Agencies regularly have to deal with quandaries of that nature. Melanie Bosveld of Kult & Ace, specialized in youth culture and Michael Bottenheft of Online Company give us the low-down on the steps towards rejuvenation, the dos and don'ts, as well as a few inspiring examples.
Vintage and new. Fashion brand Gucci was bold enough to revamp its platform recently, and launched Gucci Vault. Gucci Vault is an online concept store that mixes in the old with the new, so that traditional Gucci fans are not only catered for, but a connection is also made with its younger audience. You can find clothes there, such as the leather-detailed dress Lady Gaga wears in the film House of Gucci, which premieres in Dutch cinemas this month, but also other items such as accessories and tableware. Talented young creators and their designs are also given an opportunity to appear on the platform. In a press release, Gucci calls its new Vault platform 'a time machine, an archive, a library, a laboratory, and a meeting place'.
There have been more brands that have realised the need to innovate in recent years, in order to reach the younger, demanding target group in addition to traditional customers. Some brands jumped on the bandwagon too late and went under, others were savvy enough to handle things successfully. Of course there's quite a lot involved. ,,Rejuvenation should never be an end in itself," says Michael Bottenheft, Head of Strategy at Online Company. ,,Especially when you distance yourself from your existing, older target group. I believe that as a brand for the masses, you have to think about how you can be there for everyone; finding a major common denominator that everyone can connect with, which places you 'above the line'. And within that, seek out the benefits that everyone is looking for, for example the younger target group."
Radical step forward
Based on those specific benefits, you can work 'below the line' in your communication, he explains. ,,This way, you ensure that you are relevant to the masses, but especially to specific segments, without people seeing all kinds of different brand stories emerge, so that they no longer know what you stand for."
Nevertheless, brands have also been known to be gutsy in taking a radical step forward. As an example, Kult & Ace – specialized in youth and culture – started working for Hennessy seven years ago: a traditional cognac brand that wanted to put itself back on the map. ,,Back then, whenever people would think of Hennessy, they immediately associate it with older, distinguished gents gathered around a fireplace," says founder Melanie Bosveld. ,,We shifted the focus to a younger target group (25-35). This started with the hip hop-minded community, who already had a love for the heritage brand. For example, we set up the Hennessy Society (formerly Hennessy Gentlemen's Society, ST) with big Dutch names such as rapper Sticks from Opgezwolle, Rotjoch and Jonna Fraser. This is a group of Hennessy lovers from the hip hop scene that we connect to the brand through great events, seeding and support." Hennessy's sales figures proved it was a successful move. Bosveld: ,,We are now going to work to expand this community, and will soon be involving icons from other music genres, and from the world of art and fashion. We have an edge among young people through our large network. We're happy to use this for brands in a way that benefits both parties."
Kult & Ace works with brands that focus on the slightly younger target group (GenZ and Millennials), but also with brands that want to rejuvenate or remain relevant to young consumers. Bosveld provides a few more examples of brands that wanted to take the step to attract a younger crowd. "For Casio, we initiated the collaboration with fashion label Daily Paper, and also helped the ANWB – a traditional Dutch tourist and travel association – to focus more on young people. A brand like Björn Borg was also predominantly known to a slightly older target group (and mainly for the boxer shorts) when it came to us; now we have managed to expand to incorporate a completely new target group of sporty, career-driven millennials. And, when PUMA came to us years ago, the briefing was to reach the young 'urban' target group; this has become a reality through a solid strategy that looks at where the brand's DNA and needs of the target group overlap. What is the sweet spot?" This resulted in, for example, one of the first writer's camps (including artist Ronnie Flex and the then still quite unknown SBMG) in collaboration with music label Top Notch (PUMA FFWD), free empowerment courses for young girls (PUMA Academy) and its own influencer community (PUMA Family)
Start with data analysis
Online Company also works for larger established brands that naturally move towards rejuvenation at some point. ,,A lot of the existing customer base is on the somewhat older side relatively speaking, and that is where the focus has been in terms of past marketing communication," says Bottenheft. ,,In addition, as a young person, you are less likely to associate with brands that mainly have an older base, with the odd exception to the rule. So we are regularly having to deal with issues on how to rejuvenate." How does Online Company set about doing that? ,,We always start with data analyses, to ensure you know what motivates that younger target group. What are the drivers but simultaneously the barriers for people to choose your brand and product or service? Make sure that you are able to segment much more sharply on the basis of those analysis models, and from there, you can also utilise those segments as audiences in your marketing communication."
The biggest obstacle in this regard is the short term, because many brands want to rejuvenate, and understand all too well that these are the customers of tomorrow, but at the same time, they have short-term targets to deal with. Bottenheft: ,,And often short-term figures take precedence over long-term figures. This makes 'rejuvenating' an afterthought instead of a focus. What tends to happen is that small-scale trials are conducted regarding rejuvenation, but too little is done about it in the long term. The target group will be wise to that game straight away; they know better than anyone whether a brand suits them or not. This is a long-term process."
Bosveld speaks of investing big, not only in terms of money, but certainly with regard to time. She also talks about ditching short-term thinking. ,,It just takes a while to build a community. We believe in sustainable value for a brand; building the brand while responding in an agile manner to all trends, developments and demands within the market and the target group. And that also means that sometimes you won't see results within the space of a month. But it pays off: all the brands we work with for a longer period of time have displayed considerable growth in the Benelux countries; both in terms of sales and in brand monitors, as well as having been able to make a real impact on the experience of young people in an authentic way." According to Bosveld, everything starts with a solid strategy based on the brand's own values to reach a young target group that is very diverse. And the expertise where diversity is concerned is sometimes lacking. ,,We still see standard brand personas like Mark and Fleur (24) from Amsterdam, but young target groups are now more culturally diverse than ever. About half of the young people in large cities already have a non-western migration background. We also specialise in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I), which is interwoven into all our campaigns. You might not always expect a marketing director of over 40 to understand a young diverse target group, but we are happy to take them through the process."
That is why Kult & Ace set up an insights panel with both young creative front-runners and 'median young people', from which the agency extracts very valuable information for its clients. "This ranges from small-scale polls ('the A sneakers or the B sneakers?') to large surveys, brand research and focus groups ('what are your thoughts on sustainability?'). We literally give these young people a voice and let them share their thoughts in the spirit of 'nothing about us without us'."
Bottenheft picks out the Dutch textile chain Zeeman as a prime example of a traditional brand that has made the step towards rejuvenation. ,,Zeeman has responded very well to youth culture through introducing special fashion lines among other things. It was a brand that you previously couldn't associate with at all as a young person, but they managed to completely turn that around." Bosveld sees that many American fast food chains have taken steps in this regard. ,,Although it may not be the healthiest example, brands such as Taco Bell, KFC and Wendy's make good use of youth media and often sense what grabs young people's attention, whether it's a sustainable social strategy with its own Twitch channel, or a 360 approach that also takes corporate identity and even interior design into consideration, or a sub-brand run by fans for instance. But even with these cases, I sometimes see things that we'd do differently."
Bosveld would also like to see other types of brands taking that step, for example in the cultural sector. ,,In the Netherlands, some time ago, we managed to get a very young, diverse target group into visiting museums during the National Museum Week over the course of two years. We had artists do a tour of their favourite pieces in the museum, which was linked to a short video and performance. We knew that the free performance would attract a large crowd of young people, but the museum tour itself was also very popular. We work for commercial but also cultural and municipal brands: our mission is to add value to the experience of young consumers, wherever and in whatever way we can."
When taking that step towards innovation and rejuvenation, brands also come into contact with new forms of communication. What can you recommend to brands in that regard? ,,To make choices," says Bottenheft. ,,Don't get on board every single innovation train. I see too many brands that are constantly trying to show up wherever their target group is. This isn't so much wrong in terms of mindset, but often is in terms of the way they go about it. First of all, ask yourself what your brand has to add by being on a platform such as TikTok or Snapchat. Are you joining the party and bringing something along, or just there to grab whatever you can? Young people can see straight through that. You don't want to be that awkward old uncle at the birthday bash who's always trying to join in. So, go along with any new forms of communication and new platforms, but do so with a solid strategy to back it up."
Make sure there is a good match with the influencers and partners you work with, Bosveld adds. ,,You still see too many collaborations where a standard influencer agency conjures up a list of influencers with the push of a button for you to enlist for your brand. As a specialized agency, we always take a good look at shared values and brand love; Winne and Ray Fuego (SMIB) for instance are genuine Hennessy fans, and we recently worked with Pepsi lover Jessie Maya for Pepsi Max. We're about to launch a new concept whereby you can also search for brand love as a brand and build a relationship with a set group of influencers. We see in all our communities that intrinsic motivation has a beneficial effect on both the ROI and the credibility of the brand."
In addition, Bosveld recommends keeping an eye on new platforms. ,,Any marketer worth his salt knows Snapchat and TikTok, of course, but also give a thought to Twitch or Discord for instance. Surround yourself with good info and insights, and work with experts. It can also be difficult to continue to bind your older target group when rejuvenating, so again, invest in research and strategy."