Simplicity Sells.

The marketing brilliance of chart-topping brands Allbirds and Casper, curated newsletters, and websites that are paid to make our decisions

Carine Carmy
Jun 26, 2017 · 6 min read

Walk into any tech startup in San Francisco and a third of the team’s feet will be clad in merino wool. Not just any merino wool, but a dark gray, ZQ-certified, merino wool of New Zealand origin. This wool could be sourced from wild sheep grazing on a rugged coastline during magic hour. Who would have known, but “turns out superfine merino wool makes the world’s most comfy shoes.”

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Allbirds, the creator of a glorified orthopedic that has taken San Francisco by storm, goes hard on its brand promise: thoughtful comfort.

It’s website is a love letter to merino wool, with images of plush fabric, bouncing feet, and wiggling toes. Why? Because “materials matter,” both for ease of use and for ease of mind.

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This is not the first shoe to sell on comfort. Crocs, Uggs, and even NikeFree built empires on the promise of spinal alignment and saving the planet. But Allbirds has taken its brand promise to the extreme, and it’s working.

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Continued rise in search interest since their launch in March 2016.

The company is tapping into several powerful marketing forces: simplification of choice, consistency of message, hyper-targeting of audience, and familiarity of experience.

  • Simplification of choice: With over a year in market, the company still only offers two styles and a handful colors, many of which are limited edition. Allbirds admits there is a lot of complexity involved in shoe design, but it removes that thought process from its customers and merely exposes the result, not the research. There’s no real decision to make — the experts have done it for you. Wear Allbirds, feel good, look good, donzo.

As a marketer, I bow my hat to the team. The brand is authentic, consistent, and scalable. They nailed it.

One hit wonders for the win

Allbirds is not the only company successfully marketing a simplified product to a specific audience. Several direct to consumer brands created this playbook (Warby Parker, Dollar Shave Club, Bonobos) and others are following suit.

Take Casper. A mattress company…with only one mattress for sale…and a likely valuation of over $1 billion! Their formula is also dream inducing:

  • Simplification of choice: One “perfect” mattress, available in several sizes. And a few pillow cases for the occasional upsell.

A few years ago, I would have advised companies like Casper that removing choice could hinder sales. Behavioral economic research suggests that showing people at minimum a few options can help prime someone to expect a certain quality at a certain price. Moreover, the early e-commerce winners are essentially marketplaces of abundant choice: Amazon, Etsy, and even Kickstarter.

But gone are the days of massive marketplace wins, at least for e-commerce. Casper, Allbirds, makeup company Glossier, and others have proven: consumers want the perception of choice but not the action of choice. I want to buy the best thing, for me, at the best possible price, with the least possible mental effort.

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More than 4,000 likes for sunscreen. Mom would be so proud. (Into the Gloss by Glossier)

Beyond brands — enter the curator

Beyond brands, there are a host of curators making names and bank off their finds. While the formats vary, they still offer simplicity, consistency, and familiarity to a cohesive (and often narrow) audience. A few include:

  1. Curated newsletters — The Skimm, The Hustle, NextDraft, REDEF, and more. From unique interpretation to simply sharing links, these newsletters and their brethren are rapidly growing in audience as news becomes too overwhelming to consume. Each is known for a different tone and type of curation.

Why simple? Why now?

Why is this formula working? Simply put: we want to minimize our choices and feel good about our decisions. Derek Thompson argues in Hit Makers:

“Audiences are hungry for meaning, and their preferences are guided by an interplay between the complex and the simple, the stimulation of new things and a deep comfort with the familiar.”

Beyond the psychology, though, there are simply too many choices to be made. Free, or at least democratized, distribution has created a proliferation of choices that is not just overwhelming, it’s unfathomable.

With news being “created” for pennies and distributed for “free” across the web and social, how can I even begin to figure out what’s important to read beyond my go-to publications? With new consumer products hitting my Instagram feed daily ready for direct purchase without a merchant to curate, how do I decide what to buy?

Brands — individuals, companies, and those in between—are the filters of our time. The best brands convey the essence of who we are and want to be, and reflect that back to us in micro moments across every experience. They minimize choice by flexing their expertise. And those who do it well reap the rewards.

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