Marketing for Complex Products

There’s no denying that selling a complex product can be daunting.  True, consumers are more and more in touch with the digital, interwoven world; that doesn’t change the fact that almost every company selling ‘complicated’ products is certain to have its marketing department occasionally throw up their collective hands and wish for a simpler item to promote.

Luckily, as technologies and culture have grown more towards the complex, marketing professionals have worked to determine best practices for generating appeal and engagement in sophisticated products.  Let’s explore some of their best advice.

Don’t Fixate on Details

Randy Milanovic offers some advice that can get us started: “The big mistake technical companies make is burying prospects in details, when all they really want to know is why the product or service is important.” 

The same article shows proof of this mentality (discuss the benefits, not the specifications) with a reference to an 1898 newspaper ad promoting an early motor carriage company.  The ad promotes the engine as a way to “Dispense with a horse” and actually contains no specifics whatever about the engine’s parts or function. 

This makes intuitive sense, but it also counters a lot of instinctual copywriting when marketing something complex.  You might want to write about a special part or feature, but try to resist the urge.

Here’s a thought experiment: can you name the components that make up your phone?  Regardless of what kind phone it is, it’s likely you’re not able to quickly name more than one or two.  Heck, if I try… well, plastic, and, um, metal… and that’s about as much as I’m able to do.

Now, can you name the features your phone has?  That’s almost certainly considerably easier.  It can make and receive calls, it can text, it plays music, takes photographs and video, has a notepad… and so forth.  These come quickly to mind because these are why we buy our phones: the benefits.  These are, in Milanovic’s words, “why the product… is important.”

Defend and Foreground Key Claims

Kayak Marketing agrees that “There might be a place for the details, but it usually isn’t in your front-line marketing materials.”  That frontline, they argue, should be your most important claims, which you should be sure to back up.  “When people don’t completely understand what you’re offering, they become more skeptical of your claims and guarantees.”

Kayak suggests “case studies, instructional videos, and customer testimonials” for establishing (and maintaining) credibility, while reiterating that these should “reinforce the real-world benefits” of the product instead of wasting time on the specs of your offering.

There’s one other reason Kayak suggests ducking overly technical pitches: the competition. “The last thing you want is your buyers comparing technical details that they don’t understand between one company and another.”  Instead, showcase competitive strengths that fit a bigger picture, like lower prices, more guarantees, and the like.

Simplicity in Visual and in Language

Another key way to market complex products is through visual examples.  These visual elements should be focused on tangible benefits more than the technical specifications. “Concrete examples” are more useful to consumers, as they’re easier and quicker to understand.

This an absolute tenet of whiteboard video, and one which all marketers should keep in mind.  The brain is naturally attuned to prioritize visual information.  Leverage visuals, especially simple and straightforwardly effective ones, as often as possible.

Speaking of simple imagery, use simple language in product copy.  “Avoid the use of specialist expressions” and jargon, and write in concise, active sentences.  Product copy is not a place to dazzle audiences with inspired prose—it’s a place to grab interest and invite engagement with language that requires little interpretation.

A Happy Buying Experience: Decision-Making Itself

Let’s close with a few thoughts on the complexity of decision-making itself from Roger Dooley.  “Surprisingly,” he writes, “simple decisions seem to work out best when made with more thought, while complex decisions seem better when made intuitively.”

Dooley’s examples come from various sectors—automobiles, phones, and more. Perhaps the most interesting case arises from a survey comparing shoppers at Bijenkorf and IKEA. Bijenkorf sells the “simple” product of clothing, and IKEA sells “complex” furniture.  Evidence suggests that buyers of simple products were happiest after considerable deliberation. More relevant to our discussion, however, is the relationship between complex products and a happy buying experience.

The happiest purchasers of complex products were those who “decided with little conscious deliberation.”  In terms of how to action this interesting fact in your marketing, Dooley writes that “it’s a matter of degree… if you are selling a complex product like an automobile, give the customer a simple reason to buy your product… a simple message, like ‘#1 in customer satisfaction’ or ‘more safety features than any car in its class’ will go farther to steering the customer down the intuitive decision path.”

Minimize Deliberation, Elevate Happiness

By overloading your target audience with specs and technical detail, you force a decision slow-down.  They’re quickly convinced that reading through each of these details must be vital to a purchase—and, not stopping there, will frequently check the stats of your competition’s offering.  Don’t slow them down, and don’t even give them reason to think of the competition.

Whether your product is a cell phone or a new car, as Dooley and others articulate, a simple message is your best friend in marketing.  Complex products, paradoxically, are best sold with little deliberation; provide a strong, easily understood message, and you’ll not only sell more—you’ll have happier buyers.