Amid societal, environmental and political shifts, brands are finding ways to connect with their audiences and stay relevant and authentic to young and demanding audiences. Brittany Golob reports
The Crocs shoe brand had been doing quite well for about ten years. It recorded nearly $1.2 billion in sales in 2014 and saw that number slowly rise and fall until 2020, when the brand brought in $1.39 billion. But, with a handful of key brand partnerships and a social media-focused strategy, the company hit $2.3 billion.
Due to its 67% revenue growth and massive brand reach among Gen Z consumers, it was named one of the world’s most innovative companies by Fast Company. Michelle Poole, President of Crocs, said in a statement, “By partnering with individuals, brands and organizations who embrace our drive for innovation, we are able to expand the possibilities of design and creative thinking for create unique experiences for our consumers.”
The correlation was clear. Strategic brand associations, creative social media, and personalized experiences have resulted in massive following, huge sales, and a restoration of Crocs’ “it” factor.
It’s not always easy for brands to create that relevance with their audience, especially with Gen Z who demand both authenticity and leadership.
“The most relevant brands demonstrate that they share your beliefs and values. This continues to be a key driver of relevance and growing in importance with younger audiences,” says Marisa Mulvihill, brand and activation practice lead at Prophet, which publishes an annual ranking and research report. on brand relevance.
The Brand Relevance Index examines four key metrics that appeal to consumers’ logical pragmatism and their emotional connections to brands. The result is a top 50 made up of some of the usual suspects from Apple, Disney and Netflix, but also Costco, KitchenAid and Calm. Mulvihill attributes this to two key factors: “Brands need to be customer-obsessed and constantly innovating. Relevance is only achieved by relentlessly adapting to market dynamics and listening carefully. Bring meaning to your work and use that purpose to inspire your employees and drive the customer experience. »
For the Bristol-based arts organization, now known as Bristol Beacon, its commitment to its community was at the heart of its rebranding. Founded as Colston Hall, after a historic local MP and slave trader, the venue “had quite a reputational challenge” to overcome, according to marketing manager Andy Boreham. He was in the middle of a multi-million pound transformation project and decided to act on his name.
“We express our beliefs and inspire others to do the same. Only together can we change things for the better.”
Thus was born the Bristol Beacon, transforming the artistic site from a reflection of Bristol’s past into a modern and ever-evolving key to the city’s future.
He found a way to maintain his relevance in the midst of change, and did so in a way that was authentically connected to his community. Mulvihill says this is critical to brand relevance: “The most relevant brands demonstrate that they share your beliefs and values. This continues to be a key factor in relevance and is growing in importance with younger audiences. I think how brands respond to ESG issues and demonstrate their commitment to having a positive impact will continue to grow in importance. This positive impact will include how employees are treated, how communities are affected, and how easily brands enable consumers to minimize their carbon footprint. »
Brands have had to respond to significant social, environmental and political changes in recent years. Social movements have changed the way consumers relate to brands, and climate change has caused people to think differently about the businesses they once supported. Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer points to a “cycle of distrust” that links media, corporations, governments and societal instability in a perpetual catastrophic spiral. There was a six point increase in the number of people saying they were afraid of being victims of prejudice or racism. And only 44% say governments play a leadership role in solving societal problems.
For brands that want to avoid this cycle of mistrust, authenticity and relevance are key to success. The barometer shows that 58% of people buy or defend brands based on their beliefs and values. Studies abound – from EY to the Do Something charity movement to consultancies and marketing agencies – linking Gen Z consumption practices to sustainability.
Successful brands not only remain sustainable, but also engage authentically with their communities.
Weekday, a Swedish fashion brand built on a circular model, unveils a new t-shirt design every week that speaks to the news of the day. Project Zeitgeist screenprints can be fun, topical, or persuasive, but they will inevitably also be labeled “sold out.” Nadine Schmidt, Head of Communications and Inclusion and Diversity at Weekday, says, “The Zeitgeist Project is an amazing way to talk about certain values, but also sometimes have fun with our community.”
Beyond his special projects like Zeitgeist, he is keen to speak to his community to both share his own message on circular fashion, diversity and inclusion, but also to listen to consumers. Schmidt says, “We get direct feedback and can even include our community in some decisions. That is why [social media] is so important to us.
April, a brand of vitamins and supplements, also relies on this two-way dialogue. Helena Aru, director of april, says: “With the help of social media, we can communicate and connect directly with our community of customers, fans, followers and collaborators. Social media is an integral part of the daily life of our audience, so it seems quite natural for us to have a strong presence there in order to be able to develop an engaged community and develop our universe in order to build trust, to add depth to the brand and increase organic reach. ”
Social media engagement may not be rocket science for brands operating in the 21st century, but what brands that successfully connect with young people are able to do is adapt. . Aru says, “It’s an ever-changing landscape, and we have to constantly stay on top of new trends and features to stay relevant, which requires extreme speed and openness. We are also dependent on other profiles to help us spread our message to the world, which sometimes affects how our values are communicated and brand consistency.
This is how the Bristol Beacon has repositioned itself and its community. By adapting to the changing wants and needs of their audiences, brands can stay relevant and continue to engage authentically.
In Bristol, it was all about listening to the change in conversation people were having. Placing live music at the heart of the brand helped the Beacon establish an emotional connection. “Our rebranding is about emphasizing the transformative power of music and our role in creating so many opportunities to experience it,” Boreham said.
Edelman’s cycle of mistrust also indicates that companies need to take a stand in the face of change. He noted that 60% of people agree with the statement: “When considering a job, I expect the CEO to speak publicly about controversial social and political issues that are close to my heart;” an increase of five points compared to 2019.
Aru says that’s why April has a defined tone of voice and commitment to her community. “Since we are a brand that lives on the internet, we try to focus on what we believe unites our community. Things that many people can relate to that are not necessarily limited to countries, such as telling real and relatable stories of our community, sharing transparent and insightful knowledge, and drawing on pop culture and internet trends . But in all of this, we must never forget to keep our tone of voice, to speak frankly and to integrate our brand personality!
This approach is taken up by Weekday. Schmidt adds: “We want to strengthen the diversity of the creative generation. We express our beliefs and inspire others to do the same. Only together can we change things for the better.
Prophet defines brand relevance through customer focus, pragmatism, inspiration and innovation. More importantly, though, it says brands need to appeal to the head and heart of their target audience. The manager may want a brand that is cool – or that others say is cool – or they may want something practical; something that works. The heart may want that mark to do something; take care of.
Just take Crocs. Considered cool many years ago, it then went out of fashion. But smart brand associations have brought it to mind – and nurture – young consumers. But it didn’t stop there. It recently hired its first global sustainability manager and placed the banner of “comfort” at the heart of its ESG leadership.
A handful of her recent Instagram posts have tied comfort to sustainable goals around mental health awareness and circularity. This marks a shift from the simple, fun product and people-centric messaging even a week earlier. The strategic positioning of its brand fits perfectly with its consumer-centric social strategy.
Head and heart, united, it adapts. He is still authentic – to himself and his community – but he also remains relevant. And that, in a volatile world, is a real brand asset.