Fashion month came and went with the click of the “Leave Meeting” button on Zoom. For many of us, the last thing on our minds may be purchasing a new designer handbag or a blue chip work of art.
The annual celebration of haute couture arrived against the backdrop of massive change, as a new generation is forging ahead and renegotiating the rules of engagement for the luxury space. Gen Z (born roughly between 1995 and 2010) already accounts for 40% of all consumers, and will make up 10- to 15% of the luxury market by the year 2025, according to Bain and Co. If you’re not already paying attention to the influence of the next gen, it’s time to do so.
Here are our five things you need to know to win over the luxury Gen Z consumer:
Don’t be afraid to have personality; express it
For too long, luxury brands were built upon an image of hyper-precision, utmost discretion, and in many ways, exclusivity and inaccessibility. That doesn’t work with Gen Z. We’re coming of age in strange (and often overwhelming) times, and we want brands to speak to the circumstances we inhabit. It’s no longer cool to be rarefied and voiceless. As more people become like personal brands, we relate to brands that speak to us like people.
Gucci was one of the earliest adopters of meme-culture and has embraced self-parody, even launching its own #GucciFakeNot campaign this month. This type of irreverent humor cuts through the noise because it shows that even Gucci is “in on the joke.” In today’s world, that often means you’re “in” as a brand as well. Consider Telfar, which launched its “Bag Security Program” this summer to much excitement and acclaim. Rather than create a false sense of scarcity to drive demand, Telfar’s leadership found a way to speak openly about its production process to make the brand feel inclusive and accessible. At the same time, the company’s marketing strategy was able to maintain the brand’s status as an “it” bag. Brands that aren’t afraid to take risks—whether in their humor or their marketing tactics—are leading the charge.
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An ironic take on distinctive House codes and the idea of imitation, the words ‘Fake' and 'Not’ are displayed onto monogram canvas on a new #GucciFakeNot suitcase from #GucciFW20 seen in #GucciTheRitual—the new campaign by creative director @alessandro_michele with art direction by @christophersimmonds. @pradaxmo by @pradaxmo. Discover the collection through link in bio. #AlessandroMichele
Establish a clear set of values—and act upon them
Unlike earlier generations who would wear brands to signal their taste, we’re choosing brands that reflect our values.
In fact, 49% of Gen Zers want brands to have a social impact initiative that they can be a part of. Why? Gen Z is the most progressive, diverse, and outspoken generation in modern history—and we opt for brands that are built upon clear missions of their own. Take a look at MadHappy, which sells high-end comfortwear. It’s on a “mission to make the world a more optimistic place.” The company developed its brand around de-stigmatizing mental health through its cheery “Local Optimist” statement sweats. MadHappy even launched its own mental health resources, including the brand’s own counseling hotline.
Savage x Fenty, which has disrupted the lingerie and intimate-wear space by committing itself to broader body and gender representation, provides another example of this trend towards aligning a brand with social meaning. Unlike the paradigm set by Victoria Secret, Savage x Fenty proudly celebrates a range of identities and body types on its runways and online (including trans, disabled, plus-size and pregnant models). The underlying message is about showing that sexy isn’t limited to thin, white and conventionally attractive. Gen Zers are taking notice in a positive way: eagerly streaming their presentations as cultural events and cheering on the brand across multiple channels. Regardless of what your mission or values may be built upon, brands that are winning the next gen consumer do more than say they care; they take action in service of those values.
Create a tactical TikTok
It’s shocking that many heritage brands remain hesitant to join a platform that now has 800 million-plus active users, with 41% of those audiences in the coveted 16-24 year old customer demographic. Viral videos are often streamed hundreds of millions of times—and mass brands like Chipotle and e.l.f. Cosmetics have seen massive success. So why are luxury brands cautious to join? Because they’re risk-averse. Success on the platform requires more than beautiful editorial content; it requires creating entertainment. Ralph Lauren’s TikTok fell flat when it launched its recent Team USA campaign and U.S. Open content on the platform. Despite the investment in quality production, the videos got modest engagement because they were overly-produced and read as inauthentic.
On the other hand, Le Creuset, the very traditional French cookware brand, inadvertently gained a cult-like following as Gen Zers embraced its aspirational appeal in silly, tongue-in-cheek ways. Brands that are early adopters will be rewarded, just as early adopters of Instagram found runaway success 10-years-ago building unicorn businesses from scratch. It’s now time to secure that TikTok handle and call in creative Gen Zers to help you build some #clout.
Embrace radical transparency and accountability
Gen Zers are the first generation to grow up at a time when the full power of the internet exists at our fingertips. So before we buy a new product, 80% of us conduct some form of research. Consumers’ investigation typically takes the form of checking out the brand’s website, comparing costs, reviewing social media pages, understanding who is behind the organization and reading what’s being said about the company online. For this reason, brands like Reformation and Everlane, which touted “radical transparency,” have faced scrutiny for failing to uphold their ethical brand image after closer inspection. Don’t just talk the talk; it’s important to walk the walk in how you treat your employees, the conditions of your factories, how creative inspiration is credited and the follow-through with pledges or commitments. Social media has democratized which voices are being heard. And with any high-end purchase, we’re even more attuned to how we’re voting with our dollar.
Build a community—not another influencer program
This takes time when done right, and it is easier said than done. Sparking intrigue among a devoted community starts by looking past oversaturated #sponcon campaigns and paid marketing blitzes. You can build authentic communities around your brand by creating opportunities for two-way dialogue: giving Gen Zers a seat at the table by asking our input, listening to our feedback, and hiring us to contribute. We value the opportunity to share our opinion—and often advocate and recommend brands that allow us to co-create with them. While the ROI may not be as measurable in clicks and views, the brand halo effect can ultimately pay dividends. Treat your brand loyalists as partners, not just as customers. Your community attracts your community.
As Gen Z continues to grow into itself and exert its purchasing power, the conventional wisdom that powered luxury brands of an earlier era is already passé. In a time of immense uncertainty, one thing is clear: This is not just a new generation; it’s a new cultural paradigm.
Listen to PRZM cofounders Larry Milstein and Liz Toney on Adweek’s Gen ZEOs Podcast below: