The Stubborn Generation

1. Branding for the Stubborn Generation

As 2017 enters its final quarter, it’s becoming clear that, for many brands, this has been a year of transformational change. As always, technology continues to revolutionise how products are developed and presented to the market. But in the background, something else has been going on that may have just as big an impact on the years to come.

It concerns the purity of brands and the ways they are increasingly breaking from convention to establish a more fluid market presence.

The market is dotted with examples of brands breaking their own house rules – from luxury labels favouring hot artists and designers over traditional signifiers of prestige, to cartoon couture in catwalk fashion, independent brands shaking up stale categories, or the exaggerated influencer role of social media and music stars. Past editions of this newsletter have touched on each of these topics individually, but looking back on the year as a whole, it’s quite staggering to see the accelerating frequency and sophistication. September provided many new examples.

Luxury meets street

As brands pivot to build notoriety and relevance, collaboration and licensing add to reach and memorability by contributing notoriety and context, while also helping to limit the possibility of negative fallout.

Disruption usually refers to some kind of circumvention of the ways consumers discover and buy goods and services. But this more silent version of disruption is about brands abandoning paradigms that have guided them for decades. The luxury industry is a useful point of reference because it so often pre-empts behaviour further down the pyramid. It would be easy to shrug off their current fascination with street culture as temporary, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that they are retooling for a near future in which Generation Z consumers will dominate discretionary spending.

This current crop of young consumers is as dissatisfied with the ideals of its parents as any generation that preceded it. But unlike previous generations, today’s young consumer can create, customise and take advantage of infinite supply: he or she can take its business elsewhere if it doesn’t like what it sees. As an unofficial spokesman for Generation X, I declare that we too were never happy about prestige design being synonymous with antique heirlooms, but we couldn’t do anything about it. By contrast, the new generation is stubborn: constantly encouraged to be creative and individualist and informed by the lightning-fast world of social media.

Cartoon couture and the new influencers

For regular brands, addressing the stubborn generation means trying out unconventional ideas that have the potential to be perceived as heroic. Reputations are built not in the mainstream, but at the fringes.

Often, the hero’s cape may only retain its powers for a month – or less: so should brands chase short-term gain if it has the potential to harm long-term brand value? Here too Generation Z appears to offer a solution. They expect brands to adopt new personas (just as they do) and are sensitive to the “serious” and the “party” sides of a brand’s personality. A more direct explanation is that if a brand isn’t doing remarkable things, they aren’t going to pay attention any way.

More than ever, establishment brands are giving up on trying to persuade younger consumers to refine their taste and opting to give them what they want. On the positive side, it’s never been easier to stay informed about emerging trends, or achieve greater impact with a moderate investment in publicity or inventory. Versatility and intensity are key components of brand perception, making it important to experiment with fresh product ideas while maintaining some sense of consistency and momentum.

Ideas can be old or new – both are in fashion. Whatever the choice, brands need to show self-belief, agility and creative flair to rise above the market clutter, and win.

 

Levis Commuter Trucker Jacket

2. How Much Tech is Too Much? 

A year ago, Levi’s and Google created waves by announcing a gesture-controlled jacket with the power to transform phone use on busy city roads. Last Wednesday, the Jacquard-enhanced Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket finally went on sale, ushering in a new chapter of arguing about the future of wearable tech.

As star names like Fitbit, Misfit and Pebble have dimmed or disappeared, it’s clear that the first wave of wearable tech brands got things wrong. They imagined that average consumers would rush to buy a completely new accessory with new functions from a brand they had never heard of. Even if the sector continues to grow, dreams of an iPhone-style revolution for wearables have faded.

That revolution won’t happen until the day that smartphones become obsolete. Until then, new ideas that enhance phone performance with minimal effort will find adoption and generate value.

For brands without the resources, ability or reputation to develop devices, this is good news. More than two million available apps teach us that consumers are happy to pay a little in return for something fun or meaningful – no matter how small. For this reason, lifestyle brands are better off trying to harness technology via gimmicks rather than gadgets.

Tech Enhanced

Last month, Nike premiered its new NBA fan jerseys equipped with NFC chips to offer experiences beyond the product. Via his jersey and the NikeConnect app, the most obsessed fan can unlock exclusive access to the player emblazoned across his back, participate in promotions and even get ahead on NBA2K. Minimal effort is key. Similarly, the new AR-driven IKEA Place app looks like it could be a game-changer, especially for anyone who has tried to use slow, heavy design simulators that don’t work on phones.

The possibilities to enhance products to interact with smartphones – and smart speakers – are endless. The important thing is to aim for something small and execute it cleanly. In many ways, children’s toys could be an interesting source of ideas on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to products aimed at mature users.