I have a CRUSH on you - or how do you connect with Generations Y and Z?
by Marcus Sewtz - Corporate Developer TRE
How cool, real, unique, self-identifying or happy is your company? If you haven't thought about it yet, you should do so as soon as possible. Because only strong and attractive brands that pass the CRUSH test remain attractive to the younger generation.
In the year 2025, Millennials, that is those born in 1980 or later, will represent about 75% of the workforce and more than 50% of the purchasing power in the luxury sector. They are always on and spend an average of around 3.5 hours per day using their Smartphones. They love to present themselves in social media channels, and restaurants and retailers have to worry about how “instagrammable” their food or goods appear. They expect instant gratification – and expect to get what they want, now and everywhere and not the day after tomorrow in a boring shopping mall. They are so flooded with digital messages and omnipresent offers that it takes a real WOW! experience to get their attention even for a few seconds. Alternative facts, Facebook’s handling of data and other unfulfilled brand promises have led this generation to lose confidence in institutions. Recommendations from friends and family or the buzz of their ingroup have long been more important for their purchasing decisions than pompous brand advertising. And that’s not all, because they are also looking for a “Greater Purpose” and seem to want to save the world while they’re at it. And last but not least, they influence Gen X and Babyboomers with regard to body and health awareness, fashion, consumer and communication behaviour and point the way to so-called youthification.
To sum up, this means that those who have not already succumbed to the brutal pressure of the digital and vertical champions need to get connected to – and attractive to – the new and relevant generation as quickly as possible. This is even more true in today’s era of the platform economy, because only strong and desirable manufacturers or retail brands will be found in the big wide internet in future. Otherwise they will inevitably decline even more in importance and ultimately sink out of sight.
In the rather pragmatic fashion and lifestyle industry, many brands and retailers are primarily focused on themselves and their competition. A brand’s positioning results either from the creativity of an ingenious designer or it gets pushed along within its genre/category for as long as it takes to get it where the most attractive market potential is expected. But the positioning no longer has a lot to do with the reality of the product and the brand. Are we forgetting something? Oh yes, the customer.
The customer is often defined on the basis of socio-demographic criteria. An attempt is then made to meet his or her needs, most of which were determined quantitatively, and the product developed accordingly.
This worked well in the peak times of designer brands from the ‘70s to the ‘0s. But today, and even more so tomorrow, the lifestyle consumer sets the tone and is even an integral part of branding. Because the customer selects the brand and shapes it directly or indirectly through his or her commitment.
So what has to happen for these new Generations Y and Z to fall in love with a fashion or lifestyle brand? In search of an answer, we were inspired by a book by Joeri Van den Bergh and Mattias Behrer (“How cool brands stay hot – branding to Generation Y and Z”), in which an extensive empirical study determines and describes what makes brands attractive to Millennials:
We at Team Retail Excellence have transferred this thought model into the fashion and lifestyle industry and developed a CRUSH test from it. The idea behind this is to hold a joint workshop using specific brand-relevant questions to work out how connectable your brand is as a manufacturer or retailer to Generations Y and Z, and what clues there are to increase desirability and brand power.
In this approach, the brand's potential to be cool for the young generation is evaluated. Whether through a new cool style that Tom Ford put forward in his time or Alessandro Michele has developed today, each driving sensational growth for Gucci, or by means of "borrowed" coolness through collaborations with hip designers, like H&M or Adidas with Karl Lagerfeld, Isabel Marant, Alexander Wang, Stella McCartney have realized. Or through cool stories, as can be seen from the example of the Nike Airmax, which doesn’t cost $180 like the original, but through a Sean Wotherspoon and friends story, will cost $1,799. It can also be cool places where the brand is presented, as in the case of Tommyland in Santa Barbara. Judge together with us, whether your influencers, ambassadors and your salesfloor people are as cool as those promoting Vans, Dr. Martens, Lego or Apple.
Gen Y and Z appreciate it very much when brands and retailers stand for something and not only talk about it, but really do something about it. That’s why it is important to be clear about what opportunities you have as a brand to be real. In other words, to be authentic and not to buckle when things get harder. Just as Nike just recently courageously took a stance against police violence and discrimination in the case of Colin Kaepernick (“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”) and also stood by Tiger Woods, continuing to use his testimonials during his long unsuccessful phase. But being real also means that all activities, from materials, sourcing and production up to marketing, are uncompromisingly aligned with the brand vision. While Patagonia follows its WHY? (“We are in the business to save the planet”) in everything it does, Birkenstock is led impressively by its conviction (“When your feet feel good, you feel good”). Just like Tommy Hilfinger brings the “American Dream” to life again and again so convincingly or Dr. Martens and Lego are able to connect with their respective target groups so successfully.
Gen Y and Z also want to feel special and unique, which is why it is as important for brands today as it was back then to work out how they are or can become unique for this target group. Rimowa achieves this with a unique product, the aluminium case, or Converse with Chucks or Barbour with the Wax Jacket. A brand itself in addition to its lifestyle assortment can also be unique. Just as Moncler made its way from the mountains into the urban fashion world, Fred Perry transformed itself from a tennis shirt into an urban lifestyle brand or Burberry developed from a trench coat brand into a digital luxury brand. How do you manage the attractiveness of your brand? Through controlled scarcity and distribution, as in the case of Adidas or Nike, where sneakerheads camp for days on end in the wind and rain in front of scene shops for a limited release. Or create curiosity with a constant stream of up-to-date new items, as fast fashion players bring off so successfully? In a CRUSH workshop, you evaluate whether the success factors of so-called DNVBs (digital native vertical brands) such as Everlane, Son of a Taylor or Allbirds are transferable to your business model.
Not that self-identification with brands hasn’t been important for Babyboomers and Gen X as well. But because Gen Y and Z like so much to showcase and position themselves by sharing their values with others, it is much more important for a brand today to work out whether it offers enough opportunities to identify with it. Is it clear to you and the target group which values you stand for? For security, success, romance, innovation, nonconformism or something else? Or which lifestyle do you stand for and which possibilities of self-expression and belonging to a group of like-minded people do you offer? This is how the multitalented Virgil Abloh has succeeded in convincing many Millennials with purchasing power to identify with a new luxurious lifestyle in Off-White, which moves somewhere between streetwear, hip-hop, art & fashion and has helped create a trend for the entire fashion industry.
He has become so important that he is now even the creative director at Louis Vuitton. And Gucci even has a Millennial Committee, which Alessandro Michele quite obviously advises very well.
Finally, in a CRUSH test, you evaluate the potential of your brand to generate happiness. Externally for the customer and internally for the organisation. With a brand that delivers exceptional service, surprises the customer and gives him or her a special feeling of appreciation.
Or through a “Higher Purpose” such as the Toms shoe brand, which gives a pair of shoes to people in need for every pair it sells. The drugstore chain dm stands for a high degree of personal responsibility and individual development opportunities among its employees. And Tommy Hilfiger or the successful companies in Silicon Valley help their people to find and connect with colleagues. The logic is as simple as it is captivating: happy internal people create happy customers, happy customers create loyal customers, loyal customers create a successful organisation.
If this makes you curious, then take the CRUSH test with us. Judge for yourself how cool, real, unique, self-identifying and happy you are as a brand, and define your first steps toward increasing your ability to connect with the new generation of consumers.
Is a corporate development expert with Team Retail Excellence. His passion is developing strategies or, put differently, pinpointing what really makes the difference to the customer. It’s all about empowering people and organisations to find their mission, vision and path.