The Rise of Pivotals: Fashion Marketing for the Next Generation

My dad is a die-hard Levi’s fan. He is so committed to sporting this single brand of jeans that he wears each pair until it literally begins to fall apart (at my mother’s incredible dismay), at which point it becomes the garment most often used for completing gardenwork and tasks around the house.

Nonetheless, my father is the type of repeat-purchaser, loyal customer traditional brands would die for. He’s the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”, no-nonsense retail buyer that will purchase regardless of trends. However, as brands vie for the wallet share of millennials — and now generation Z — tried and true strategies are no longer as effective. These modern consumers are constantly bombarded with competing information, expect to be heard (and listened to (!)) and require a personal connection with brands to dish out any cash. This shift in generational buying patterns is paving the way to a new form of marketing — especially important in the emotion-driven fashion & beauty spaces.

The Target Market: The Ever-Evolving Pivotals

Coined by Moj Mahdara, founder of Beautycon, the concept of Pivotals was developed in the context of FOMO, of an extensive research project on a unique segment at the intersection of Millennials (Y) and Generation Z. Defined by their purchasing patterns, woke-ness (defined as “alert to injustice in society”) and unrelenting desire to challenge the status quo, this group is aged 13–34 and is at the forefront of shaping the fashion and beauty industries. To quantify this, The State of Fashion 2019 estimates that Gen Z & Y represent $350B in spending power in the US and are expected to account for 40% of global customers by 2020.

This influential segment is composed of consumers who are driven by the brands they both curate and follow on social media, the rejection of traditional categories of gender, race & sexuality as well as their firmly-held personal ideals. At the forefront of digitally-driven social movements in the realms of sexual assault (#metoo), body positivity, gender equality and systemic racism (#blacklivesmatter), Pivotals want to support brands that echo their ideologies. In fact, consumption patterns are emerging as a form of belief representation. This partially explains Rihanna’s Fenty’s impressive success: a brand built on the notion of challenging the beauty industry’s physical and racial bygone stereotypes. Additionally, newcomer Spktrm Beauty (as seen on the cover photo) is taking a stand against model retouching entirely, building a brand on the basis of social activism and natural beauty.

Savage x Fenty NYFW 2018 Show

In fact, the implications from a marketing perspective are exponential. Not only do Pivotals have an online voice, they are increasingly expecting two-way communication with brands — from Instagram DMs to new product development. Additionally, while they curate their own social media personas, 73% of them are more influenced by individuals and brands they follow online than by traditional celebrities. They join communities — or tribes — of equally woke consumers, bypassing the traditional industry authorities of magazines and trends forecasters to rewrite the rules of fashion and beauty. They’re averse to bs and call it as they see it, driving the need for brand authenticity and consistency across all consumer touchpoints.

In a world where consumers buy from brands they relate to on a personal level, the benchmark is no longer brand loyalty, but rather brand obsession or affinity. Consumer want to connect with companies that speak to them on a 1:1 basis, which can be achieved through crafting unique customer experiences, developing community-driven engagement and emphasizing customer responsiveness.

Crafting Unique Customer Experiences

As the retail space becomes increasingly digital and ecommerce-driven, direct-to-customer (DTC) approaches to distribution have gained in popularity through brands like Milk Makeup and Frank & Oak. Fashion and beauty organizations have no choice but to become more creative in their approach to branding, especially given Pivotals’ need to personally connect with the brands they support. Thus, despite the importance of digital, brands are leveraging experiential marketing and developing in-store experiences to connect with consumers in a more visceral capacity. For example, Refinery 29’s 29rooms exhibit uses holistic sensorial stimulation to bring digital native brands to life, allowing consumers to experience the likes of Dr. Jart and Revlon in-person.

Dr. Jart (left) and Revlon (right) 29room exhibits

However, although DTC seems like the way to go, you can’t overlook the incredible success that retailer Sephora has had in the beauty space. By sharpening its loyalty/CRM strategy, investing in digital and technology, leveraging personalization and developing unique in-store experiences (from brow bars to full-on facials), Sephora has been able to curate end-to-end consumer experiences that keep Pivotals coming back for more. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out this article by CB Insights.

Sephora’s unique retail strategy

As branding in the space evolves, fashion and beauty brands will have no choice but to invest in the trifecta: digital, retail and omnichannel experiences. More than ever, developing customer relationships in the beauty and retail spaces goes beyond cute packaging, requiring companies to wholly connect with their buyers at every single touchpoint.

Developing Community-driven Engagement

When Pivotals purchase a beauty or fashion product, they are effectively buying into the brand: the concept, the lifestyle and, ultimately, the community. This isn’t a new idea, but it’s more important than ever. Given the physical nature of fashion and beauty, sporting a certain brand is synonymous with self-expression, a direct representation of what Pivotals believe.

Adidas Spring/Summer 2019 Collection

Wearing a pair of trendy sneakers doesn’t just make you cool, it signals to the world that you’re part of a select community. It simultaneously makes you unique and a part of a larger whole.

This also ties in closely with the concept of the fashion influencer, which has taken the industry by storm in recent years. The need for community in this increasingly digital world is the main driving force behind the influencer movement. Consumers want to affiliate themselves with people and brands they believe in, in the ultimate goal of connecting with like-minded individuals who share interests, beliefs and passions. This is further exacerbated by the use of microinfluencers, with many brands preferring to collaborate with content creators that have 10–100K followers. High engagement rates, more targeted reach and access to niche communities are all benefits of working with these smaller influencers, a trend that has resonated well with the Pivotal segment.

Revolve Festival: Coachella 2019

A particularly salient example of leveraging influencers to build community is online retailer’s Revolve’s approach. Reaching $1B in sales last year, this unique player attributes 60–70% of its revenue to its network of 400+ brand ambassadors that span the globe. In fact, they are known for influencer-driven events like #RevolveFestival (a festival-in-festival at Coachella) and #RevolveintheHamptons (where they invite hordes of beautiful women to stay in beautiful beach houses and party the night away). Although this may seem like fun and games (and it kind of is), the brand generated 4.4 billion social impressions in 2017, redefining social media marketing. Ultimately, this network — or community — of influencers establishes a sense of belonging for those who buy from the brand; bringing consumers one step closer to powerhouses like Shay Mitchell and Romee Strijd through fashion.

Customer Responsiveness

The last pillar of marketing to Pivotals effectively is the need for responsiveness with regards to consumers’ needs, desires and preferences. In the era of Pivotals, it’s imperative that brands not only listen to their customers but use their feedback to engage in co-creation. For example, Glossier’s ability to harness consumer engagement on social media allowed it to transform one of its products, the iconic Milk Jelly Cleanser, by adding soothing rosewater. Not only does co-creation benefit both the brand and the consumer, it helps enhance the sense of community previously discussed.

Similarly, just as Lululemon has been able to achieve impressive community engagement through its various events, it has taken the concept of social listening to heart, going as far as to create Instagram Stories that poll followers on what they want to see from the brand. Not only does this make them feel listened to, it allows Lululemon to leverage consumer preferences in new product development, driving long-term sales and brand loyalty.

Lululemon’s unique approach to community building

As consumers increasingly expect to be considered in the fashion & beauty development equations, brands will have to sharpen their listening skills all while putting the customer first.

Parting Thoughts

What does this mean for the future of the fashion and business industries? Each time I have a conversation about this, the discussion often ends up veering off to the threat of the Amazons of the world. However, I have a hard time seeing how ecommerce moguls will have the ability to connect with consumers on a 1:1 basis in the same way that up-and-coming brands currently can.

If brands can continue to build customer experiences that go beyond simply developing products that “work”, modern customers will consequently invest into their platforms, ideologies and content. Let’s be honest; Glossier’s products are OK, but the brand’s real value lies in its ability to sustain a worldwide community of beauty aficionados, cult brand and incredibly curated experiences.

Essentially, the rise of digital has represented a tipping point, transforming these long-idle industries by giving the power back to consumers. This sets a precedent for all the future players in the space, as well as the heritage brands that will have no choice but to evolve to stay relevant.

Consumers expect more, and I think that’s totally fair.

Customer Experience & Marketing Consultant | Montréal

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