At The Co-Foundry, the challenge we’re most frequently invited to solve, hangs on one key question: How can we extend our brand appeal to attract a younger audience without losing or alienating our existing followers?
We’ve been met by this request from charities looking to grow their donor base, cultural institutions wanting to increase their audience numbers, as well as travel companies seeking to attract a new, more adventurous customer.
Age is, of course, just one demographic and it would be vastly over-simplistic to assume there’s a single persona or set of distinct characteristics per generation. However, age often determines shared cultural references and preferences and, based on common lived experiences and social norms, these can be very helpful when reviewing your brand identity in a bid to give it broader demographic appeal.
Find out what you don’t know
It’s vital to go into the evidence-gathering step of your review with an open mind. Having a hypothesis is helpful but being open to learning from and responding to your findings is even more useful. Your brand may be long established and the people working in your organisation may feel they have a strong sense of what works, but switching the focus to discovering what it is that they don’t know, is key to broadening brand appeal.
Get to know the different generations within your audiences. Run brand perception interviews and surveys: Where do these groups hang out? What do they care about? What brands are they attracted to and why?
Once this leg of the research is complete, your brand design consultant will analyse how different generations perceive your brand (if indeed there are distinct differences), for example, the various motivations and needs your brand fulfils for them, the visual trends that attracted them to you in the first place. But they won’t just be looking for differences – the gold dust lies in the common thread that spans generational variations.
Look for a common thread
So, rather than focusing solely on the differences and building out of that, what you should be looking at is the glue that unifies generational appeal – the shared aesthetics, values and experiences. For example, while opera itself does not have as big a following among Generation X as it does with Baby Boomers, both generations share a love of and enthusiasm for live music in unusual venues.
Solos Holidays – When researching travellers’ generational motivations we uncovered a shared desire to experience a sense of belonging on solo travel trips, something that travelling alone in an organised group could deliver on.
Avoid stereotypes but seek patterns
Clearly defined generational groupings are becoming more blurred than in the past. But that doesn’t mean that creatives shouldn’t be on the lookout for patterns. Assumptions can easily be wrong and, as I said at the start of this post, age is only one demographic – contained within which is both nuance and a multitude of individuals.
In order to create truly resonant design, it’s essential that you ask your brand design consultant to conduct targeted market research, gathering feedback from the specific demographic you’re looking to target.
If forced to generalise, I’d start with the generational classifications below (intentionally focusing on years of birth from 1946 to 2012), with a reminder that these only refer to the age demographic. As soon as you start adding in any number of other factors, such as socio-economic, cultural or geographic considerations, their relevance wanes. Also key, is the fact that even within these generalisations, trends change and it’s the designer or consultant’s job to research audiences thoroughly – identifying what they like, what they care about and what other brands are competing for their attention.
A generational timeline: Baby Boomers to Gen Z
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
Generally wealthier than the generations that follow on from them, Baby Boomers tend to seek quality and value tradition. This means that you should be looking for your brand to convey a sense of trustworthiness, reliability and authority via, for example, high-quality paper stocks and well-set typography with more than a passing nod to symmetry and balance. Baby boomers tend to be very loyal to their trusted brands and look for consistency in how the brand identity is applied. As a generation they’re likely to have poorer vision, so it’s important to use neat presentation, clear typesetting in legible type sizes, (avoiding low contrast) and overall, taking a straightforward approach with timeless and classic aesthetics.
Generation X (born 1965-1980)
Generation Xers are resistant to considering themselves ‘old’, something which plays out in how they favour modern aesthetics. They may have a fondness for cultural references taken from their formative years – ’70s and ’80s pop culture – but they generally tend towards a down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach that incorporates design trends more subtly. Not as drawn to flashy or overtly trendy visuals, they appreciate a mix of classic and contemporary elements. Generation X often values informality and may be put off by designs that come across as too formal or corporate. They appreciate brands that are approachable and relatable.
Millennials (born 1981-1996)
Similar to Generation X, Millenials look back as well as forward and have a love for retro-styling as long as it doesn’t veer into anything old-fashioned. To generalise, Millennials value authenticity and purpose-driven branding with a strong interest in community and social impact. They are drawn to brands that align with their values, demonstrate social responsibility and have a genuine mission, and they enjoy engaging and getting involved with these sort of brands. Designs that incorporate user-generated content, encourage participation, and build a sense of community are often well-received. Millennials are quick to detect inauthentic branding, are put off by companies that engage in “greenwashing” or are insincere in their commitment to social and environmental causes, and are more likely than previous generations to be averse to designs that overtly push branding messages. They appreciate subtlety and may be more drawn to brands that let their actions and values speak for themselves.
Generation Z (born 1997-2012)
Gen Zers are digital natives. They’ve grown up in a dynamic digital environment with constant stimulation as the norm (meaning that they find static visuals less engaging than previous generations). Their shorter attention spans are well-documented and bring with them the need for more ‘standout’ looks in brand design, i.e. design and brand language that can cut through and attract attention in a vibrant and dynamic social media world. Fun, informal and highly creative designs with immediate visual appeal are more likely to resonate. Gen Z look to being stakeholders in a brand and having a parasocial (what feels like a personal) relationship with it. To this end they seek out brands with an informal tone of voice that are highly relatable to them. Like Millennials, they value authenticity and appreciate brands that are transparent, genuine and socially responsible with a clear purpose and ethical practices. Diversity is a key value for Generation Z with inclusivity front and centre in imagery and messaging. Rejecting traditional gender stereotypes, they appreciate designs that represent a variety of perspectives, backgrounds and cultures, challenging and breaking free from age-old stereotypes.
Even the above, highly generalised timeline of the generations reveals common threads and trends that filter down through the generations. These sort of shared elements will be even more apparent when you drill down and get more sector, market and product or service-specific.
Design a flexible brand language
Once you have a strong sense of what will work, keep your core brand language (logo, colours, typography etc) consistent but don’t be afraid to vary your visual and verbal tonality and volume depending on who you’re speaking to. As an approach, this calls for a brand system that is adaptable; for example, one where you consider using pairs of typefaces – for example, one that’s contemporary alongside one that’s more classic. It’s important to provide detailed guidance on how and when to use the brand system to achieve the particular tone or effect you’re after.
If Opera branding demonstrates (rather appropriately) volume range. On the left ‘softly spoken’ type-only treatments. On the right when speaking to potentially younger audiences, If Opera can afford to be bolder with the application of the branding.
Beware the risks change can bring
When embarking on change of this sort, it’s important that you don’t forget your existing audiences and loyal followers. Is a full rebrand really necessary? Too much change can alienate a possibly more conservative audience. As with any branding exercise, consider what will work for everyone, what assets can you retain or subtly evolve? Is it really necessary to start from scratch?
Discover the World – With this travel brand, we saw the opportunity to retain key recognisable elements from the existing brand, evolving and extending them to ensure they maintained brand loyalty and also garnered broader relevance – moving far enough to compete with new brands attracting a younger customer base.
Good design comes first, and lasts
Just as a good song can be loved across generations, good design will resonate with a broad spectrum of people. While awareness of generational likes and dislikes is important, don’t just chase trends – seek out good design solutions that will bring your brand identity lasting-power and longevity.
Quartet – a strong brand idea appeals to all. In this instance the client wanted to tap into a new generation of prospective philanthropists from the vibrant tech and creative economy in the West of England. While the resulting brand identity is fresh and contemporary, it’s underpinned by a strong brand concept whose meaning and depth means it has also been received really well by the existing donor base.
Take people with you
Whatever path you end up taking, when you’re looking to make changes that extend generational appeal, you have to ensure that you communicate the reasons behind the change – why it’s important to the success (maybe even survival) of your brand. Ensure that every stakeholder and every member of the team, from front-of-house, customer-facing individuals to those behind the scenes as well as your trustees, volunteers, partners, customers and clients, understand why it’s being done.
This is where the evidence-gathering and consultation steps come into their own. They give you the confidence to prove that you haven’t acted on a hunch but have fully engaged with your audiences both ‘old’ and new.
American Museum & Gardens – Following the renaming and rebranding of the American Museum and Gardens, we produced a short publication for staff and volunteers that outlined the brand rationale and key motivation for change. Extending the brand offering meant a name change and the opportunity to appeal to a younger family audience.
Authenticity is everything
One value whose importance spans the generations, from Baby Boomers to Generation Z, is authenticity. Being authentic and not forcing your brand into an identity that isn’t a true reflection of what you stand for, builds trust, respect and a strong reputation, as well as making you relevant and relatable.
If we think of it in terms of people in the public eye that we might be familiar with… Sir David Attenborough and Sue Perkins are very different but, in being true to themselves and allowing their personalities to come to the fore, they are able to garner cross-generational appeal. Brands, in this instance, are not that different from people.