Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

How To Build Generation-Proof Brands

Muhammad Ali Khan discusses how brands can consistently ensure long-term success by staying relevant across generations.
Published 19 May, 2023 03:57pm

Building brands is more important than ever before. More and more businesses are emerging, catering to either a wide consumer base or specific niche segments, depending on the product or service they offer. Consequently, customers are spoilt for choice when considering a purchase decision and think twice before trusting brands simply because they are top-of-mind. In fact, customers today are looking for brands with which they can form meaningful connections that go beyond the mere purchase. This is why global giants, such as Coca-Cola, P&G and Unilever, continue to spend billions of dollars on innovative media campaigns year-on-year despite their extremely high top-of-mind scores. They cannot simply rely on their heritage to maintain and grow their customer base anymore.

When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do

There has never been a more relevant time for brands to make this proverb an integral part of their marketing strategy. Think of ‘Rome’ as the audience you are targeting and delve deep into their preferences. Their interests; what is important to them; how they spend their time; what kind of content they engage with – and so forth. ‘Do as the Romans’ refers to the direction you should be taking – the one that is directly in line with the preferences of your audience. 

Although this may seem an obvious step for any brand strategy, what is not so obvious is that after spending X number of years catering to an audience segment, the generation of that audience segment will inevitably change. In other words, the target audience demographic may remain the same, but a new set of preferences will come into play. Successful brands foresee changes in preferences and re-evaluate their strategies.

Take Pepsi. Although Pepsi consistently targets youngsters, its brand voice, narrative and representation keep evolving. In Pakistan, given how love for cricket dominates the young (especially the Millennials), Pepsi was seen everywhere cricket was found. Today, although cricket remains a core plank of Pepsi’s communication, its mainstream communication has evolved to focus on Gen Z’s interest in rap and therefore to feature youth icons such as the Young Stunners and a brand message that mimics their sentiments with ‘Why not Meri Jaan?’ The same can be said for Coca-Cola. Coke Studio in Pakistan started as a platform based on fusion music. It brought together eastern and western musical styles and recreated iconic soundtracks with traditional voices as well as pop singers. It primarily catered to the Millennials. However, in their latest iteration, Coke Studio featured a line-up of artists who resonate primarily with Gen Z, with performers such as Hasan Raheem, Faris Shafi and Justin Bibis. Furthermore, with Gen Z being bigger advocates of sustainability compared to preceding generations, both Pepsi and Coca-Cola are promoting their sustainability and social efforts with greater focus – for example, Pepsi’s ‘Liter of Light’ and Coca-Cola’s ‘Bottle of Change’.

Stay True to your Roots

Revamping your brand strategy to cater to a new generation does not mean changing the brand ethos entirely; rather, it means shifting the narrative effectively. Apple has always believed in ‘Think Different’ and developed products and built narratives that challenged the status quo of the prevailing technology. Today, despite the fact that the technological landscape may not allow for massive changes on a yearly basis, Apple has managed to maintain relevance with campaigns such as ‘There’s an App for That!’ aimed at Millennials and ‘Relax, It’s iPhone’ for Gen Z. At the core of these evolving narratives, Apple’s core message ‘Think Different’ remains.

Similarly, with ‘Just Do It’, Nike has consistently advocated going the extra mile and pushing boundaries. However, over the years, it represented this idea in different ways – going as far as featuring Colin Kaepernick at a time when he was at his most controversial, in order to promote a cause Nike audiences were passionate about. A decade ago, Nike could not have imagined going this far while remaining within its brand territory.

Unilever’s Fair & Lovely, while thriving on the desire for fairness among South Asian women, was mindful to change its name to Glow & Lovely in the face of a new generation for whom the goalposts of beauty had changed. The narrative shifted from fairness to glowing skin. Despite this shift, the brand remained true to its ethos of ‘More Than Just Fairness’ and evolved to a platform of ‘Positive Beauty’.

Identify What Makes Generations Different

Every generation is shaped by the time and place they grow up in, and the culture surrounding them plays a significant role in their perception of the world. A defining characteristic that distinguishes the generations, be they Boomers, Gen X, Millennials or Gen Z, is the vastly different technological landscape in which they grew up and which is why, despite these generations being familiar with the internet and smartphones, each one has its own unique way of using these devices.

Boomers are said to prioritise a brand’s values far less compared to Millennials, and they are also less impatient than Gen Z with the buying process. Boomers were middle-aged when the internet age began. Gen X, for their part, are very suspicious when it comes to advertising, having grown up in times when old-fashioned advertising gimmicks were still prevalent. Millennials (the first generation to grow up with the internet) prioritise brand values, such as supporting local communities, promoting environmentally friendly products and having a strong sense of social justice. Gen Z are more open to change and believe in the idea of belonging while maintaining their sense of individualism. They look at brands from a more human perspective and expect them to be more responsible.

Ultimately, consumers, irrespective of their generations, look for a positive experience, and although broad assertions can be made about them, what matters is understanding them and their preferred communication channels, in order to build meaningful connections with them.

Putting Long-term Thought Into Short-term Strategies

When charting out brand plans, think about the flexibility of your brand’s position. To what extent can a positioning be interpreted creatively to cater to a range of audiences across generations? In other words, consider the various ways your brand can be interpreted in order to appeal to different age groups. For example, a brand marketed to Millennials may focus on social responsibility, environmental sustainability and community engagement. The same brand marketed to Boomers could emphasise the quality and longevity of their products or services, as well as highlight the brand legacy. By keeping a brand’s position flexible, you can create strategies that appeal to a broader range of consumers. This approach helps increase brand loyalty and contributes towards long-term success.

Taking into consideration these aspects when building your brand’s strategy can ensure the effectiveness and success of your brand not just for years, but for generations to come.

Muhammad Ali Khan is AVP/Manager Communications, JS Bank.