Why brands must become their fans

A growing trend apparent amongst Millennials has been their urge for connectedness. Paradoxically, this may be a symptom of two seemingly opposing effects of the digital age – the atomisation of society due to lives being lived online and the power technology has to unite likeminded people and let them feel part of something bigger. Examples can be seen in the proliferation of music festivals and the explosion in fundraising events such as ‘Movember’.

Now this trend is extending to Millennials’ shopping behaviour. More and more they want to share the experience with others. Naturally, social media is often the first place where this dialogue occurs, and retailers which become a trusted part of this conversation benefit hugely. This is not easy as consumers are increasingly suspicious of brand involvement that sounds scripted and bogus. If, however, you can get it right it is warmly welcomed by shoppers who face a blizzard of choice and value those who can edit and curate in an authentic way.

Young fashion label ASOS, which sells a huge variety of styles through a mix of own label and branded apparel, is a good example of how to succeed here. It can be hard to see at a glance what ASOS stands for – is it vintage and feminine, polished and glam, street or hype beast? The brand’s network of Instagram micro-influencers, known as Insiders, helps ASOS shoppers narrow the huge volume of product down. Insiders like @asos_lotte or @asos_lex also give the brand a human face and embody the real experience of shopping as a curvy woman or tall man. The fact that they’re openly involved with the brand makes them all the more credible and defuses fears around comped posts and undisclosed partnerships.

Source: Asos Instagram Lex & Lotte

Offline, brands are playing to this thirst for connectedness by offering experiences like personal shopping and cocktail masterclasses. Selfridges has just opened a free indoor skate bowl in its Oxford Street flagship, following the lead of street footwear brand Vans, which offers skaters a “California-style concrete pool”. Those who prefer mindful breathing to sick skate tricks can get their fix at Lululemon Athletica’s complimentary “Sweat with Us” yoga classes. Fans of underground music can enjoy Converse’s hip and highly Instagrammable “One Star Hotel” in Shoreditch.

Brands can also build this sense of belonging through their advertising. Spotify’s “2018 goals” outdoor campaign used big data to dig into its user base’s listening habits and then turned this into funny, often locally tailored billboards. More recently, Gen-Z’s favourite online retail platform Depop launched an ad campaign whose taglines are the real, tongue-in-cheek, in-app bios of its sellers.

Source: Spotify, Depop

Looking ahead it seems that more retailers will be compelled to enter this battleground and attempt to give consumers a place and a reason to congregate around their brand. The victors will almost certainly be those who avoid gimmicks and a corporate tone, and create enjoyable shared moments that focus on the authentic voices of real shoppers.

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