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Designing brands for Gen Z
From Roti Kapda Makaan in the 1960s to a “good job and romance” (according to Chetan Bhagats 2004 book – what young India wants) we have always endeavoured to understand – what does young India want?
As a brand designer working with young people since the past 10 years, what young India wants from your business is 1. Sustainability 2. Purpose 3. Honesty 4. Digital presence.
“Can you help u find a way to do away with plastic packaging altogether?” – is often something I get asked by my clients in their 20s. Millennials care about the environment, not just because it is cool, but because for them it is an existential concern. In 2006 I went to the Andamans and discovered a world so colourful, it was like jumping into a technicolour world, a scene from “Finding Nemo”. 10 years later, the same waters had nothing but a graveyard of white skeletons – testament to the mass bleaching of corals that has affected 95% of the world. This is a testament to global warming, and its far-reaching impact, beyond making diving a lot less fun. So for millennials, climate change is not 10th on their priority of things to solve for, when addressing business. It is 2nd or 3rd. Spending away the earths resources means they may not have a habitable planet by the time they are 60. This demand will eventually lead to supply, where eco friendly packaging solutions will be available in mainstream industry.
Millennial brands are driven by products built for a specific purpose. The Instagram ads increasingly lead to shopify sites that sell only 1 innovative product. Junipers.fun is one such site, that sells a bra that doubles up as a swim suit, a sports bra and also an everyday bra. The opening description says – “the Do it all Bikini”. Another site called Allbeing sells neutraceuticals to address the concerns of today – such as eye fatigue. Their product “insight” has a powerful carotenoid that reverses the damage done by blue light, due to long screen exposure. I saw a meme that read “Another weekend of staring at the big screen, while scrolling through my little screen, so as to reward myself for staring at the medium screen all week.” Both these businesses address the concerns of today. With the democratization of the internet through the holy trifecta of shopify, razorpay and shiprocket, anybody can start a business overnight. Double this up with Amazon, and young people have the world at their fingertips. Which means that one becomes discerning in their choice of things to buy. Hence, businesses must articulate what purpose their product serves, and let that drive the brand. Not the other way around.
With the world of information available in a second, gone are the days to hide behind campaigns to fool people into buying things which are bad for you. Millennials of today value honesty, because there is no way to lie anymore. The meteoric success of a skincare brand “the ordinary” is a testament to this. The Ordinary simply lists the ingredients on the front label – Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5. This is not meant for chemists, but young people who are aware of what they are putting on their skin, and are given the choice to choose their skin mocktail. So people are curious now about where their coffee comes from, or who made their clothes. The zamaana of selling a product by putting Kareenas face on it and saying “get the glow” is gone. They will ask you – but what is glow, and what ingredient provides it? Millennials are convinced by logic, facts, ingredients, plain spoken language, and an urban relevance.
While it seems redundant to say, I say that all businesses need a digital strategy and presence. What is the implication of this for businesses – that the information in their campaigns has to be bite sized bits of entertainment. Why entertainment? Because now information and entertainment are accessed in the same place. Long mission statement and PR statement won’t cut it, nobody wants to hear it. Product photography will be viewed in a 2 inch square on Instagram, and should be optimized for that. For example, having clean solid backgrounds in photographs is a great fit for insta worthy product shots. This digital presence is key for businesses moving forward, even if they are b2b service businesses where they don’t sell online, but engage online, as it opens up a two way communication. Brands need to spend less on their logo, and invest more in their social media and website. This is reflection of how innovative, open to conversation, and trustworthy a brand is.
So in designing a brand for them (either as clients or as end consumers), the choices one makes must reflect these values of sustainability, honesty, and purpose. In the packaging one chooses, in the tone of voice one speaks in on their channels, or in the information on the labels. In the medium one spends on - whether online is a better strategic investment than brick and mortar.
In my experience, the younger generation is more conscientious than the previous. They don’t aspire to own private jets (too much fuel consumption), or find “royalty” aspirational. Rather, they want to be able to choose the life that makes them happy. In terms of consumption, this product that they are buying should either be useful, innovative, original, sustainable, or even simply entertaining, and relevant to the context of their lives