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A Different Type of Brand Relevance Pt. 1

Brand relevance moves beyond the need for a product. How audiences want to be perceived and what is culturally in controls how apropos brands are.

If a brand likens to a person, the logo is their face. It’s the first thing you see and the initial trigger of any emotion. That first encounter leaves a seismic first impression, followed by further necessary context to help shape our opinions. We’ll never judge a book by its cover, but we’ll always naturally make pre-empted assumptions of what’s to come.

What comes next is the look of the goods or services provided. I’m going to be applying my focus on fashion brands, mostly. Music, fashion and entertainment are easy ways to track cultural trends. And you can never escape fashion.

How does a brand become fashionable? Amongst some critical contributing factors, like design and exposure, the culture that sheaths it determines the brand's relevance. Let’s look at a recent resurgence in the fashion world: workwear brands; over the last ten years, there’s been a flurry of fashion nomads who have steered us sheep away from the high streets names like Top Man, River Island, and Zara, and into the rough, but always ready arms of Carhartt, Dickies, Stepney Working class, and The North Face.

I traded in the light blue skinny jeans for something more relaxing, and in the process, adopted a new logo. Figuratively and literally. We rebrand our wardrobe to stay relevant, as do brands themselves.

During the 70s, Carhartt underwent some crucial rebranding from the worker’s rights focus to a symbol of cultural progression, and then again during the 90s to the streetwear staple for hip hop artists and fans.

The North Face, fifteen years ago, was a brand no one outside of the hiking world wanted any affiliation with. It’s a symbol of style and a window into your monthly intake.

A once esoteric fashion corner is now a juggernaut seen by everyone. Fads that fall into this category tend to be spotted in more culturally trending cities, like London, New York, LA, Hong Kong, or Sydney, but quickly become ubiquitous – sweeping concrete avenues like wildfire.

So let’s talk about relevance.

In the UK, Carhartt is often preceded by WIP – Work In Progress – the streetwear-adjacent line. Although this line differs slightly regarding specific fits and partnerships, its core workwear values remain the same.

In the culturally steeped streets of Dalston, the yellow wave is a way of saying I get it without ever having to utter a syllable. It’s a mutual agreement of trend and culture. A logo – a piece of graphic design printed and stitched onto the Michigan or the OG Chore. That’s essentially what it is. But if you ever find yourself residing in the country's more disconnected areas and spot somebody else sporting the same silhouette, you take notice. And you do this in a way that is different to seeing the Polo or the two C’s. It brings you closer to a culture that you had no real business being a part of in the first place.

Brands like Chanel, Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren, and Lacoste had their time in the sun. They reigned supreme before Supreme. What was popular became unpopular and faulted, and therefore the culture shifted. Brands had no choice but to follow. Diesel’s recent reimagination makes a great example of this. Navigated by creative director and visionary Glenn Martens, in 2020, the brand transcended from the heavily influenced noughties look into the street-wear savvy brand worn by Dua Lipa and Kylie Jenner.

The logo didn’t change, but its personality did. And guess what? It stayed relevant.

Stussy and Palace are worn by people who have never stepped foot in a skatepark, but they resemble that culture when they’re wearing an oversized long-sleeve t. They represent it.

As I’ve mentioned in Brand Is Life, I wear Nike when playing basketball because of the feeling I get when I lace them up. Nike isn’t necessarily the most efficient trainer; that could be On Cloud. They’re also not the best regarding cushioning and torsional support; that could be Asics. But in a world dictated by trends, their name lives paramount. And why is that? The simplicity of the swoosh? The ambrosial athletic notes that grip your nostril as you unbox a pair of AF1s? The culture around Just Do It? It’ll differ from person to person. But one incontrovertible point is that Nike emanates coolness and relevance.

Style doesn’t start with the logo; it begins much earlier than that, within the company and their objectives. Apple wanted to make technology simple, so its designs naturally embodied that focus. Jaguar wanted to make luxury cars, so everything in their catalogue followed in the same vain. Carhartt made clothes for the working man. Folks who worked on the railway lines of America during the start of the twentieth century needed something durable and resilient – now, over a hundred years on, people living in historically working-class city boroughs want to represent that image. We saw young people amass and pull away from the cleanness of the pony and embrace the ruggedness of a hard day's work.

So, when it comes to that brand strategy, consider how your brand could one day beam with cultural relevance and the nuances needed for that to happen. Predicting trends and where your brand aligns has never been more critical.

You can’t control your brand's history, but you can navigate its future.

Stay tuned for part two of, A Different Type of Brand Relevance.

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