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The future of brand building is “community first,” Shaina Zafar, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Gen Z specialist shop JUV Consulting, said at Brandweek this week. “You are co-creating with your audience—not treating them as guinea pigs but as partners.”
Brands building community was a theme that emerged at Adweek’s annual marketing conference, this year taking place in Miami. Two prime examples of this are luggage retailer Away and Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty, both of which are part of a wave of new brands that aim to be socially driven.
Away’s audience is “co-creating with us,” said CMO Carla Dunham. “That’s something that’s been part of our DNA from the beginning.”
That approach came into play in its partnership earlier this year with Willie Norris, the Brooklyn-based fashion designer and queer activist. Away enlisted Norris to design an exclusive capsule collection of luggage that it did not sell—instead, it gifted the products to the LGBTQ+ community.
In contrast to brands’ typical attention-grabbing marketing for Pride, Away’s collaboration with Norris was “not intended to be writ large,” Dunham said. “We asked [Norris] to tell us what she wanted to say … giving her a bigger audience.”
Bringing people together
Like Away, Rare Beauty has embedded social listening into the foundations of its brand. This ethos is down to the fact that Gomez “did not set out to make a celebrity beauty brand. She truly set out to build a brand that could make a difference,” said Rare Beauty CMO Katie Welch.
Months before Rare Beauty launched in 2020, the brand began engaging and seeking feedback from its future fans. During the pandemic, the team held weekly Zoom calls with community members; their feedback went on to inform the brand’s larger purpose.
“What we heard was they wanted trusted resources in mental health and weren’t having those conversations at home or in school,” said Welch. “[We realized] we could be that conduit as a brand. We could not educate on mental health, but we could bring in trusted partners.”
From those conversations, Rare Beauty established its mental health council, which includes resources for those experiencing a mental health crisis. While it’s an issue close to the heart of founder Gomez, it has also become a core driver of the beauty brand’s community.
Those early Zoom calls have now morphed into in-person events, such as meetups at local Sephora stores or hikes in Los Angeles. Recently, to mark its three-year anniversary, Rare Beauty held a pop-up with a “gratitude truck” to thank fans in Santa Monica.