from all three. Be brave—treat patients as people.


Irene Etzkorn is Chief Clarity Officer at Siegelvision and believes complexity is the greatest barrier to progress. Siegelvision helps organizations achieve clarity of purpose, clarity of expression and clarity of experience.


Irene Etzkorn Leads a BrightTALK Webcast That Reveals How Simplicity in Financial Communications Can Foster Consumer Engagement

Mention on Feb 12, 2014

"Leveraging Simplicity in Financial Stories to Build Engagement"

Webcast Channel: BrightTALK/Sutton Creative

About: Irene Etzkorn clarifies the connection between simplicity and financial communications in the 3rd installment of "Profit and Lunch: Financial Stories at Noon."  Irene shares her insights on how clarity, empathy, and distillation can be effective means to build consumer trust and foster engagement across the financial services sector. 

Listen to the full BrightTALK webcast

250 Words Cites “Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity” as an Example of the New Trend of Simplicity

Mention on Feb 10, 2014

Simplicity: A New Trend

Publication/Site: 250 Words/

Excerpt: "Simplicity is in.  Apple products are 'beautiful' and 'intuitive.' Google’s homepage is 'clean.' What do the two most valuable brands in the world tell us about our preferences? We just want the world to make sense. Tax codes, fine print, the DMV—these nefarious thorns of modern life are the source of rampant anxiety. People praise elegance. No one wins awards for complexity.  The irony is there’s 'nothing simple about simplicity,' as Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn state in Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity."

Read the full review on