4 Tips for Attracting a Younger Audience — Without Alienating Your Core

John Glasgow, Co-Founder

John Glasgow, Co-Founder


A brand’s target consumer is its holy grail – you need to protect that core at all costs. And when it comes to defining that target, age is often the first criteria identified, as the highest-level definition of that group. Broadening your reach beyond that defined age bracket may risk alienating your base. But over-cautiousness leads to stagnation, and you could be missing a huge opportunity for growth.

The good news: if you pitch it right, skewing younger can unlock a new demographic without eroding your stronghold. In fact, it can inject new life into everything you do.

As a consumer, I’m a case in point. I’m in my 40s. I have responsibilities; I don’t go out as much as I used to. But I still relate and aspire to the younger version of myself, and that influences my perception of the brands I choose to align with.

I don’t want brands to speak to me like I’m a 40-something. I don’t identify with the likes of Gap or Banana Republic. I’m attracted to a brand like Paul Smith because of its style and ethos, but also because those subtly playful under-the-collar moments and inside-of-jacket details nod towards that younger version of me.

Too many brands miss a trick by trying to reach an older target by pitching themselves as older too. There’s truth in the saying that you’re as old as you feel, and as a consumer I’m not alone in identifying with brands that appeal to a younger version of myself.

Here are four tips for targeting a younger audience without alienating your brand’s core.

1) Broaden your appeal

Consumer segmentation studies are an opportunity to better understand the specifics of your core audience, and why your brand appeals to them. They can provide the insight you need to defend your stronghold, but their value goes far beyond that: it’s time to see them as an opportunity to identify your brand’s next big bets.

To broaden appeal to a new, younger tribe, you must first be confident about your stronghold. If a consumer has a long-running relationship with your brand, will they stay on the journey if your social media or campaign messaging shifts, or your brand’s look and feel evolves?

One interesting example is the adult diaper brand Depends. Once pitched squarely at an older demographic for whom incontinence may be part of the aging process, its recent brand refresh broadened the scope to younger consumers who might require the product for various other reasons – including a name change to the more active ‘Depend’.

If you’ve built a strong brand, and created products and experiences that they love, your stronghold won’t run away overnight if you begin shifting your gaze to a new audience. But it’s a delicate balance to strike.

2) Pick your battles

Broadening your brand’s appeal doesn’t just have to be at a campaign level: the necessary changes can happen at the very heart of your brand. This starts with your key brand assets.

Some KBAs must remain sacred – they are essential to retain brand recognition for that stronghold. But building some flex into your brand architecture unlocks the opportunity to evolve and modernise your brand.

By evolving your brand’s story, and being more flexible with how it’s expressed across different touchpoints – whether POS, OOH campaigns, or on the product itself – you can also limit disruption with your stronghold when you update your model selects for use in lifestyle comms, for instance.

Be smart about it. It’s not about a wholesale shift from a beige brand to a neon pink brand, but about finding more subtle ways to elevate your brand into something more contemporary that appeals to younger audiences.

If your brand palette includes two core colours, introducing a more edgy accent colour in the right places could have a transformational effect. Its use can flex according to the touchpoint in question, for a brand expression that’s more daring and expressive.

Fonts and graphic details can make a big difference, too. Burberry was a brand in decline, in dire need of a refreshed story and look. When chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci collaborated with Peter Saville on a bold new contemporary look a few years back, the brand gained new aficionados. Others left at first, but then returned because they love the product, and they love the brand.

It was a big shift to lose the signature jousting knight, the old-fashioned serif font, in favour of a big, bold sans serif wordmark. Now, ‘crest’ graphics only show up in certain select places rather than being emblazoned across the logo. Like Paul Smith, the brand personality thrives in the little details.

3) Embrace collaborations

If a wholesale rebrand isn’t on the cards, well-chosen collaborations can have a transformative effect on brand perception and engage your next big bet almost overnight if they’re delivered well.

In recent years, Clarks has injected youthful excitement into its brand, particularly through its Clarks Originals imprint. Wearing Clarks was a big part of Jamaican culture going as far back as the 1960s, and while the brand may have ignored it at the time, they’ve embraced it in 2020.

Some collaborations are more left-field – like Kellogg’s joining forces with Capsule to launch a clothing collection – but when it’s executed well, the tension between brands that don’t live in the same lane can create buzz and excitement.

4) Be bold and confident

Most importantly, skewing younger doesn’t mean ripping everything up and pandering to a totally new demographic. If your core consumers are in their 40s or 50s, suddenly pivoting to target Gen Z will jar. The safest big bet for any brand is the younger version of your stronghold: the brand remains appealing and familiar and taps into their youthful mindset.

If a consumer – for the sake of argument, let’s call her ‘Jane Boring’ – has always responded to safe, familiar territory, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to reach her. Think of it as an opportunity to engage a new facet of her personality. We all draw excitement and intrigue from somewhere: there’s a ‘Jane Exciting’ in there if you know where to look.

Drunk Elephant is a great example: its product range is built around ‘anti-aging’ benefits, but the brand avoids such clinical-sounding terminology. While it’s built the trust and credibility to reassure an older demographic, Drunk Elephant’s brand expression has much broader appeal – from its playful brand name to the pops of neon that adorn its clean white packs.

Taking a new tack may turn some people off. But with a robust strategic vision behind your decisions, you can have the courage of your convictions.

John Glasgow, Co-Founder