Twenty twenty. That year in which the rails came off and every record seemed to be broken. Temperatures, unemployment, stock market rallies - you name it, it happened. It’s interesting though - as we alluded to in our report, Retail Rebirth - these dramatic events are a reflection of similar times in US history - shortly after WWI, the late 60s, the early 90s, and more. Perhaps our experience is more extreme now. In America, it seems records are there just to be broken. It’s in our DNA - we push past whatever limits are there (often regardless of the cost). England? Sent packing. Electricity? Captured in a glass ball. Atmosphere? We’re over it. The seemingly insurmountable is surmounted every decade. We take everything to the max and beyond.

In my article The New Dada, I talked a bit about American Maximalism in our homes. A few weeks after we published, the New Yorker went into great detail about maximalism in interior decorating. Here’s the thing: I think we would be remiss to stop short of applying maximalism as an aesthetic. Maximalism is alive and well across practically every aspect of our lives, residing under a number of different names such as “geeking out”, “nerding out”, “gearheads”, “hypebeasts”, “-aholics” and more. 

The people who live under such titles are often the enthusiasts of your industry. Enthusiasm naturally lends itself to maximalism because enthusiasts want to be as engaged as possible. They acquire and promote the acquisition of items for their interests. They often research these items at great lengths and become very knowledgeable about which specific products they need in different situations and how to properly utilize them. Enthusiasts will often buy different versions of the same or similar product if it provides them with aesthetic or incremental variety within their area of focus. They’re ready waiting for your drops because they know your entire product line, your competitors’ entire product lines, and have already bought all the things they want (at least, within their budget). In other words, these are the people in your industry that are going to be committed to finding the best and coolest stuff and buy a lot of it.

Enthusiasts are everywhere:

  • Fashion: Fashionistas, hypebeasts, sneakerheads, and so much more. (An obvious category for maximalists.)
  • Outdoor/sports/fitness: Again, easy - this category naturally lends itself to maximalists. These are fanatics at the highest level and deck themselves out.
  • Home and Garden: Already covered in prior articles at length - while minimalism may have made inroads to our aesthetic and mindset, maximalism is back in force.
  • Tech: Have any friends who are “gadget” people? These enthusiasts were early smartwatch and voice tech adopters. 
  • Beauty/health/wellness: Health nuts, Instagrammers, makeup artists, and more - chock full of enthusiasts who take things to extremes.
  • Food/bev/cooking: Foodies, culinarians, oenophiles, and more!
  • Gaming: Serious gamers today will DIY their rigs - with streaming cams to boot.

Looking through this list, it’s hard to imagine minimalism making a dent in our psyche at all. Do you know any actual sports fans that are minimalists in their fandom? That is to say - people who are true fans but keep their fandom paired back to the essentials? I know maybe like three people who fall into this category. Thinking through these categories, it will be much easier to identify the minimalists in your circles because they’re the outliers (or you won’t be able to identify them because they don’t exist). 

It’s important for brands and retailers to recognize the early signs of a maximalist entering their world. These people have the potential to become your best customer if they enter your industry. 

Here are a couple of indicators of maximalist enthusiasts:

1. What they buy from you

  • This past month I went on several hikes, culminating with an overnight trip in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness/up Mt. Defiance, and then a climb up over 10,000 feet on Mt. Rainier to Camp Muir. It’s been exhilarating. While I might do another easy overnight or two with my kids, I can’t wait for next summer - I’m going to hike Mt. St. Helens or Mt. Adams or both and then some. It’s somewhat concerning to me how excited I am, and my journey of gear purchasing was an immediate extension of my newfound enthusiasm. Within the space of a few weeks, I made four purchases from the same outdoor brand - all meeting their rather high minimum for free shipping. I had never purchased from this brand before - but even if I had - this type of purchasing activity should be a flag for them that I was gearing up, and likely for the first time given what types of products I purchased. Indicators like high initial purchase volume and frequency, industry essentials, and above-average page time on educational pages should be clear tips an Enthusiast is checking you out.
From my recent hike up Mt. Rainier

2) What they buy elsewhere

  • Enthusiasts tend to geek out on whatever they put themselves into - so understanding how these customers have gone about spending in other categories would be phenomenal data to identify them. This data is much harder to come but will be incredibly valuable. If you were a climbing brand and you found out that a new customer of yours picked up running as a hobby, and upon doing so progressively geared themselves out from head to toe as a result, odds are that they’re going to want to dive in on climbing as well. Social could be a great place to mine this data. Or also look for collabs and partnerships to assist (obviously with opt-in). Not only is this a good way to verify if a new customer is a maximalist - spotting them through the way they interact with other brands is a great way to target acquiring them as customers.

Once you identify maximalists who are entering your space, the next step would be to cultivate their natural behaviors. Before I unpack this - it’s important to address concerns around the correlation between consumerism and maximalism. I can see the concern - people who buy a lot of stuff tend to look like out-of-control consumers. Therefore it would appear that I am suggesting that we just sell more stuff that people who want to buy more stuff. It would be a sweeping, mistaken judgment to conflate these two concepts. While it’s true that consumerism can more easily fit into the maximalist paradigm, many maximalists actually do get full use or enjoyment of the tools, gear, and other items they purchase in pursuit of whatever it is they’re interested in. 

The difference is important to clarify to avoid falling prey to the trap that is the Overkill Economy. The worst way to develop and sell to a maximalist enthusiast is to provide them with a bunch of box checkers or features that are beyond their skillset. You need to educate them, connect them with experts, draw them into your community, and get feedback on their experience. This will ensure they make purchases that keep them engaged. The last thing you want to do is turn someone off to your industry because they were oversold on an item that they couldn’t handle properly. They’ll spend more with you if you sell them the beginner or intermediate item that they take to quickly and mature out of - such that they make the next purchase up.

The net effect of nurturing enthusiasts is that they often make the best promoters. Take Phillip (my co-founder) for example. While the idea of minimalism is appealing to him - the practical outcome of his obsession is with running and shoes is that he buys a lot of them and shares his finds on Instagram and IRL. In the last weeks, he’s shared several pics including some hot throwback Reeboks he recently picked up.

From Phillip's Instagram

Finally, casual engagement is on the decline. Especially as we’ve entered the COVID period, individuals have been forced to focus on specific aspects of their lives - their homes, their fitness, their cooking, their children’s education, their gardens, their gaming experiences, etc. This winnowing of scope has allowed consumers the space and additional time to obsess over these narrowed foci. There are also gobs of free and paid education at their fingertips on YouTube, Udemy, Wikipedia, industry-specific sites, and more, which enable them to dive deeper than ever before. From February through March, course enrollments at Udemy increased by 425%. This is staggering.

The Age of COVID is also the age of obsession - to the point where we think the casual consumer is a poser or mediocre. No one wants to be viewed as a poser, so we only start activities that we’re ready to fully immerse ourselves in. Be ready to engage these serial enthusiasts when they start to dip their toes in the water of your category before they jump in with both feet.