Brand Sauce: Survival of the Realest
The future of British heritage brands; how they can adapt to Gen Z.
The emerging market of Gen Z is now upon us. We already know this adaptable generation yearns for the authentic, defies identity stereotypes and feels more at home with technology than any generation that came before, earning them their alias as Digital Natives. With this generation’s direct spending power estimated to be $143 billion at the end of 2018 (Millennial Marketing, 2018) and the number only increasing, brands are gearing up to tackle any challenges the cohort might throw at them.
But, how are brands going to have to change and which brands will find themselves growing more segmented from this consumer group? It’s possible that British heritage brands in particular and the traditional message they offer might lead to a disconnect with a whole generation of shoppers, unless this traditional message is re-engineered.
Some British fashion retailers like Burberry and Gucci are tackling this head on, updating their content to engage with Gen Z, it’s clear that they understand this need to capture the imaginations of younger consumers. Burberry’s autumn 2019 is centric to self expression and diversity, aligning with Gen Z’s nature to reject social groups and identify in their own rebellious ways. Authenticity can clearly be a powerful tool that heritage brands are going to have to utilize, and transform their ‘traditional or heritage’ into an authenticity that’s relevant to Gen Z. But, is just a reflection of Gen Z’s societal beliefs enough to motivate them to purchase from British heritage brands? I would say, probably not.
Burberry is one heritage brand that has begun to refocus their traditional heritage. In recent campaigns we can see that they are reinventing themselves, mixing in their heritage with a youthful urbanity. This can be seen in the image below, one taken from Burberry’s Autumn 2019 campaign. They used two photographers, Nick Knight and Danko Steiner, to try and capture “the raw and unpolished energy of youth” (Nick Knight).
Generations are not just defined by their age, but by their mutual experiences and the world they’re surrounded by in their formative years. One obvious influence are their parents, Gen X. Bloomberg suggests it is possible that their skepticism, thick skin and financial literacy is instilled in them due to the ways in which they were raised. With Gen X having witnessed a financial crash and a war on terror, frugalness is a common trait passed subconsciously into the minds of Gen Z. (Bloomberg, 2019).
However, there is one defining factor that brands would be foolish not to leverage, their superlative knowledge of the digital realm. Gen Z by another name, is recognised as the cohort of Digital Natives. This stems from the notion that they have never been foreign to the inner workings of the internet. They have never had to consciously learn to use a computer, it was just something that existed.
This insatiable desire for online content means that they have different digital needs than their predecessors, the millennials. This means not only refreshing the messaging of their content, but the very way it’s delivered. These content streamers no longer believe they should have to wait through long, tiresome adverts broadcasted over the television. Living in a world where delivery times are declining and traditional advertisements feel almost prehistoric, convenience is key.
There might be ways brands can leverage the consumer appetite to their advantage. Short digestible content, keeping it snappy. Long gone are the days of scrolling through pages of information, the ever present social media channels have only fuelled Gen Z’s need for immediate gratification. Look at social channels like Twitter, their maximum characters per tweet is now 280. But even this doubling of character count hasn’t made a huge impact with 33 characters still being the average tweet (Tech Crunch, 2018).
This type of quick fire content can be observed when looking to Gucci’s stories page online. This heritage brand provides consumers with the latest information on all things Gucci, but ensures that the content is short and readable. It isn’t that Gen Z don’t want all the content, but they want the bits relevant to them, quicker. By using the ‘read more’ call to action, it gives the consumer the option to not even open the short bit of content and scroll through the visually appealing content.
The example below illustrates how Gucci are effectively providing shorter, curated content to target the generation that itches for digestible information. But more than this, it also shows how they use a collaboration with Disney to build strong associations and relevancy in the lives of the Gen Z consumer. However, it would not simply be enough to attract Gen Z consumers and that’s the beauty of this Disney collaboration, it speaks to millenials too. It creates an air of nostalgia that will resonate with them. While heritage brands should be utilizing the most important tool in their kit, authenticity, to capture the hearts of Gen Z, they cannot afford to forget about their other consumers.
And it gets even more technical. Gen Z are looking to get these pieces of easily digestible content without delay. Think quick load speeds, easy navigation and sharing ability. Generation Z are avid content creators, so will British heritage brands utilise their skill and let them share the message on their behalf?
Keeping it Real
It is no longer enough for brands to simply state that their views align with increasingly important social values, such as sustainability and self expression, they have to live it. Gen Z crave authenticity from brands and they’re intuitive enough to know when you’re pulling the wool over their eyes. Heritage brands have the history to validate authentic messaging, so they should be getting on board with Gen Z’s need for the genuine. It has the potential to provide a USP and segment them above other fast fashion retailers.
This doesn’t mean getting on board with every ethical trend, but having an understanding of where a brand sits on the sustainability scale and making that crystal clear to the consumer will become important. Transparency is everything. Greenwashing won’t sit well with this new cohort and with the development of publications like the ‘Fashion transparency Index’ from Fashion Revolution, it’s likely they’ll get caught out.
Gen Z is fluid in every aspect of their identity and don’t like to have to conform, so trying to target groups, genders or subcultures is a likely miss. Demographics are a thing of the past with this generation, but communal mindsets are very much alive. So that being said, heritage brands should be ensuring they’re targeting people who hold shared values. If a heritage brand values innovativeness above all, then target all of the generation that value this too, don’t try to pigeon hole the cohort.
Big Wheels Keep on Turning
Having chatted to some people working in the British heritage industry and picked their brains for some key insight, it was clear one thing that was vital to everyone across the board, was to build on their heritage. If a brand wants to tap into Gen Z’s eagerness for authenticity, it looks like they need to make sure their core values can translate into their future reputation. Activism in their local community, supporting charities and working on the ‘ethical-ness’ of their supply chains will all be rewarded in the end. It needs to start now to reap the rewards in the future.
Every decision a heritage brand made in the past, reflects in their present and quite possibly their future. When Burberry became associated with the chequered ‘chavs’, I’m sure they thought it was less than ideal. Although it’s all over now, it’s not been forgotten, and it probably never will be with the internet ready to remind anyone searching for the brand on the web. When Angela Ahrendts took over, she had a strong vision for the brand hoping to reconnect with affluent millennials. She spent much of her initial months at Burberry trying to reclaim their image. She closed down factories globally, fired all of the design team in Hong Kong and tried to focus efforts back to the UK. The next thing the brand had to do was motivate younger influencers to re-embrace the brand. Once the likes of Gigi Hadid were proudly strutting the streets in the latest Burberry, their tainted reputation began to finally feel like a thing of the past.
They’ve now got a huge appeal with affluent youngsters all over the globe. Much of the credit for these new affiliations is directed at Christopher Bailey and his contributions to the brand after the departure of Ahrendts. He rejuvenated Burberry’s image by convincing fashion icons, that were influential to younger audiences, that the brand was once again cutting edge and high fashion. By constructing relationships with fashion role models that the younger generations felt were credible and authentic, they motivated these consumers to buy back into the brand that had lost its way.
However, with fashion brands evolving in a cyclical way, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for the next revolution of Burberry.
Staying on the Right Side of History
The bottom line is, to make sure they’re creating heritage they’re proud of in the future. It’s likely that Gen Z will value the authenticity British heritage brands are creating by getting involved in today’s dilemmas. Brands like Patagonia have certainly secured their spot in this category by creating future heritage through their ethical campaigns. When an ethical, political or cultural conundrum occurs, it’s important that brands remain on the right side of history.
This example below shows exactly how heritage brands can utilize their message to persuade consumers of their authenticity. In their campaign Patagonia demonstrated that they place sustainability above profits, which in the long run could prove to be a successful tool in ensuring the company’s success and survival.
Having said this, there definitely are ways in which brands can navigate a turbulent past and we know this as it’s been done before. If we look to brands like Dr. Martens, who haven’t always had desirable affiliations, such as the skinheads, it becomes evident that it’s possible to shake off some pieces of history without cutting off heritage completely. Their newest campaign, Tough as You, creates a diverse community that anyone can feel resonates with them. They have however, managed to retain their heritage, in that Tough as You, which can be seen below, is a nod to the longevity of both the brand and the boots. They hark back to their punk roots and maintain their integrity while providing a community where everyone is welcome, appealing to Gen Z’s nature of nonconformity and disregard for identity norms.
The history of a brand can accommodate Gen Z’s need for authenticity. If a brand has been practising the same values for 50 years, then it’s quite likely that it isn’t just a fad marketing ploy only to be swapped out in a year for the latest ethical trend.
To Sum it up…
So, it’s clear that with the rise of Gen Z’s purchasing power a new set of marketing challenges will arise. It will be more difficult than ever to retain brand loyalty, a concept that is more alien to this generation than any before them. For heritage brands to survive they must remain authentic and flexible, keeping an honest and open dialogue between themselves and their consumers. We’ve documented here the ways the British heritage brands will be able stay in touch with Gen Z, staying down with the kids so to speak. But as the market evolves, British heritage marketing strategies will need to keep up with the changing demands posed by Gen Z.
We have recently observed unprecedented changes in our society, globally. This instability and uncertainty further perpetuates a heritage brands need to showcase their authenticity. By highlighting their established place in the market and drawing on their familiarity with consumers, they can become a source of comfort and a lynch pin for customers in uncertain times.
While drawing from the initial trends and statistics that are materializing some assumptions can be made on the best ways to respond to Gen Z, but it will be interesting to observe which British heritage brands will rise to the challenge and capture the purchase power of the uncapturable generation. As with any other brand, in order to thrive in the future, British heritage brands need to use and double down on their single biggest value they can offer, in this case an authentic heritage.
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