Segmenting young consumers into groups based on age, gender and race is not the way for brands and retailers to reach them, according to a new study.
Compiled by PSFK, a brand and retail research firm and consultancy, and Complex Networks, the Hearst-owned media brand, the study found overall that the younger generation of consumers no longer identifies with the segments used by marketers for decades. Likely influenced by the number of major celebrities that have found success in several different business ventures and creative moves (think Rihanna, Donald Glover, Billie Eilish, Virgil Abloh, etc.) Millennial and Gen Z consumers look at themselves and no longer see age or race or religious affiliation. Rather they see a compilation of creative and social interests and want to buy from brands that meet their personal ideals.
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“Young people aren’t segments on a social platform, they don’t only spend money on experiences, and they find your neutrality boring,” Jonathan Hunt, executive vice president of audience marketing for Complex, said. He went on to note that today’s younger generation is better defined as the “anti-identity generation,” leaving the study to be titled “What’s Next: Generation Antidentity.”
“This younger generation isn’t easily defined,” Karizza Sanchez, director of content strategy at Complex, wrote in the study. “You can’t assume somebody who likes streetwear also likes hip-hop or sneakers.”
But they do seem to collectively like a few things, such as an embracing of “fluidity,” meaning products that cross traditional demographic lines like gender, an area fashion has long played in but not specifically marketed for.
“To create meaningful relationships with young people, embrace their flexibility and openness of spirit — without pandering to superficial ideas of what queer or genderless should look like,” the study said. It also suggested that retailers consider taking a “non-gendered” approach to merchandising and even fitting rooms, as this feels “natural to many young people.”
Young consumers still like things that feel exclusive, but that doesn’t mean waitlists and creating scarcity.
“Today, exclusivity isn’t only about what you spend, but more about the products and services that allow you to express yourself uniquely and creatively without fear of over-commodification,” the report explains. “To make your product truly covetable, focus on individuality in addition to loyalty and hype… Brands should focus on crafting products and services that feel as rare and one-of-a-kind as their customers are.”
Such a product strategy will likely turn young consumers into mini-marketers as well, considering the study found 75 percent of younger consumers “enjoy” using social media platforms to share unique products and brand experiences and 71 percent see social as “an important tool for self-expression.”
Another 76 percent of the consumers, who were surveyed in October of last year, said they felt “strongly” that their passions and interests “are an important part of their identity.” The group also overwhelmingly at 86 percent sees itself as “more creative” than any other generation. Narcissism likely plays a factor there, but nonetheless, brands and retailers can appeal to it. 73 percent of consumers said it’s “important” that a favorite brand “share their same values.”
A good way to get there is through a collaboration, which many brands are already participating in, in one way or another. There, too, brands and companies need to let go of some older ideas of what that should mean and who should be courted, according to the study.
“Go beyond the expected T-shirt collaboration between rapper or fashion designer, embracing creative types whose identity and medium are harder to define,” the study suggested. “Give your collaborators space and freedom to create something that is equally hard to put in a box.”
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