From the Met Gala’s gender fluid costumes to Google’s gender fluid emojis, there’s no doubt that we’re in the midst of a cultural and social landscape transformation as gender nonconformity is on the rise. For creatives and marketers, a new fashion paradigm is set to emerge as brands begin to think of their consumers as falling across a spectrum, instead of fitting into a category.
While this shift presents an enormous opportunity for brands to broaden their creativity, evolve traditional ways of working and ultimately reach more people around the world, it can be a challenge to know how to update a brand’s image and ethos for the new ecosystem in a natural and organic way.
Here are four ways brands can keep up with the landscape changes while staying true to who they are:
Awareness is Crucial
With Generation Z on track to make up 40 percent of the consumer base by 2020, this sector will soon have massive buying power and brands that want to remain relevant and viable will need to stay committed to evolving alongside the group. Today, the fluidity of gender identity is quickly becoming the norm for these younger generations, and they’re increasingly seeing strictly defined roles as antiquated and irrelevant. A recent study by J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group revealed that 56% of 13-20-year-olds know someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns such as “they.” And only 44% said that they always buy clothes made for their own gender. By staying apprised of the cultural shifts of this age group, brands can ready themselves for the future they will dictate and make internal decisions to reflect it.
Jaden Smith rocked a skirt in Louis Vuitton's 2016 campaign
Dissolving Stereotypes and Embracing Social Liberation
Gender fluidity is part of a much larger conversation around inclusion and brands that understand the bigger picture will have an easier time evolving in a genuine, organic way. From race and ethnicity to age and size, consumers are more zealous than ever in their desire for a culture of inclusivity. As a result, we’re heading into a post-demographic age in which labels and stereotypes are dissolving, boundaries are crumbling and individuals are more empowered to be themselves. Brands that can recognise and embrace this collective social liberation have an opportunity to be playful and forward thinking in a more empowered world. Rather than positioning themselves around gender, they can draw from character traits, themes, interests and qualities to align with. From ambition to courage, or humor – they can play in the language of humanity as a whole, instead of gendered categories.
Chanel debuted a make-up range for men in 2018
Harness the Creative Opportunity
As the confines of gender fall away, creatives and marketers are no longer limited within strict fashion binaries and there is an opportunity to rethink expression through every facet of the brand. As labels, stereotypes, and rules fall away, the creative palette is naturally broadened. By experiencing a shift in thinking, and letting go of key social constructs, marketers can become more organically aware of their unconscious decisions and perceptions. In turn, they’ll be more open to original thinking, fresh ideas and bold campaigns that can reinvigorate a brand from the inside out. In this new territory where creative directors and brands are actively removing outdated philosophies and social constraints from their workflow, they have an enormous opportunity to help shape the industry for a more open future.
Embrace Expansion, but Don’t Change Your DNA
There are plenty of ways to go in gender-inclusive directions without abandoning established brand ethos, story or image – and it is important to do so in order to remain trustworthy to the consumer. Real, organic evolution comes with adapting in a way that feels like it honors the brand’s DNA, and original purpose. Participation in the emerging social landscape doesn’t always mean that products or offerings need to be edited or expanded – sometimes the evolutions can be as simple as updating messaging to use more inclusive language, collaborating with people within the non-binary and gender fluid community or opening up the brand to a wider and less traditional audience.
The first gender-neutral store, The Phluid Project, opened in New York in 2018
At the end of the day, every cultural shift represents a new wave of social momentum that can be harnessed by a brand in innovative and adaptive ways. To truly resonate with unisex and gender non-binary demographics authentically, brands should strive for a multi-faceted approach, connecting not only in their product lines but also throughout the organization’s marketing, hiring and company culture. The key to broadening audience engagement in a natural way lies in delivering thoughtful and customized offerings and communication at every touch point – both internally, and on external platforms, like social media. Brands that can successfully broaden their audience while remaining thoughtful and personal in their approach will feel more organic to the consumer, which will, in turn, keep them more competitive in the landscape.
Written by Eric Lobb, Partner and Executive Creative Director at Standard Black
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