In order for a business to be sustainable, adaptability is key. This means brands need to keep an ear to the ground and stay updated on the ever-changing consumer landscape. People don’t stay young forever; they get older and a new generation of young ones take their place. With every batch of young people comes new consumption patterns and new expectations.
Vans, a brand over 50 years old, has managed to stay relevant to today’s youth by keeping up with changing consumer trends. Here are three key consumption patterns prevalent among the young consumers of today and how Vans’ business strategy has accounts for them.
Younger consumers are not simply looking for a product, they are looking for an experience. Brands need to be more than what they sell; they need a culture.
Vans’ “Off The Wall” mantra forms the basis of its brand culture; it is a call to embrace creativity, individuality and self-expression. This mantra isn’t just there, it permeates through Vans’ marketing and product strategies. In other words, Vans makes sure consumers know what they stand for. The launch of its global “Living Off the Wall” campaign is just one example of how the brand shares its philosophy with the world. It is aimed at connecting youths through music, sports, and street culture. The brand released a series of documentaries centred on well-known people in these industries to show how they break the mould.
House of Vans
House of Vans is an example of how Vans creates memorable experiences to share its brand culture. House of Vans is essentially a group of spaces dedicated to the celebration of street culture, music, art, skateboarding and anything remotely creative. At House of Vans, people can participate and host workshops and events, and even showcase their works. It is a place where people are free to be themselves. The brand has even organised House of Vans pop-up events all over the world, including Singapore, where creatives like designers, skateboarders and musicians showcase their work and skills.
With these “side projects” Vans has managed to win over like-minded youths – youths who are into street culture. By creating unique experiences for these youths to interact not only with the brand but with each other, Vans has successfully established itself as the face of self-expression and creativity. It has created a place for itself among the rebels.
As experiences become more important in reaching out to youths, so does personalisation. Personalisation is all part of providing consumers with unique, intimate experiences. In the age of social media, standing out is now cooler than fitting in, and brands should account for that in their product and marketing strategies.
Vans Custom Culture
Vans launched Global Custom Culture in 2019, an interactive shoe customisation contest meant to encourage creativity. People all over the world were given the opportunity to design a pair of Vans shoes. The competition awarded three winners from North America, Asia Pacific and Europe with US$25,000, a trip to the Vans design headquarters in Southern California, and to have their shoes produced and sold by Vans. Submissions were put to a public vote to choose the top 10 finalists. From there, Vans chose one winner from each region.
To support participants, Vans even organised design workshops where professional designers and artists were invited to share their creative process, and where participants could learn how to customise a pair of Vans shoes.
With Global Custom Culture, Vans managed to achieve two things: first, giving consumers a chance to express themselves by personalising their own shoes; second, giving consumers a say in what they buy. In short, this is an engagement win for Vans. They’ve not only fulfilled their brand promise to support self-expression, they’ve also got consumers involved, and therefore emotionally invested, in a new product even before its release.
3. Stand for something
According to McKinsey & Company, younger consumers expect brands to support causes and to be ethical in their business processes. With issues like global warming and diversity becoming increasingly salient in public discourse, consumers are paying attention to how businesses are doing their part to support these causes. They are also not afraid to spend more on products that they deem ethically made. A report by Nielsen showed that 66% of global consumers are willing to spend more on a product that comes from a sustainable brand.
Younger consumers are also harder to fool, partly because they are better educated about the realities behind brands. They are less tolerant of brands that don’t practice what they preach. This means businesses don’t just have to promote themselves as ethical brands, they actually need ethical practices.
Apart from ensuring that their products are made in an environmentally-sustainable fashion, Vans also invests in community programmes that are in line with their promise to encourage self-expression. The Vans Custom Culture High School programme, for example, was “created to inspire and empower high school students to embrace their creativity through art and design and to bring attention to diminishing arts education budgets” in America. Students can take part in this contest to customise a pair of blank Vans shoes based on specific themes. Vans donates US$75,000 to the winning school’s art program, as well as US$4,000 each to four runners-up.
Like Vans, brands should always walk the talk. Pick a cause that you are sincere about and you could realistically get behind, and make concrete efforts to support it.
To stay in the game, brands need to evolve with customers’ needs and expectations. Ultimately, every consumer, regardless of age, wants to support brands that are sincere both in how it portrays itself and in meeting its customers’ needs. Keep this in mind and you can’t go wrong.