Why companies with a complex story, must simplify to survive

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve lived in blissful, naked happiness until a bite of an apple gave them ‘The Curse of Knowledge’.

In today’s always-on, hyper-connected world, it’s more important than ever for companies with complex issues to tell their story in a simple way.  

As our to-do lists grow and our attention spans shrink, time can feel like a rare commodity that we’ve long forgotten what it’s like to have. Each day, we wade through more information, and disinformation, than ever before. It’s an issue for everyone, personally and professionally. But for companies with a complex story to tell, it can feel almost impossible to cut through the noise. 


thwateAdam and Eve lived in blissful, naked happiness until a bite of an apple gave them ‘The Curse of Knowledge’. In modern times, we are used to hearing that knowledge is a good thing. The idea of it being a hindrance seems counter-intuitive. Indeed, when I have on occasion put it to a client that their corporate communications are too rich in information, some find it hard to hear.

CEOs, founders, ministers and other social and political influencers are often passionate about their products, services and ideas. They’re keen to broadcast what they think are the vital details that the world needs to hear. They know so much about their own businesses and sectors, and work with similarly knowledgeable and educated individuals, that they forget to consider the needs of their audiences. Or they imagine their audiences to be exactly like themselves. Big mistake!


What does your audience want to hear from you?

Listen more than you talk

It’s not about what you want to say, it’s about what your audience wants to hear.

The first question in communications is not ‘what do you want to tell your audience? but rather, ‘what does your audience need to hear?’. This is essential if you’re going to get people to pay attention, make a connection, see relevance to their lives, trust the messenger and ultimately, hear what you have to say.

Diogenes thought God gave us two ears and one tongue so we would listen more. I’m not sure that’s worked out so well for God; maybe she should have been a bit more obvious – six ears might have done the trick. In the age of social media we seem to permanently be on broadcast mode. We share thoughts at an alarming rate, often without considering who might be in our audience, and what they might hear when listening to our words.

Just keep it clear and simple

There can be a huge space between what you say and what your audience hears. It’s never a good idea to leave gaps in the information you provide. Your audience will simply fill them in a way you can’t control, or give up trying to understand. Nor is it a good idea to bombard them with so much detail that they mentally ‘blacklist’ you. Avoid complex words unless you are sure your audience uses them and more importantly, understands them. Simplicity and brevity should be your guiding principles; every word matters because time is at a premium.

At Thwaites, we work with a range of clients: from disruptive startups, like The Data City; to global forces for good, like Arup and the Open Data Institute. We help our clients understand their audiences on a deeper level and really appreciate what they think, feel and know. We delve into who their audiences trust; the people who can nudge them to pay attention to an issue or make a decision on a product. We use a range of tools, including Thwaites’ unique influencer identification methodology, to build citizen or buyer profiles so we know how to start telling our clients’ stories in words and images that will resonate with and inspire their audiences.

Generally, this involves unravelling the complexity of an idea, product or service and telling the audience a story that starts in the right place for the audience, without false assumptions of knowledge. It means being clear about ‘what’s in it for you’, which to be honest, is what we are all thinking as we hurtle through our daily lives trying to make the right decisions.

We strive to enable companies solving complex problems to assert themselves in the world. Often by doing one of the hardest things; telling the simplest of stories.

Charlotte Mcleod

Charlotte Mcleod is Associate Creative Director at Thwaites

Are you sure you know if the story you tell about your company, product or even yourself is the right one for your audience? When was the last time you reviewed it? Is it still relevant or has your audience changed their behaviour? 

If you need help unravelling the complexity of your product or your audience, you know where to find us. Why not start by watching our recent free one-hour seminar on unravelling complexity. If you like what you see, or you have any questions, we’d love to hear from you.