Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

No more, more, more – why people are looking for simplicity from brands

by Ned Hodge, senior strategist, Strat House

For many years there has been a specific trajectory among businesses selling their products and services to people. A trajectory of ‘more is more’, a powerful force of hyper-consumerism. It began to take hold in the 1950s with the endless choice offered by new supermarket aisles. Today, we see the all-out dominance of Amazon’s ‘one-click purchase’, which creates and satisfies a need to buy any product you want quickly and efficiently as you’d like.

But the has tide started to turn. It’s easy to pin the change on the pandemic, but the signs were already there. The increasing awareness of the impact of the climate crisis means that packaging waste, unnecessary multiple options, and profligate purchasing have begun to leave an environmentally tainted, bad taste in the mouth.

Last year, the coronavirus forced us to stay home with all, but the essential shops closed. However, what we lost in access, we gained in perspective. Viewing our consumerism through a new lens – we questioned just what we needed.

Today, brands question how they should behave to respond to what customers are looking for in this changing world.

Multiple choice and offerings are no longer enough to stand out from the competition. And the competition is broader and simpler – as challenger brands enter the market, they often do so with a completely different mindset to the legacy brands that have long ruled the roost.

Newer brands invariably come to market with a more essentialist view of consumerism. As author Greg McKeown explains in his book The Power of Essentialism – it’s about going back to basics in the face of overwhelming options. What is essential and what isn’t? The power of choice remains, but instead, people favour a few unique, high-quality items and the non-essential items become disregarded. What is invariably deemed essential in the brand world is the ease of use and what the business stands for.

And so it is that purpose and simplicity are often at the heart of challenger brand positioning. For example, the baby and kids clothing company, Primary, was set up by Galyn Bernard and Christina Carbonell to actively oppose the trend of endless choice offered by the likes of Amazon. At Primary, the focus has been on happy, colourful, and simple clothes while making the shopping experience as straightforward as possible for parents. But the founders were also looking to build a brand that could stand for something clear – gender-neutral clothes.

The appeal of simplifying life is often associated with age, but research suggests this is not the case – among Gen Z (16- to 25-year-olds). Instead, 77% agree that they are increasingly looking for ways to simplify their lives—an 18% increase on the same age group ten years previously (millennials).

Simplicity is the guiding light for many digital-first trailblazing businesses, which have differentiated themselves by making complicated processes much easier for customers to use. 

Businesses such as Habito and Fairwill bring simplicity and intent to the infamously complicated worlds of mortgages and death using the same ease of use, customer-first blueprint that Uber laid down twelve years ago.

Uber’s ubiquity has changed the game for brands creating a generation of ‘Uber’s Children’ with unreasonable, demanding expectations of every category, as Adam Morgan has commented. However, suppose brands do not meet these demands. In that case, there is a new breed of entrepreneurs waiting in the wings who ask, ‘Why does this legacy category have to be so complicated?’ before entering the market with a radically different challenger.

Of course, ease of use and a clear purpose are not isolated concepts for digital age enterprises – First Direct bank pioneered putting customers at the centre of activities in the financial services sector at the end of the 1980s. And some established businesses are learning fast; look at how many companies like Burger King have opted for a debranding strategy to make their logos more straightforward. In Burger King’s case, it has focused instead on culturally impactful campaigns.

To remain competitive, brands need to know why they exist. Purpose is not just a current marketing buzzword – having a clear and decisive reason for being in business is good brand economics – for those with a strong brand purpose, grow brand value faster.

The past year has offered a moment to pause and reflect on all aspects of our lives. Despite tinges of fear and worry, the past year has been less crowded and busy than usual. So, it is not surprising that customers may look at the companies they purchase from and reassess whether they meet their needs for clear, simple and helpful products and services. Doing so is a competitive imperative.