By Olga Pancenko , PERRIN PARIS
As a fashion-industry insider with 10 years branding and marketing experience I remember a time when — if you had a strong brand, great product, and well-organized distribution pre-internet, you were the winner. Why? Because replicating your product would take anyone else 10 years. Prototyping, material sourcing, and production required an enormous amount of time, effort, and resources and once you were ahead of others you didn’t have to worry about a thing. On top of that, if you have managed to build a community around your product — well then you had a super-brand on your hands.
So let’s talk about communities which, in their simplest terms, are something a brand such as Hermes employed to build its empire. The principle was simple: To gain access to one of Hermes it-bags, you had to be part of the elite group of customers spending significant sums on accessories before gaining access to that premium product; something granted to only a select few. This explains why Hermes makes most of its revenue on fragrances and scarves, but is best known for Birkin and Kelly handbags.
This type of community is a top-down group centrally controlled by the brand and directly linked to the company’s product. The problem with those types of communities is they don’t get stronger as they grow — they only get weaker. That is why “exclusive” community-based brands have to carefully manage their growth, a process which involves creating artificial limits to production, playing on a perceived “shortage” of products, and destroying unsold pieces to avoid discounting.
Communities were paramount to building brand equity before the digital revolution. Now, since the internet has reshaped the entire landscape, these old “formulas” are no longer applicable. Today, we are talking about networks — groups of people that are interconnected and whose value increases as more people join. Members of a network are constantly exchanging value and contributing to the greater goal. Networks are foundational to the digitalized world of millennials and post-millennials (MPMs) — they take the idea of a community and push it to the next level through connectivity.
Going back to Hermes — it’s a community which can only grow when a new customer buys a product. A network, on the other hand, can grow independent of the product itself, which is absolutely captivating. Shopper’s involvement can often precede a purchase or exist independently from it. Supreme is a great example of network-based brand which has an army of dedicated supporters. They constantly exchange value and contribute to a huge secondary market of Supreme products which is comparable to a small stock exchange.
Today, with tools brought to the table by the internet, practically any brand or product can be replicated. Prototyping, materials, samples — anything can be done in a matter of days. But creating copycats is worthless if you cannot replicate networks which, as a result, have become the main focus and most valuable thing a company can own.
Anyone trying to build a brand today should incorporate the right elements from the get-go to ensure networks can thrive around the product or service. To do this, it is necessary to understand what MPMs value the most.
The first thing to focus on is authenticity and inclusivity which, pre-internet, was all about exclusivity and impossible-to-get-into communities. But things have changed; Young consumers value honest and open relationship with the brand. In fact, a brand perceived as more honest in their advertising will develop young consumer willing to pay more for an identical product elsewhere.
Glossier — a beauty brand catering to MPMs — uses this approach. Extremely inclusive to the point of using their customers and employees as models in their advertising, as well as extremely communicative and open to feedback, Glossier incorporated inclusivity from the get go. Glossier gets very mixed reviews in terms of quality of their products, but their community is obsessive and grows stronger every day. Glossier customers become instant advocates due to brands ability to turn customers into “friends.” And even if one did not find the perfect Glossier product yet, he or she keeps participating in the life of the brand, giving feedback, until the brand comes up with the new product that is spot on.
This brings me to my last point: the power of experience. According to Entrepreneur, MPMs value sharing experiences and are not interested in simply owning things. Think of it as the new ROI, aka “return on interaction.” Putting resources towards relationships and giving value to meaningful interactions will do more good for your brand than any other form of traditional advertising or marketing. If your brand can “become friends” with customers through interactions, then you create “zombie loyalists” — a vital army for a modern super-brand.
About The Author
COO at the renowned PERRIN PARIS and an expert in all things marketing and branding, Olga Pancenko is on the advisory board of the CMO Council. Olga has advised Fortune 500 companies on their communications and marketing strategy while serving on the strategy team at Freuds. There, her portfolio of clients included Google, PepsiCo, BMW, Walmart Group, Burberry, and many more.