Over the past three years or so, I’ve gradually been forming minimalist habits.  It started when I read the very well-known book ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo, was compounded by living in a very small flat in NYC and by the time I moved back to London I had pretty much broken the habit of compulsive consumption. 

Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfilment, and freedom.

— The Minimalists

It may seem counterintuitive, or even hypocritical, for someone working in the marketing world, but I’ve actually found it makes me a better strategist. This is for three, fairly simple, reasons:

  1. Minimalism has sharpened my understanding of value. 

    A huge part of strategy is working out what value, whether functional or emotional (ideally both), a brand can add to people’s lives and then creating ways to amplify that value.  As a minimalist, my primary filter for whether or not I invest time or money in something is whether or not it will add value to my life. For me, once I started asking myself that question multiple times a day, I became much more attuned to the nuances of the different types of value held by objects or experiences.  To give a very simple example, spending money on a cup of fancy tea offers a very different value for me depending on whether I do it by myself (in which case it represents a kind of self-care) or with someone else (in which case it is a chance to slow down and connect.)  

  2. Minimalism has made me more discerning about making choices

    Good strategy requires a lot of choices.  Choosing what to focus on starts from the moment you begin research to the moment you finalise the wording of your purpose/platform/proposition.  A sign of an inexperienced strategist (and something I certainly did at the beginning of my career) is that they will share a huge amount of information and possible strategic routes, having been unable to distill it down to what is most important.  At a time when we live in information overload, It’s vital for strategists to be able to guide brands in prioritising messaging, RTBs, channels and even products. Minimalism, too, is all about choice. It is about living intentionally, so that when you do invest in something, it is a conscious choice rather than reactive or compulsive.  You effectively have much more control over your own life, which is exactly what brands can achieve if they make clear choices and are willing to leave things out rather than trying to be all things to all people.

  3. Minimalism allows me to focus

    This would apply to most jobs in the information or creative industries, but I feel strongly that the ability to focus is vital to being a good strategist.  I’ve talked before about the dangers of distraction, and minimalism helps remove two significant distractions. The first is obvious: environmental distractions. Owning less means my workspace is clutter-free, featuring only objects that inspire me or are meaningful to me.  The second is less obvious but more powerful: the consumption distraction. Until I gradually broke the habit of consumption, I hadn’t realised how much headspace was taken up with constant, low level chatter about what I would buy next. I was hooked on creating a perfect life by owning the exact perfect combination of things, and it’s amazing how much more focused I can be now that I hardly think about it. 

Minimalism isn’t for everyone.  I personally love it because it frees up my time, money and mental space. However, I do believe that anyone working with brands should embrace certain aspects of minimalism in order to fine tune their understanding of value, their ability to choose what to include and what can be left out and to improve their capacity to focus.