In the January 2016 issue of Elle magazine, you’ll find an interview with designer Alexander Wang. Wang’s work may already be familiar to you – he was at Balenciaga for quite a while, and H&M after that. Some of the article features his new collection; think very high end bicycle chains, wrought in palladium or gold, a clean yet industrial look. However, the more important bit, at least from a marketing perspective, comes later in the piece, where Wang shares his thoughts on what really matters to people: donning the traditional trappings of status or expressing their own individuality.
“Yes, 100 percent, the customer is and wants to be part of a tribe,” Wang says. “Individuality is important, but people are connected to their peers and their gang through shared values and ideals.[…]. Someone who is not in the know—or has different priorities—will not value that product. It’s that shared knowledge of the value of something that creates a tribe.”
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Wang also calls out social media, particularly Instagram, as a source of inspiration, highlighting how he finds value not necessarily in an image but in the sensibility of the person who created that image; he is explicitly finding value in the way Millennials, who make up by far the largest segment of Instagram users, see the world.
We know that Millennials place a great value on being seen and recognized as interesting, remarkable people. There is also a high premium placed on the idea of intentional community – what Wang refers to as a tribe – among this demographic. None of this conversation translates immediately or obviously to jewelry, but that doesn’t matter to Wang: he’s out there talking about finding and sharing meaning in the world around him because that is what matters to him and to his customers.
There’s a lesson in this for all designers and brands. Jewelry has a reputation for being superficial – its reason for being is to ornament ones’ self – but that doesn’t mean that its wearers or creators are. Understanding how your customers see themselves in the world, knowing what’s important to them, and being able to articulate this via both your design and your messaging helps streamline the process of creating legions of loyal fans.