by Michael Sansolo

Centuries ago a philosopher hit on an idea that remains relevant to this day. Occam’s razor, as it is known, suggests that among competing theories the simplest idea is usually the best.

Hundreds of years later, it still has applicability in satisfying consumer needs. That is, give customers what they want and there’s a good chance it will work.

Warren Brown, the automotive editor for the Washington Post, wrote about this recently in a way that resonates far beyond just cars. Brown, who regularly test-drives and reviews new car models, was focused on one of the most ubiquitous cars in the US: the Toyota Camry.

As Brown explained, the car has been a top seller since the late 1980s and should remain at the top of the heap thanks to its newest upgrades. Brown says he think Camry’s success comes down to some simple ideas:

Give people cars that work well all the time.

The fit and finish of the car matters. In other words, if the details on the car work well, consumers believe the entire car will perform the same.

Don’t oversell the extravagant. Provide a solid value and the crowd will follow.

The essence of Brown’s review is that Toyota built a successful foundation for Camry by mixing teams of Japanese and American designers and engineers who focused first on those key drivers of customer desire and went from there. Doing so let them design and then consistently redesign a car that dominates US sales.

Sure sounds simple, just as Occam’s razor would demand. But given all the competing models Camry outsells, it’s apparently a tough recipe to follow.

The example for other businesses is fairly obvious even if the answer can be quite complex. Focus on exactly what consumers want and give it to them, providing both quality and value.

I heard a version of this recently from an audience member during one of my speeches. As the group debated the elements of retail success, this one businesswoman claimed to have the answer. Like many people, she said her favorite store is Trader Joe’s, but her reason had nothing to do with TJ’s quirky style, merchandising and product mix or frequent sampling.

Rather, it was all about the baggers. She finds them endlessly polite, happy and engaged.

Being in the industry, she asked her favorite bagger to explain his joy at this seemingly mundane task and he credited TJ’s policy of cross-training employees and moving them to different work stations throughout the day.

So instead of getting bored doing one job repeatedly, his day is spent between multiple tasks. That one example may explain some of the recent reports about the relative loyalty of TJ’s staffers.

Here’s the bottom line. We do have to have incredibly complex discussions these days about shifting consumer behavior and emerging taste and nutritional desires. We need to understand the pathways to omni-channel marketing and all the impact of emerging technologies.

But we can’t lose sight of the basic desire shoppers have and the power of a single engaged and happy staffer to make a lasting connection.

The simplest answer can still matter and work.

]Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.