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There’s a pervasive scourge of minimalism threatening consumer brands.
You’ve seen them. You may buy them. You may even love them. Those brands that strip away all “unnecessary” packaging graphics and messaging in service of an unvarnished, anti-branding, ingredients-first message.
There are myriad examples, but some of the better-known purveyors of the minimalist approach include RX Bar, Brandless, Soylent, Just, Naked Nutrition and Malk, to name a few.
Minimalism is alleged to be more millennial-friendly, transparent, authentic and pure. None of that icky marketing stuff. No bells and whistles. No bullshit.
Well, I’m calling bullshit on rampant minimalism.
When it first emerged, the minimalist-unbranded wave was a disruptive and fresh approach to building a brand. Do the opposite of what traditional packaged goods brands have done forever. Acknowledge that today’s overwhelmed consumers seek simplicity and clarity. Emphasize an ethical supply chain and clean ingredients with an equally “clean” package design.
And for some, significantly in RX Bar’s case, its minimalism proved to be a brilliant strategy, as evidenced by its $600 million sale to Kellogg’s. But when too many brands strip down to bare bones, what was once a welcome departure from traditional packaging clutter has become an annoyingly prevalent, boring and lazy trend that lacks meaning.
In food and beverage branding, there’s an insidious threat lurking aboard the minimalist-unbranded bandwagon.
Many consumers may interpret your product as just that—a product, not a brand. Minimalism connotes that your product is nothing more than a commodity, a collection of ingredients easily sourced and replicated by other products, housed in an unassuming vessel that may or may not have equal quality to competing products.
Commoditized brands are transactional. They garner no loyalty. They engender the same level of emotional engagement as one experiences while putting coins in a parking meter.
The ubiquity of minimalist brand design is not merely a nod by marketers, brand owners and creatives to the cultural zeitgeist, but rather an inability to resolve the tension inherent in packaged goods branding. Specifically, how to deliver simplicity and clarity for consumers while communicating a distinct personality and credible, relatable raison d’être.
Renowned book jacket designer Chip Kidd often discusses this tension as the fine line that separates mystery from clarity.
“Clarity gets to the point. It’s blunt. It’s honest. It’s sincere,” Kidd says. “Mystery is a lot more complicated by its very definition. Mystery demands to be decoded, and when it’s done right, we really, really want to (decode it).”
Too many minimalist brands lack even a modicum of mystery. In their zeal to proclaim, “We’ve got nothing to hide,” they’ve forgotten that a little mystery, and yes, even a little seduction, produces desire and intrigue that drives sales, creates preference and commands a premium.
So, how does your brand avoid the trap of me-too, just-the-facts minimalism and create some genuine affinity? Here are three questions to ask.
First, does your brand visibly stand out? Assess your brand’s look and feel and ask yourself: Is there is at least one visual (or verbal) component of your brand that is truly distinctive from your competition?
Much like the hipsters in my home city of San Francisco—skinny jeans, thick beards and fixie bikes—sharing the same style as large chunks of ones’ peer group does not make you different or unique. Brands seeking to “stand out” by blending into the minimalist aesthetic risk indifference and irrelevancy.
Second, does your brand generate a visceral response? Does it create curiosity, spur a chuckle, inspire a pause for reflection or offer an intriguing tease? By leaving something to the imagination, you’ll encourage and entice people to explore further. And it’s that thrill of discovery—“I found this amazing brand!”—that forges an emotional connection and advocacy.
Third, is your brand truly memorable? If your brand does the first two things well—i.e., it’s both visible and visceral—then memorability will be the inevitable and essential byproduct.
Brand creators, owners and marketers, it’s beyond time to reject the minimalist craze and reintroduce a touch of romance, mystery and, dare I say, emotion, to brands. Because less is simply not more.