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The Rising Trend of Minimalist Marketing

There is a lot of talk about minimalism these days around the web. If this was Twitter, it would undoubtedly be a “Trending Topic”. Folks like Colin Wright, Adam Baker, Everett Bogue, and Tammy Strobel are following in the footsteps of Leo Babauta and others who are passionate about living life without the constraints of your stuff.

When I sat down with Everett, author of “The Art of Being Minimalist” a couple weeks ago – we talked about Minimalism as it transcends all facets of life – and most importantly to me – how it’s effecting the way we do business, the future of Social Media, and the face of marketing as we see it today and where it’s headed.

The minimalist trend isn’t rising, it’s here, it’s everywhere around us. We’re living in a society that ultimately wants less. We’re condensing our wants to meet our needs – and in a world in which we are absolutely inundated and bombarded with information – we value simple and effective over flash and glamour.

Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples

Look at the IPhone (if you read my post earlier this week you know I don’t have one, but go with me here). The IPhone has replaced the need to carry around a huge purse or briefcase with all of your “needs”. No more address book, no camera, no calculator, no books. The IPhone has consolidated all of that into an extremely effective all-in-one package. Colin Wright wrote a great piece about 19 things you can replace with your IPhone – give it a read and get rid of some of your stuff.

Now let’s stop at the grocery store. I was in the store the other day buying some shampoo and something obvious was staring back at me – gone are the days of the bright pink bottles with crazy typography that scream “look at me”. Now we’re seeing rows upon rows of simple, clean, white bottles with easy to read fonts and clear “messages” about what that product will do for me. Calls to action are clearer, messages are much less fuzzy, and everyone, even Vidal Sasoon, is buying into the minimalist approach.

Another example…Take a look at the design of your favorite websites. Remember the Geocities sites from back in the day? I’m talking flashing glitter backgrounds, midi file blasting as soon as the site loads, animated gif’s. Yeah, you remember the hideous browsing days of old. More recently we all fell in love with Flash because, well, it looks cool, right? Now, substance is priority number one. Design no longer (or at least shouldn’t) overwhelm the site’s content, but should instead compliment it and support the needs of the reader with, again, clear definitive calls to action and simplicity.

OK, last thought on the big elephant sitting in the corner of the room. Social Media. Think about where we’ve come from over the past 5-6 years. Myspace was huge – everyone was there – then they added a ton of bells and whistles, everyone’s profiles started looking like those 90’s Geocities sites I referenced above, and what came along? Facebook. Facebook started as being exclusive only to college students – that quickly changed and before too long my Mom was poking me every other day (and then the world ended). What happened next? Twitter. Twitter is minimalist Social Media to a tee – so much so that it limits the amount you can say. What’s next? I’m not sure, but the trend is clear – When one thing becomes “too much”, a new more simplified platform steps forward, it’s a cycle we’ve seen time and time again.

Will the trend continue?

Minimalist marketing transcends both online and offline – it’s everywhere around us, and it’s here to stay – more than likely you’ve already bought into it in some way yourself.

What do you see trending in marketing and advertising both on and offline? What’s so appealing about the minimalist approach? Any thoughts about what the future has in store?

(Image c/0 askie)

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  1. Not sure what grocery stores you shop at but the majority of products I see today still try to fit as much information on the label as possible. Not just grocery stores either. Walk up and down any aisle at Jewel, Target, Borders, Barnes and Noble, etc.

    The majority of society still believes that more (and bigger) is better. I'd say minimalists have made a dent but we're not quite the majority yet.

  2. Minimalist living is something that resonates with me tremendously. I usually don't get involved in predictions, but I think it's safe to say that minimalism is here to stay.

    The thing that appeals to me about the whole thing is the simplicity. Everything stripped to the bare essentials. As a civilization we've gone to the extreme end of consumerism (at least in the Western countries) and are now realizing what's really important.

  3. However you look at it, minimalism is SO appealing right now. People are sick of feeling overwhelmed. It's a turn off. How do you appeal to people? Keep it simple. I think the future has simpler living in store with higher quality.

  4. The products going with the minimalist look are definitely the ones aiming for an air of sophistication, refinement or appear as a “higher-end” product.

    I've always been a big fan of minimalism in my life, globally, and is a part of all my decisions, particularly from an ecological perspective. I want as few packaged, processed, and plastic things in my life as possible. I live in a small space so that I'm not tempted by the suburban sprawl ethic of always getting more “stuff.” And once you get set in your more minimalist routine – life is a lot more comfortable. And I love seeing that minimalism of all varieties is becoming more mainstream.

  5. We shop primarily at Trader Joes and Whole Foods – so that might have something to do with it. I had to double check around the apartment to make sure I wasn't crazy but it's pretty clear that the marketing approach has shifted to a 'less is more' mentality. But maybe it's because I've trained my mind to pay more attention to those 'clearer' calls to action and see the ugly hot pink Comic Sans ridden products as clutter and subconsciously overlook them. Says something about the human psyche and buying decisions.

    Minimalism is not the majority by any means, but a rapidly increasing trend.

    PS Loved your BTP Newsletter this morning and the discussion on 'interactive video' – I assume you know of Wheezy Waiter? He is doing some awesome 'choose your own adventure' type things that you mentioned. Check it out –

  6. It's interesting that here in the US, we're just starting to tap into the fact that less really can mean more. I admittedly have way too much stuff in my apartment and need to cut back – For me it's almost a common sense thing, less “stuff” both materialistically and mentally – gives you clarity and renewed perspective on what's really important. The same can be said for marketing messages that are focusing more and more on CLEAR & OBVIOUS calls to action, fighting through the non-minimal crap and noise that's out there…

  7. Agreed – it's a pretty awesome thing that's happening, and I defenitely agree. We sit here and watch House Hunters or whatever on HGTV (yes, she's already got me hooked on these shows…before we're even married!) and it'll be this couple that “NEEDS” a 6 bedroom 5 bathroom house. It makes no sense to me to live somewhere where I won't even use 75% of the rooms. I'd rather live within my means and I think that's something that more and more people are jumping on board with..

  8. “We’re living in a society that ultimately wants less.”

    Nope. We live in a society that has more debt than ever before, has more stuff than ever before, eats more food than ever before, and scatters its attention out to more than ever before.

    That last one is important. You say Twitter is minimalist social networking, but in my opinion, it is the worst form of excess.

    If you have 50 things but can't be satisfied by a simple job in a simple place, is that minimalism?

    Those seemingly simple bottles and websites have been just as carefully designed and engineered as more flashy designs, probably even more so. As Mark Twain said, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” A simple-seeming aesthetic does not equate to simplicity.

    You're describing an aesthetic trend aimed at a certain slice of the market. That segment of the market wants to feel smart and superior. Check out Stuff White People Like. It's that segment, basically. So plain-looking bottles, organic-feeling web design, craft paper, Moleskine notebooks–it's just targeting that aesthetic. Maybe those people consume less physical materials than before, but it's not anything against the greater backdrop of our society, especially in the US.

  9. Well maybe it's just me and a few others that want less ;)

    In all seriousness you bring up very very interesting points here Chuck – it's somewhat of a catch 22 in that the more simple companies try to make something the more work and effort is put in.

    I guess my thought is that, yes, we are living in a society that has more debt and stuff than ever, that's spreading their attention and resources all over the place and that maybe people are starting to realize that living in excess wasn't the best idea – enter stage left the “minimalist” lifestyle and marketing approach. The trend isn't sparking out of nowhere, and instead may be a product of the way we've been living.

    Does that mean that the excessive living and over the top marketing will cease to exist? Not at all…but I'm seeing transitions and trends leading in another direction.

    Really appreciate the comment…a lot to think about at a very 'big picture' level.

  10. HEy Matt,
    Yeah, things become minimalistic, but they're complex first.

    Nowadays, you have to use like 3 programs to effectively use Twitter – social oomph, Tweetdeck, and twitpic – it's crazy ! And if you want to connect your blog to all the social media sites out there, man, it's inter-linking hell. I only appreciate that complexity in over-the-top blog design, like mine ;)

    but that's human evolution in technology -when something's new, it's pretty complex, and as soon as it advances, it becomes way simpler in terms of usability.

    I hope that will work for social media as well ;)

  11. Hi. I think minimalist branding and marketing is a trend. Being eco-friendly and minimalist are big buzzes at the moment and I'm sure a load of ad agency and marketing departments are just tuning into the zeitgeist. Think about it – it's all over the blogosphere. I don't see that many blinged-up blogs around these days,but maybe I'm just subscribed to the wrong ones…With regard to minimalism per se I think a lot of it has been forced by the current world economy which when, coupled with the likes of craigslist and ebay as a simple means to turn unwanted or unnecessary belongings into hard cash, has led people to decide whats important in their lives. I also think that the current economy has turned the traditional college-career-family trajectory right around. A LOT of people who were before totally career-driven (and therefore money-driven) have had that option taken away from them, not through choice, and instead have been forced to drive their energy and enthusiasm into other pursuits, such as enterprise and travelling (and blogging). I'm not knocking it, but I wonder how many minimalists would be advocating that lifestyle in a booming economy…

  12. I think what you're sensing is maybe a trend in a segment of the market that might ultimately spread around. That's probably true, especially as climate change gains more widespread acceptance and personal finance education continues to spread.

    I do think that in contrast to any material minimalism, there is a social and attentional maximalism in the same group that is unfortunate to see.

  13. Matt,

    I think part of the reason people are going for a minimalist approach to to marketing is because of the sheer volume of information we take in every day. Think back to a few years how much less a typical marketer had to compete with to get your attention. The iphone is actually really relevant to the discussion. Standing in line at the grocery store, you used to read tabloid headlines, look at brand names, etc, etc. But the thing is we're so connected to our digital world that even when we're grocery shopping, we're tweeting, texting, etc, etc. The fact is we don't have time for a drawn out message.

    Decreased Exposure to Ads: Overall, I think our exposure to ads is decreasing dramatically. We have so many options to ignore advertising. I don't have cable, but I watch just as much TV as I did before. But I watch it all online on sites like Sidereel so I don't see commercials very much. I was thinking of something today that I decided to coin “The 5th P of Marketing: People.” Today the only way advertisers can get your attention is by involving you in the process. But involving you in that process can't be difficult and there has to be plenty of incentive for your to be involved. Actually I'm going to end up writing my whole next idea for a blog post if I continue :). My point is that you will see a rise of minimalist marketing as our attention spans get shorter.

  14. Matt – I don’t know about this post. I think you make good points in how there seems to be some people who are into being “minimalists” these days but then you talk about it and marketing. I kind of feel like these are two separate topics.
    Minimalism and lifestyle: Sure, there are people who think “less is more” but I think this goes in cycles and this is by no means the first time it has happened. I bet every time there is a recession or depression this happens. “People, don’t be weighted down by your possessions”.
    As for you marketing examples:
    -I don’t think people buy iPods or iPhones in order to be a minimalist and replace 19 items. They get it because society tells them they “need” one. Just an estimation but like 8-10 people do not NEED an iPhone at all. I cant believe how many kids I see with iPhones and Blackberrys on the city bus – makes me laugh.
    -As for shampoo and other products. Id say some are bright and flashy and others aren’t. It depends who the target audience is – for example, the ones being targeted to you as a young North American male would probably be brands like Axe, and others with Black or Dark blue bottles. But for a young woman they may be bright pink (Herbal Essences) , bright green (L’Oreal) with doodles on them.
    -Websites: I can kind of agree with you here – you are right that there are no longer many complex flash intros etc. Its not that people don’t think they are cool – just nobody actually will wait to watch them. SKIP > look familiar? It is true that people prefer content more than design (though design is still super important).
    -The social media thing – I don’t know if twitter is actually minimalistic either. Id say it was made so that you can consume more and we all know there have been arguments about too much clutter on twitter. What about “facebook lite” – if people were so minimalistic, wouldn’t it still exist?

    I guess I think this minimalistic thing is one of those lifestyle choices and not to be confused with marketing. If something has a clean look, legible font and a memorable logo – I assume a lot of work has been put into the concept design, not that they are trying to help people who enjoy being minimalistic. Just my thoughts

  15. Thanks for the great breakdown of how minimalism is finding its way into things like social media, technology, and even branding.

    The line, “When one thing becomes 'too much', a new more simplified platform steps forward”, really got me thinking about what else might be further simplified down the road. I love thinking towards the future and trying to figure out the direction things are evolving — it's like creating science fiction with your own world, and knowing there's a possibility of it actually happening. :)

    I think one of the biggest reasons minimalism is becoming popular is because from a life standpoint, it just makes everything easier. And we all know how humans love things that are easier.

    I think when it comes to marketing, people have become so overwhelmed with advertisements, commercials, spam, etc., that their attention and focus has been pushed back down to a more simple level just to escape it all. Marketers will have no choice but to follow that attention and focus and utilize a more “minimalist style marketing” approach.

    This was blindingly clear with what Google did with AdSense. The market was saturated with big, flashy, banner-type ads that were usually out of context with the content, and so people got used to ignoring those. Google added text-based, context-aware advertising and boom, people paid attention.

    The rise of the Internet and social media has definitely helped people spread the awareness that simplicity actually does wonders in nearly all aspects of life and I think we're only going to see awareness and practice of it increase in the future.

  16. Matt,

    I think that minimalism has primarily risen as a backlash to the over-the-top, I want more more more! consumerism that has pervaded our culture for the last 60 years or so (since the end of WWII). Does that mean minimalism is necessarily better? No – I'm kind of ambivalent about minimalism as a whole, as it turned into the same thing as consumerism except people were trying to one-up each other by owning less than the next guy. It's like keeping up with the Jonses, but reversed.

    Now, the core tenets of minimalism are great – keep what's necessary, and scrap the rest. Kinda like the 80/20 rule, except with things.

    Also, it's easier to market simple things to the masses. There was a GREAT article on this at some blog I read (a shame I can't remember where) that the more simple a product's function is, the easier it is to market it to Joe Sixpack, and if it appeals to the masses, then they'll buy the product (ending in huge profits since the largest segment of the population is buying it). This was a new take on marketing, seeing as I always thought of the snake oil salesman selling his complex product with all its bells and whistles (and confusing poor old Joe in the meantime) as the guy who made big profits…

    Just some more food for thought :)

  17. I totally agree. Minimalism has its uses, but often on the Web it turns into an aesthetic. People live their lives according to this aesthetic, but an aesthetic is just style. Where's the substance?

    Bottom line: don't get distracted by the glut of stuff that comes into our lives. But don't base your life around minimizing your stuff. Minimalism is a great way to see a complex task: it helps you simplify it. But it is not the point of life.

  18. I am definitely seeing the minimalist marketing as a trend. I agree that as a society we are overwhelmed with information. I genuinely hope that this trend continues and I believe that it will. There is definitely a strong correlation with the “green” movement and the allure of minimalist marketing so I believe that this style of marketing will continue to grow.
    I love that the focus of “simplicity” on the web is transferring to a value based system. Additionally, I love that facebook doesn't allow my friends to post sparkly huggy fairies that say “#1 buddy” or some such crap like that on my wall. If the world marketing trend is moving away from sparkly GIF fairies and onto Ariel Fonts and simple sentances then I am 100% in favor.

  19. Minimalist never fail to attract my attention. I strongly believe in 'keeping it simple'.
    If one book can serve for all my cookery needs why would I want to buy a separate book on each topic?
    Have fewer gadgets and lesser ingredients to get the same great results? Bring it on, I am ready for it :D :D

    Loved the post!!

  20. It is sort of a catch 22 – that MORE effort is actually needed to make things simple. Funny how that works out, eh? I think it's a cycle with no clear end in sight…

  21. That is a good question and without a doubt, the trend continues to rise with the current economic state – if we start to see a dramatic economic boom, the minimalist concept may become just that, a “trend” that comes and goes – but recession or not, I really do see a lot of PERSONAL value in getting rid of the excess and living a more organized and efficient life…

  22. I agree that the minimalist approach is to cut through all the noise out there – which is a very tricky thing to do. A clear call to action is incredibly important in this day and age of information overhaul.

    As for decreased exposure to ads, I'd say yes and no. We are getting more and more ways to “avoid” advertising, but over and over again advertising seems to seep in to our ad-free platforms. It's only a matter of time before Twitter has full scale advertising, we get annoyed, and we then move to the next best thing. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'll stick with that mindset until proven wrong as it's happened time and time again.

    I'd love to read a follow up post from you on something similar – I think there's a lot of value in this discussion. If you'd like to do a “follow up” guest post in this neck of the woods, I'd be more than happy to have you.

  23. Yo Bryan – thanks for stopping by and spending some time responding to this so thoughtfully, I have to apologize for being a slacker and taking so long to reply.

    My take? Minimalism is a way of life, yes, but I also see it as a BIG factor in the future of marketing. Maybe as a product of the recession, maybe a fundamental shift in belief, whatever the reason – the “more, more, more” attitude is dying, at least in the community I live within each day (which admittedly makes up a microcosm of society – so it's entirely possible that there's bias there that doesn't apply to the overall market).

    To (one of) your points, I do think the IPhone can be seen as a convenience purchase and it DOES replace a lot – but it's excessive, I'll be the first to admit that – I don't have one BECAUSE I don't want that many options – I don't WANT to be plugged in all the time – it's pros and cons contradict themselves…

    This is a theme I'm seeing as repetitive throughout the comments here – that yes, less may be more, it may be the future, but it takes MORE to make LESS (if that makes sense). It takes MORE effort to make a simple clean website. It takes MORE effort to develop technology like an IPhone – something that's supposed to make our life easier.

    It's an interesting pattern….this is giving me a lot to think about.

  24. Agreed Eric – and “minimalism” will never be the goal of my existence, as I said in a post a couple weeks ago, I have no desire to follow in the path of those who are indexing their items and following strict regimented “minimal” lives – I agree in your belief that it shouldn't drive the way you live and at the end of the day, I just want to live my life and enjoy the ride, maybe just with a few less things :) Thanks for the comment!

  25. You said it perfectly here Matt –

    “This is a theme I'm seeing as repetitive throughout the comments here – that yes, less may be more, it may be the future, but it takes MORE to make LESS (if that makes sense). It takes MORE effort to make a simple clean website. It takes MORE effort to develop technology like an IPhone – something that's supposed to make our life easier.”

    It is about understanding how much information the human brain can take in at once. How much a person can realistically remember about a logo, product or website. I believe that too much visual stimulus simply overloads a person's senses and almost acts at making the flashy product forgettable.

    haha great post for discussion

    Maybe a new blog post “Rinse of the excess junk” -

  26. I think the iPhone isn’t necessarily minimalistic because all it has done is created digital clutter. It is one of the cleaner smartphones but it still does too much, especially with the jumble of available apps.
    Also it’s complement not compliment.

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