Had Groucho Marx been a Millennial, his famous adage “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member” would read a little more like “I don’t want to be admitted to any club that will accept me the way I’m dressed.” Millennials everywhere are turning up their noses this fall to the informally dressed, seeking out venues like exclusive private clubs and retailers that help them fake it until they make it. [Read more...]
Many of the most successful rebranding efforts of the last year, the most forward-facing of them all, have all used the same weapon of choice: their archives. Brands as highbrow as Dior, to as proudly lowbrow as Levi’s, have looked to the creative history of their designers to add a layer of narrative and credibility to the contemporary context of their brands. And while this type of endurance-branding may be partially a result of The Great Recession, Millennials. Are Eating. It. Up.
This is because Millennials are natural researchers; many of us were somewhere between 18 and 8 when Google arrived in our homerooms. While we haven’t always had smartphones, we have always had access. I don’t need to tell you how this has manifested in our shopping habits online. But much less is known about the compulsive way many Millennials forage online archives for stylistic inspiration. Think Netflix “binge-viewing,” or better yet, a “Google K-Hole” (an allusion to a Special K or Ketamine bender, in this case resulting in days lost to Googling). Online archives such as Getty Images or Google Image Search welcome us, for free; which is why it is easier than you may think for an influencer Millennial to pick up an obscure Fellini reference. We are such active researchers that we tend to forget what we saw, where. We can get to the point that we have to rely on our browser’s history tab over our own brand fidelity and crowded memory. [Read more...]
With the launch of the Spring 2014 lookbook in April, Gap Creative Director Rebekka Bay sets the tone of her six-month-old stewardship as Creative Director of Gap, Inc. For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with Bay, who joined Gap in October 2012, she is known for her conceptualization, development and launch of H&M brand COS (a higher end fast fashion brand).
The Logo Rioters Get Their Way
Bay’s Spring 2014 lookbook does two things: it tells us that Bay is defining who Gap is through her own COS lens (which is great), but also through Gap’s no-frills, 90s aesthete past (even better). Gap’s target influencer demographic is wearing COS abroad and vintage 90s Gap minimalist casualwear right now. Influencers everywhere are pouring into Opening Ceremony for clothing that is essentially Gap in 1999… for $300 a shirt. Think of this demographic as the one that threw a fit over losing the original Gap logo to the Helvetica-ized version, and had their way when Gap reinstated the original logo under pressure. This is because while Gap has been in flux for a decade trying to figure out who it is and who it could be, the Gap consumer has had a very strong understanding of the brand’s identity, and how the brand should continue. And over and over again, in focus groups and style forums around the world, the answer has rung out: bring back the Gap of the 90s, and become the classic brand that you once were. [Read more...]
Ron Johnson’s highly publicized tenure at JC Penney has ended, and perhaps with it, the potential of JC Penney to compete for the middle class Millennial. Sure, they may regain the customers they lost by reinstating the deals-centric retailing of Myron Ullman, but the customer base that JC Penney took losses to acquire, short of their $1 billion loss in 2012, is the lost customer base of JC Penney — the middle class Millennial, from the young family segment all the way to the senior in high school.
Older Millennials will tell you they remember the uncool Target of their childhoods; the deals, the cheap quality, the ducking-out-if-you-saw-anyone-you-knew Target. The pre- (ready your best French accent) “Tar-JSHAY” Target. It was really uncool, and what’s more, it was really uncool to shop there or have anyone shop there for you. Fast-forward a decade, and the Target website is crashing in response to the millions vying for anything from their Missoni X Target collection launch. JC Penney became what Target was, and if significant directional changes are made to Johnson’s visionary long-term plan, JC Penney will stay that uncool store.
Assuming JCP does not stay the course, they will not finally secure their hard-earned, first-time customer. The return of pre-Johnson deals will drive Millennials further from the brand (“fair and square” pricing could not have a better fit for this demographic). Removal of all the brands that Johnson acquired, such as Joe Fresh, will leave Millennials without any reason to try the brand out in the first place. Taking away the innovative tech options, which we’ve come to expect, to enhance the experience won’t go over so well either.
It is impossible to say if Johnson’s plan would have ultimately worked– each quarter seemed to prove otherwise. But there was something happening in Johnson’s tenure that wasn’t yet quantifiable with ROI– the middle class Millennial was reconsidering their disgust for JCP. We were intrigued– we may have not yet visited a store, but we could see ourselves actually doing that. Joe Fresh is in JCP? Really? We might have checked that out. The necessarily slow process of attracting the Millennial consumer was just beginning, the only thing missing was the mandatory push of recommendations from friends – the viral marketing connection. Johnson’s last step, and his most crucial — from a brand standpoint and an investment standpoint — was getting that consumer inside the store, if only to replace the droves leaving the retailer after “fair and square,” which proved to be the undoing of his entire legacy. But what Mike Ullman and the rest of us should understand, is that we were standing there right outside the door, just about ready to walk in.
Brands love me. They find me in the recesses of my social interactions and they ask (read: incentivize) me to be their brand ambassador. Who am I? I am any Millennial/Gen Y, and broke as we are reputed to be, we are quickly (like in the next five years) about to start outspending your other favorite customers, our parents, the Baby Boomers. And brands (not all, but definitely the ones we will be interacting with for years to come), are quickly taking the initiative to not only put themselves where we are, but also to make themselves known as one of us.
You might ask, “How do they do that? How does Nike become a twenty-something?” I will tell you how: they speak to us like we speak to each other. Because for the first time, your brand is in conversation between posts made by my own twenty-something friends. And how better to relate your brand to me and my friends than by using terms we use, or that excite or interest us. Clearly, I am not talking Internet-speak (LOL)—I am talking activation words; words that convey to us who we want to be; how we understand the world to be; or even how we would like the world around us to become. Because those who understand the way Gen Y ticks, understand that more than anything else, we are an aspirational generation. Helping us aspire—feeding your brand vocabulary with words or concepts we aspire to—activates us as customers that want to interact with your brand, both socially and commercially.
I’m going to share with you five words of activation that have the potential to activate your Gen Y or Millennial customer, and why knowing what each one means and why it matters will let them know you know the “Y.” [Read more...]
In my last article we gave you three shops that were bellwethers of an emerging trend: a bottom-up trickle effect that has innovative brands skewing small. Here are three more bellwether retail stores that are becoming the go-to brands for modern young men, and are further redefining and reprogramming their customers’ experiences, online and off. What’s interesting about these three is that the founders are innovators who play to the online and offline strengths of their aging Millennial consumers, act as a disruptive force for traditional retailers, and capitalize on their customer-centric behaviors that are defining this generation.
Many innovative next-gen retailers are fully informed, and framed by the digital age and gifted in using all its disruptive tools. One such business that is uniquely online customer-focused is menswear retailer Indochino; a custom tailoring service based in Vancouver and Shanghai. Catering to the individual, Indochino provides each global customer with a 10-minute online measuring process and then delivers a custom tailored suit “at your door anywhere in the world” in four weeks. The suits (including tuxedos) retail from $399-$699 each, making custom tailoring a reality for the next generation that thrives on Mad Men over the Mod movement. Co-owners (and Millennials) are Heikal Gani, and Kyle Vucko. Heikal was inspired to create Indochino after diligently researching and then overspending on his first suit that was ultimately a disappointment, and needed extensive (expensive) tailoring after the fact. Gani’s initial disappointment in buying his first suit mirrors the paradox of an entire generation that has come of age after an adolescence of unprecedented customization, yet find themselves without choice in bespoke, affordable tailored menswear. This generation as preteens customized their skateboards, Nike sneakers—even developed their own brands through social network profiles. Why wouldn’t they also want a fully customizable experience in investing in their first suit—all done online? [Read more...]
It may be counterintuitive and even surprising when retailers decide to skew small, but in an era of unlimited accessibility, many big-box brands are looking towards the archetypical “shop” for the next directional shift of retail. In other words, favoring a curated, specialty shop experience as an alternative to the over abundance of choice and lack of personal community a typical retail store offers today.
This new movement also addresses the emerging customer backlash of having to deal with too much stuff and too many stores that is not only fatiguing, but also in some cases, devalues choice. From the “Shops at Target,” to the shopping village model that JC Penney’s Ron Johnson has begun to implement as the store’s headline-making new direction, big brands are starting to think small, specialty, and curated.
Here’s a brief review of three independent New York shops that are catalysts in the shift towards intentional limitation. Each is an epicenter, creating an emotional connection with customers, often extending out of the shop to the beach, the general store, the boudoir and of course, online. Customers are loyal, built on the trust of a shared worldview that each shop offers and to the narrative; the storyline to the shop. Each store is worth looking at as a bellwether of a new emerging retail theme of small being big, less leading more, and experience trumping all. [Read more...]