Retail is seeing a crisis of loyalty. Market share is tougher than ever to gain, and it’s getting harder to make meaningful connections with your customers. Consumers are less loyal to a brand now because they don’t have to be. The fact is, companies are just a part of the selling process, not the selling process itself – and consumers know it. If you don’t deliver what your customers want, there are an unlimited number of alternative options available to them.
This means retailers must work harder to earn their customers’ trust. One way of doing so is by appealing to the values they hold dear and forging a deeper emotional connection with them. This emotional connection, in turn, leads to enhanced customer loyalty and customer lifetime value. Retailers must put customers front and center and make them feel that everything is about them.
Marketing by customer demographic is a thing of the past. Every retailer must approach its customers as individuals who are not limited by gender, age, or other similar restrictive categories. Customers expect retailers to be inclusive and they reward brands that make it a priority to not only showcase diversity but practice it in everything from product development to branding. Gen Z has been an overwhelming catalyst for change: 35% of Gen Zers know someone who prefers to go by gender-neutral pronouns.
One area where brands are moving away from traditional norms for better representation, diversity, and inclusion is beauty. While male customers represent one of the biggest growth opportunities for this sector, many companies are thinking about how to market existing products and ranges to a broader customer set instead of launching a specialized men’s category. While this does not mean generalizing the product to everyone, retailers can and should consider how to approach customers differently to show them how they will feel when they use the product. The result is not only beneficial to the topline, but it’s also much more cost-effective than investing in research or product development for a completely new line.
Given that beauty can often be an entry category to luxury, it’s no wonder brands are catering to today’s Gen Z gender-fluid customers and capturing their loyalty for years to come. Nearly one in two students is more willing to purchase from a brand that has better gender representation and inclusivity in its marketing. Right from launch, fragrance company Byredo did not classify its hero product by gender. And it has stuck to this principle with its makeup line, which has formulas and pigments designed for everyone.
Apparel retailers are now following in beauty’s footsteps with both genderless designs and nonbinary spokespeople, influencers, and models. Gucci is blazing the trail with Mx, a nonbinary shopping section on its website where the tagline reads: “Gucci’s collections set out to deconstruct preconceived binaries and question how these concepts relate to our bodies. Celebrating self-expression in the name of all gender equality, the House presents Mx.”
As with anything new, focusing on gender-fluid or gender-neutral collections and products will come with a learning curve, but retailers should be able to understand the right styles, sizes, and product demand after a few seasons. Adding size ranges and changing marketing strategy comes with the possibility of incremental sales without investing in a new line. Chanel, for example, never officially launched a menswear category, but instead created an advertising campaign with new brand ambassador Pharrell Williams modeling handbags and jewelry.
While a learning phase is to be expected, retailers should keep the following in mind when thinking about being more inclusive:
Don’t just rely on demographics: Because consumers are not homogeneous, retailers should not limit their thinking to who they think their customer is. Instead, determine what the entire experience means to them – from the product to the marketing -- and how it makes them feel. Then layer this onto your own brand values and what you want to be known for.
Be authentic: When you commit to diversity and inclusion values, bring more than lip-service. Phluid Project, which makes gender-free apparel and accessories more widely available, worked with Mattel to design the Creatable World doll, an inclusive toy that has no gender or name and can transform and adapt according to the child’s whims. “We spent time educating the entire Mattel leadership team on gender identity and pronouns, preparing them to speak from a place of knowledge and confidence,” Rob Smith, founder of the Phluid Project, told AlixPartners.
Allow marketing to reflect your values: Retailers must be careful of which social media creators and influencers they work with and use them to amplify the message. It also helps to show real people with real needs in advertising. The right influencers and campaigns with diverse and empowered models can amplify the voices of underrepresented groups and make customers feel a sense of representation and belonging.
Every retailer must be thinking about how to create authentic connections with their customers. It’s good for the longevity of the business and, in the process, it helps create a more inclusive and open world.