Key audiences share common beliefs, trends across cities
Countries seem like a broad,
outdated marketing lens
Within the apparel sector, and where the ambition remains on securing the attention of the millennial mass or the increasingly powerful Gen Z, it has never been more important to have a city-focused business strategy.
As a comms agency, we continue to receive briefs that cite the US, Germany, France, and China as focus markets, lumping together people that could be residing up to 3,000 miles apart. We are asked to provide a local rollout, and consider how to adapt the global creative and story for the UK, Brazil, or Russia. However, to consider key markets through the lens of countries feels increasingly outdated. Instead we need to relocate our outlook to critical cities.
Back in 2015, adidas declared a key city focus as part of its 2020 business plan, citing “the fate of global brands is decided in global cities. If we want to be successful in the future, we need to win in key cities.” They said: “Across these cities, the adidas Group will disproportionately invest in marketing and retail experiences with the goal of maximizing brand experiences.” And it’s been a decision that so far has proven a good one. The year 2016 became an exceptional year for the company financially, with it reporting a significant increase in revenues and a record net income. adidas led the BrandZÔ Global Top 100 in annual rate of brand value increase with its 58 percent gain.
There are a number of reasons why a critical-city focus makes strategic sense. First, the disproportionate influence larger or capital cities have over global trends; second, the increasing disconnect between these cities and the rest of their countries, as proven repeatedly through the recent political agenda; and third, that members of this younger audience view themselves as global, not national, citizens. They care about a better world, not a better country, and they live in an international society online. A laser focus on the city can quickly become globally relevant and drive global success, thanks to the power and connectivity of this cross-national urban audience.
For example, someone from New York is likely to have far more in common with someone from Shanghai than with someone from Idaho, both in outlook and motivation, as well as clothes lusted after. There are tribes in Brooklyn connecting with crews in Botafogo, together creating the new trends that will hit high streets across the globe.
Authentic to the city
As part of a city-centered business and marketing strategy, brands need to increasingly consider how they can become a part of the fabric of these cities and an authentic part of their habitants’ daily lives. This audience is seeking long-term (and hence valuable) relationships with brands, but only with those brands that share their belief systems and that meet their increasingly high expectations. They are demanding both transparency from companies and for companies to add notable value to their communities and lives. The pressure is on to be a ”civic brand.”
There are many roles a brand can play within a community. An increasingly powerful option is as “educator,” helping quench this ever-ambitious audience’s thirst for information and self-improvement. Apple was probably the champion of this, with its in-store lectures in purpose-built mini-auditoriums, but we’ve since seen other brands adopt this role in their quest to build loyal relationships with customers and future employees. Levi’s developed a series of educational programs in the UK and US to support the brand’s association with music. It offered courses in sound engineering, song writing, and audio-visual production.
Another valuable role a city brand can take is ”connector,” helping build communities and uniting people with similar mindsets or ambitions. Earlier this year, adidas launched its women’s studio in Brick Lane, London, a space dedicated to fitness and well-being that people could be a part of for free. The studio has quickly become a hub and community for runners, yogis, and fitness fans. It connects them to both experts and each other, giving them company and encouragement for their weekly training.
As well as adding value to a community, transparency and openness are important for building a connection with the urban audience. Consequently, brands are looking at ways they can invite people in and collaborate with the city.
One way to achieve this is through a more open, flexible retail environment, letting the city curate its own experience or products. Levi’s and Gap are both brands that have encouraged customers to tailor their products in-store, adding their personal flair and identity to otherwise standard silhouettes. Topshop handed the reigns over to city influencers, inviting them to curate sections of the store in a way they believed was fit for their urban neighbors.
H&M-owned & Other Stories has committed to three city design hubs—its “ateliers”—in Paris, Stockholm, and Los Angeles. Every season, stores will include collections by each atelier, all inspired by that city and its residents. At the recent launch of the Los Angeles Atelier, the brand’s MD commented: “That’s why we’re living in the city we are designing for. We’re not trying to design for Europe. We’re designing for LA”. The designs for LA quickly then flew off shelves around the world. City-driven, globally relevant.
Brands are also increasingly collaborating with the city’s freshest creative talent to help tell their stories. They are looking for ways to invite these influential voices in and bring their relevance to the brand. adidas partners with a diverse collection of city creators to deliver an authentic local edge to the global brand. Whether it’s London’s sneaker-obsessed graphic designer KickPosters creating Snapchat geo-filters for new store openings, French hip-hop artists Kaaris and Kalash Criminel bringing their own sound to the brand’s Paris street football tournament, or fitness coach Robin NYC creating content to showcase the new collection, each partner helps bring the global brand further into the fabric of the city.
As I write this I’m hugely aware that I am sitting in my central London office before heading back to my Zone 2 flat, and we often wonder if in agency-land we’re in a ‘city bubble’. In addition, I’m also mindful that for other sectors and audiences the value of the more rural audience is extremely important, and in fact the opportunity from connecting with them and their values is arguably greater than ever. However, as proven by this report, and indeed stock markets, for global brands looking to attract a younger audience, a city strategy is needed: to rethink marketing teams, approach and creative through the lens of cities, and to consider how to collaborate with the city.