The cult of youth is alive and well in fashion.
Retailers and brands might be advocating for diversity at every turn, welcoming different age groups as well as ethnicities and sexual orientations — and Baby Boomers still have the most buying power across the generational divide — but that hasn’t stopped businesses from zeroing in on their youngest shoppers, many of whom are still just kids.
Successfully tapping into a younger demographic can lead to bigger returns down the line if a brand can create a base of lifelong consumers. It’s a method that’s seen as more lucrative than marketing new products to existing customers.
“The value of a lifetime customer is four times higher than a conventional non-lifetime customer,” said Martin Lindstrom, brand expert and author of several books, most recently of “Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends.”
One doesn’t have to look far to find examples of companies trying to employ the strategy.
Intimates apparel brand Jockey recently released Jockey Generation, an exclusive Target collection, hoping to tap into Target’s own Millennial and Gen Z customer base in the process. Jimmy Choo tapped 17-year-old Kaia Gerber as the face of its spring 2019 campaign. The shoe and accessory brand has historically marketed to a slightly older demographic. Nike recently launched its first subscription shoe service — for kids. The target audience isn’t even old enough to pay for the service, but Nike is betting on its ability to create lifelong brand loyalists.
Meanwhile, Louis Vuitton has been courting the Dolan Twins. The 19-year-old YouTube stars and identical twins were invited to Paris Men’s Fashion Week where they chronicled their adventures and outfit choices on social media. The duo also launched a fragrance collection with Wakeheart, which sold out almost immediately. Foot Locker states on its web site that it’s “a company that is at the heart of sneaker and youth culture.” Then there is Revolve, the Millennial-focused e-commerce shopping site, which launched Superdown earlier this year. The latest iteration of Revolve is aimed at capturing the Gen Z market.
Luann de Lesseps, the “Countess” on Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New York,” teamed with SuperJeweler earlier this year to create the Countess Collection. The reality star said her core customers are Millennials.
“It is very important that people in the public eye are working to promote products that appeal to this age group and at a price within reach,” de Lesseps said. “They watch Real Housewives of New York, so when they see the pieces from my Countess Collection on the show and they learn about the collection on social media, they’ll search out the collection on SuperJeweler and buy.”
All of these are examples of companies and brands with their eyes on young people as the target consumer continues to shift.
In the luxury retail market, for example, about 70 percent of revenues come from Baby Boomers, according to Launchmetrics, a data analytics firm that works with fashion, luxury and cosmetics companies. Those numbers are changing and by 2025, about 40 percent of luxury goods revenues will come from Millennials and Generation Z.
But even between Millennials and Gen Zers, the focus is most evident among the younger set. That’s because the brand lift, or the interaction with a brand as a result of an advertising campaign, is higher with the latter generation.
In fact, in the U.S. alone, Gen Z has an estimated spending power between $29 billion and $143 billion, according to a recent survey by Splitit, a payment platform. And that number is expected to grow as the cohort ages. Millennials — once considered the jackpot for retailers — are now considered too old for some emerging brands.
“These brands are resonating much more greatly with the younger consumer, consumers that haven’t even become independent purchasers yet,” said Web Smith, founder of 2PM, a subscription platform that tracks growth in e-commerce. “Brands are selling to the 14-, 15-year old who will be in college with their own debit card in three to four years.”
Alison Bringé, chief marketing officer of Launchmetrics, said her firm has also received similar results from in-house surveys.
“We’re always asking retailers and brands, ‘Who is your target audience?’ Last year it was Millennials. This year it was all about Generation Z,” Bringe said. “More and more we see brands leaning toward younger customers. Because if you know you really need to reach this segment by a certain date — because you know they’re going to be your prime customer one day — then you have to over-market now to achieve that goal.”
American Eagle might be an example. The retailer has clothes for all age groups but appeals to teenagers. In March, Jay Schottenstein, executive chairman and chief executive officer, told analysts during the company’s conference call that, “Our purpose is to show the world that there’s real power in the optimism of youth.”
That doesn’t mean that the current customer can be forgotten though.
De Lesseps, for one, is careful not to exclude anyone.
“We worked to create a collection that is actually accessible to all ages and has pieces that are visually appealing across the spectrum,” she said.
Mark Fedyk, president and chief operating officer of Jockey International, said the company’s customers can phase out of Jockey Generation and grow into more mature styles, like Jockey Essentials and Jockey Life.
This might be the right formula. Turns out the most successful brands start by marketing to everyone. The trick is to later use different channels to leverage different voices along the customer journey.
While older generations might have responded to traditional advertisements, such as an ad in a magazine, younger people prefer to find things they want to buy on their own, by way of social media and influencers.
“There’s a correlation with different voices and different audiences,” Bringe said. “It’s a balancing act. And brands that are doing it right are trying to figure out that balance between the two.”
One recent success story is Gucci.
While most brands focus about 70 percent of their marketing and advertising on Baby Boomers and those with higher income levels — and less than 30 percent on younger crowds — Gucci has successfully spread its message in two, targeting about half its customer base through traditional advertisements and half its audience by other means, including celebrity endorsements and social channels.
“Gucci has gone from speaking to the masses to speaking to their cult following,” Bringe said. “They first target a lot of people through traditional media, to find people who mirror what that brand stands for. From there, obviously not everyone is going to be a Gucci fan. But little by little this journey whittles down to the real customer and then they can target that customer through channels that they really care about. And that’s what brands have to do.”