Minimalism is a beautiful aesthetic that many brands seek to cultivate. But it's hard to be authentically minimalist as a retailer whose stock and trade is things. If you design things, sell things, and create a lot of content about those things across multiple channels... well... you run the risk of creating some pretty uncomfortable cognitive dissonance if your brand is trying to pose, stylistically or philosophically, as a minimalist.
So how can those of us involved in the production or sale of things ever credibly subscribe to a minimalist ethos or promote a minimalist style?
As a visual style, a lifestyle, and a philosophy, Minimalism has reached full blown trend status.
Not that living with less is a trend. But the fetish for wanting to be seen as the sort of person capable of cultivating this aesthetic in all aspects of life certainly is in fashion.
Minimalism's proponents sell us on the promise of a uncluttered life free from overwhelm - It's an antidote to the frenetic, complex reality we inhabit. And that sounds great. When it comes to brand messaging, there's real power in communicating simplicity, ease, and calm. We could all use a little more clarity in our lives, and as I explained in this post, shopping is one way we often seek to acquire it.
Retailers who do minimalism well find that it increases how valuable their stock feels to their customers. For online stores and service providers, uncluttered design and brand copy relaxes and inspires a certain kind of customer who enjoys a carefully curated experience. (This is not your factory outlet shopper!) There's a great deal of research indicating that individual products seem more valuable when there are fewer of them to choose from, and each one is given space to breath, whether they're resting in a display case or listed on an e-commerce site.
So adopting a more minimalist aesthetic online and in your bricks and mortar storefront can be a powerful, modern way to communicate value and quality to your customers. But we also know that authenticity in your brand's voice is critical for building consumer trust... And herein lies a problem.
I personally think a lot about becoming a Minimalist. It's hard not to as I scroll through the sparsely composed images on my Instagram feed and am constantly (but gently - minimalists all seem so gentle) reminded of the joys of living with less by all the minimalist themed pages I've liked on Facebook.
When I owned my shop I was constantly buying, arranging, photographing, cleaning, and talking about things. Showroom was (and still is!) full of beautiful, special items made by interesting, wholehearted people. I loved collecting those things - and their stories - together for customers to delight in. The way I chose and displayed them felt like a reflection of something inside me; for me curation is an essential act that humanises our existence - I'm very fortunate that I continue to enact this kind of self-actualisation in my work.
Minimalism, by contrast, seems to connote an almost brutal pairing back of belongings. It urges us to forego the much loved but not strictly necessary frivolities in pursuit of a more aesthetic lifestyle.
Essentialism as an authentic retail philosophy
Which brings me to essentialism.
Of course there's a lot to be said in favour of living frugally, eschewing imprudent excess, and jettisoning meaningless clutter. But I would argue that a life lived without the joy that our best loved, special, superfluous belongings bring isn't being lived to its fullest. That's what Essentialism is all about. Rather than living with as few things as possible, the essentialist aspires to live surrounded by things that feel important or lovely... to them. Quantity is not at issue. Quality is.
5 ways Essentialism can help you sell products and services more artfully.
1. Communicate how carefully your offerings have been selected. Essentialism is basically minimalism's softer, more sympathetic sibling. It's not about how little we can live with, but about deciding what we simply don't want to live without. Essentialism sings the praises both of frugality and indulgence, in balanced measure.
2. Tell stories about why what you sell is meaningful. Everyone's must haves will be different, so deciding what is and isn't Essential to up to us. This process turns tangible objects into relics of our life's story. Things are given meaning by the memories, and sentiments they represent and evoke.
3. In these stories, explore connections between makers, designers, producers, service providers, retailers and customers. What is Essential - and business owners should think about this too when communicating their value to customers - isn't only about tangible objects. It's also about the esoteric feelings of connection we derive from them. When chosen well, our belongings foster a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves and quench a deep seated thirst for community.
4. Avoid clutter in your imagery, sales copy, web design and merchandising. Take inspiration from the current cultural appetite for Minimalism and let customers clearly see what you have to sell without being bombarded by too many distracting elements. Get this right and your customers will have a calmer, more uplifting experience when navigating your shop. Moreover, each of your products will feel more valuable to potential buyers if you treat them as essential. Give them a spotlight by creating visual breathing space, whether you sell in person or online. That means using larger photos without a lot of props and resisting the urge to over stock displays in store.
5. Think deeply and ask questions about what qualifies as Essential in your customers' lives. Do this and you'll hold the key to tailoring your offerings so the people you serve feel uplifted and, crucially, understood by you. That's a beautiful thing in an all-too generic world - such is the power of curation.