Stephan Kanlian, chair and professor, cosmetics and fragrance marketing and management, welcomed attendees to the college. By way of introduction, Kanlian noted he had just completed his 18th anniversary at FIT, and thanked the person who gave him the opportunity to develop a leadership program for FIT, Dr. Joyce F. Brown, president, Fashion Institute of Technology.
Brown acknowledged that she had made a good choice, saying, “The annual Capstone is the highlight of our year. Our students explore themes of great relevance, and it is a source of pride for the program and for academia.”
She thanked sponsor, Shiseido Americas for its support of the program and noted that its Capstone theme this year, The Future of Brands, represented one of the essential points of distinction at FIT, namely its link to the industry. She also acknowledged the support of the FIT Advisory Board, offered congratulations to the class of 2017, and thanked Kanlian, who has built “a gem of a program.”
Tomoko Yamagishi-Dressler, SVP-marketing & sales, Ultra-Prestige Collection, Shiseido Americas, noted that Shiseido has eight FIT graduates on its employee roster.
“Brands can rise and fall on a whim. Our challenge lies in establishing agility and quality in our brand in order to compete in today’s marketplace,” she noted.
Marc Rey, president and CEO, Shiseido Americas, in a video message, delivered a welcome and congratulatory remarks to the class of 2017.
Consumer Evolution and The Future of Brands
Kanlian introduced the presentations with an overview of today’s retail climate. Noting the rapid rate of retail store closings, he said, “The time was right to do this research. Brands for us are very sacred. A consumer that is evolving, geo-political change and the impact of millennial consumers, places us at the center of pivotal change. This year’s student body met all the challenges and were an absolute delight. Their work is exemplary of the kind of leaders they are.”
The graduate students began by introducing the research they conducted on The Future of Brands. They noted that today’s consumer is more informed and vocal than ever. In their survey of millennial consumers, they gathered information from 4,000 participants nationwide, between the ages of 18 and 34 years old. Candidates utilized Google analytics to conduct their research, and their findings paint an overall picture of the consumer world today. According to their research, today’s expectation is for brands to find out what the consumer desires. Times have changed significantly since Walmart was the biggest retail outlet in 2004. Now, Amazon is in the number one slot.
Among their findings, students discovered that 40% of those surveyed look at price first; 42% want quality; and 37% value convenience and time-saving. However, students noted, these three aspects lack the emotional component, which, they asserted, must be there. If it is not, there is a “consumer gap,” which results in a crucial disconnect.
Millennials, they found, want to know what is behind a brand. Their research identified three needs that favor brands today. The first is transparency, the second is experience, and the third is community. Their research revealed that 45% of millennials surveyed say they will stop purchasing a brand that doesn’t own up to its mistakes; 49% want to give feedback; 29% want to be asked what they want; 44% value loyalty; and 40% value family and friend recommendations. It emerged that trust, fueled by transparency, experience, and community, were key to brand success.
Frequent connection yields trust, which they identified as “the propinquity effect.” Creating a Trust Loop, via transparency, experience, and community, is essential to building community.
Today’s brands are experiencing a consumer renaissance. The consumer is enlightened, and transitioning from a time of relying on brands for information, to self-empowerment. Today, consumers have the ability to delete a brand, noted presenters. Amazon Echo is democratizing Artificial Intelligence (AI), and brands that were markers of quality have become more fluid.
The students further examined data, interviewed industry executives, and conducted global research, while focusing on both Brand Expression and Brand Experience. They said consumers have lost trust and consumer hyper-connectivity has led to increased feelings of isolation. The traditional architecture of brand building has been challenged. Through the students’ quantitative research, insights were provided for brands to identify new ways to engage the changing consumer. While brands used to be a mark of quality, they said, today’s key brand attributes include trust, purpose, connection and community. They stated that, “Brands in the future must win the hearts, minds, and trust of their consumers.”
They identified a new paradigm called The Brand Humanization Theory, that assures that a brand stays true to its DNA. The theory focuses on three key elements. Brand Actualization focuses on purpose. Tom’s Shoes, which were cited as an example, is a brand that is known not only for its philanthropic efforts, but for its commitment to employees. Further, noted presenters, 84% of those surveyed believe that brands can make the world a better place. Students did acknowledge, however, that brands can lose focus on their purpose when profit and economics impact their positioning.
Brand actualization acknowledges that while brands cannot be everything to everyone, purpose is key; and small is the new big. Indie brands are compelling to millennials, and a brand like Sweet Green, for example, with a farm to table ethos, has found a way to connect consumers with healthy food, which an increasingly large community of consumers are favoring today.
Community continues to be a driving force. Reebok’s partnership with Cross Fit, for example, has enhanced its growth, and increased personalization continues to resonant with today’s consumer. Personalization of Scale, the second element in the theory suggests that each customer should be treated as a market of one. Students cited the example of Netflix, which personalizes film offerings based on a consumer’s preference. Third, was the Inside Out Organization, which emphasizes employee relationship management and cultivates an inclusive work environment where ideas flow freely between employees, and employees are empowered to be internal influencers, to help reach consumers in an authentic way. This encourages what students described as Community Fluidity, a symbiotic relationship between the brand and its community that allows the brand to be agile and responsive.
Further research revealed that e-commerce has fundamentally changed how consumers interact with brands. Mall traffic is down 13%, and year-to-date, 3,000 retail doors have closed and nine retailers have declared bankruptcy. Yet, US retail store inventory still exceeds other global markets.
Consumers are evolving faster than retailers, resulting in what the study defined as the Consumer Experience Gap. As only the most adaptable retailers will survive, the students took inspiration from Darwin’s evolutionary theory of VISTA, and developed five retail imperatives for the future of retail.
V stands for Variation. Stores need to provide unique and localized shopping experiences, offering flexibility and variation.
I is for Inheritance, which encourages retail associates to transmit the inherent DNA of the brand to better connect with customers.
S is for Selection, providing experience that transcend transaction and offer immersive brand experiences, social spaces, and lifestyle hubs.
T is for Time, which is becoming the number one currency for future shoppers.
Lastly, A is for Adaptation. As consumers pursue new experiences, it becomes essential to anticipate consumer expectations and provide fulfilling experiences.
Brands will need to evolve to adapt to consumers’ changing needs, said students, noting that without adaptation the result could be extinction. This study challenges retailers to select consumer experiences over consumption. Fifty-seven percent of US consumers said they wanted stores to serve a higher function than simply selling product. They noted the growth of curated spaces show-rooming particular brands, decentralizing retail product spaces, and offering short-term spaces, as well as community marketplaces.
According to the students, building an environment that offers discovery, socialization, and brand experience is key. Tomorrow’s brands will be more than products. Retailers and brands were urged to think beyond the shelves, combine sales of products with activities, classes, and events; cultivate environments where product trials and social salons can co-exist, and enable consumers to experience discovery.
A panel discussion on how brands are humanizing themselves and connecting with consumers, was led by Elizabeth Segran, staff writer, Fast Company, and included graduate students, Nicolas Vissat, marketing director, hair color, Matrix, L’Oréal USA; Crystal Sai, director, global business planning, MAC Cosmetics; Pragati Ruia, senior global brand manager, Unilever; and Morgan Hagney, senior marketing manager, L’Oréal Paris Cosmetics.
The Limited Brands Student Leadership Award, was presented by Mark Knitowski, senior vice president, fragrance and product innovation, Victoria’s Secret Beauty, Limited Brands, to Crystal Sai, Director, Global Business Planning, MAC Cosmetics.
The Scholarship Awards were presented by Dr. Giacomo M. Oliva, Vice president for academic affairs, FIT, and Dr. Brooke Carlson, associate professor, Master’s Program: Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management, FIT. Scholarship Award recipients were: Erin Cox Elder, media, Chanel; Stacey Goldstein, marketing, L’Oréal USA; Morgan Hagney, marketing, L’Oréal USA; and Katarina Kralj-Madiraca, digital customer retention, Estée Lauder Companies.
Outstanding Scholarship Award winners were: Nicolas Vissat, marketing, L’Oréal USA and Pragati Ruia, global brand development, Unilever.
The Coty Award for Professional Excellence was presented by Jessica Abrams, director of product development, Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare, and Simone Bolotin, senior director, US Influencer Marketing, Coty. The Award was presented to Lisa Sequino, current executive mentor. The award supports the Research Program with a $10,000 grant.
Estée Lauder Companies Faculty Leadership Award was presented by Jane Hudis, group president, The Estée Lauder Companies. The Award was presented to adjunct faculty member, Professor Mark Polson, and recognizes a faculty member for innovative teaching, coaching and mastery of material.
The Department Medal was presented by Jerry Vittoria, global head of fine
fragrance, Firmenich Inc./chairperson, CFMM Industry Advisory Board, and Kanlian. It was awarded to Crystal Sai, director, global business planning, MAC Cosmetics.
The award presentation was followed by a reception hosted by Shiseido Americas in honor of the Class of 2017, with piano accompaniment by Dr. Giacomo M. Oliva, VP-academic affairs, FIT.