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Opinion and Insight

What Happens When a Long Established Brand Looks to Reposition Itself to a Millennial Audience?

Joanna Davies, CEO and founder of Clerkenwell based agency ZAK explains all

What Happens When a Long Established Brand Looks to Reposition Itself to a Millennial Audience?

It’s official; the under 30s are the influencers, tastemakers, official critics and reviewers in society today. This consumer audience makes up a quarter of the UK population and according to a Viacom study the under 30s are set to make up 75 per cent of the UK’s workforce by 2020. Their purchasing power is huge. They also happen to be incredibly brand loyal as a collective whole. So, what happens when a long-established brand – those that are over 50 years old – looks to reposition itself to a millennial audience? This is where it gets complicated.

This audience is a highly fragmented consumer group. Under 30s know when they’re being marketed to, they’re often careful with their money and they want to put their loyalty in brands with purpose and authenticity. They move fast due to the access to technology at their fingertips (and now on their wrists and clothes). Added to this, the type of brand itself may not be easily compatible with the under 30s and needs a highly-considered strategy to appeal to people who are half the age or more of the existing established target audience.

At ZAK, we work with brands seeking to appeal to early adopter under 30s and what is paramount to building appeal is a deep understanding of what motivates them and building authentic links to harness superfan – or ‘stan’ – status with them. Here are four focuses that legacy brands are exerting to transform their business for a millennial market.

Connect through tech

There’s a reason the phrase ‘always on’ was coined because young people are often glued to their devices. According to a Nielsen survey, this audience cited technology use as the most defining characteristic of their generation, over other factors like music, pop-culture consumption, and liberal mindset. Burberry has transformed from an ageing British icon to global luxury brand through the use of fresh comms platforms and is forever flexible to new technologies. The most recent was at London Fashion Week this year to use its shows to sell to customers immediately rather than making them wait for designs to hit stores. The brand is listening to consumers’ needs for immediacy and adapting to be ahead of the curve in the luxury space.

Stay relevant

Brands need to be aspirational. Research by BCG Perspectives found that millennials perceive themselves as particularly in tune with what they consider to be authentic and real. So being credible and closely tied to the brand’s history is tantamount, highlighting how the products and experience deliver. Take Hunter, a traditional, classic, British brand that turned 160 this year. It saw demand for its rain boots shoot up after Kate Moss wore a pair to Glastonbury in 2005. It had begun to alienate the older, more rural consumers, who were turned off by the growing trendiness of the brand’s classic styles. Hunter responded to this dichotomy by splitting the products into two categories: Hunter Original, where the classic boot aims to suit the fashion customer, and Hunter Field, a newer range with a focus on innovation and performance to appeal to the older audience. A win-win.

Make it emotional

Old Spice, an internationally recognised men’s grooming brand for more than 70 years, went through a complete refresh in its branding and audience. It was becoming stale with the younger generation. The introduction of “The Old Spice Guy” and assortment of witty, comical ads and must-see viral videos left people with the anticipation of “what will they do next to beat this.” It’s that sort of emotional approach that can gain a following with a difficult-to-reach millennial crowd.

Cultivate under 30s referral

Under 30s are influenced by their peers so it’s about building an advocacy plan to identify consumers in communities who will exert strong influence over millennial customers. These influencers account for a tiny share of the community but have disproportionate sway, opening doors to the rest of that community. For New Balance Football, we created a social media-driven campaign called NB Blackout Squad. At its core was a competition that gave a chosen few the chance to be become a ‘Pro’ by testing out the ‘blacked-out’ versions of the boots. Entrants needed to be passionate about the game, vocal and influential on social media and enthusiastic about spreading the word about New Balance Football. Grassroots players were engaged across the globe, turning them into brand advocates and content producers, driving brand and purchase consideration from the bottom up.

Long-standing brands can’t apply a cookie-cutter approach to this audience – they’re far too complex. The hard-sell that brands may have used in the past won’t work either – they know what they like so don’t bother telling them. To wash with them, the execution needs to be authentic and fully immersed in their worlds. But once in their worlds, the lucky ones will reap the rewards for years to come.

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Genre: Strategy/Insight