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Modernity vs heritage: How Levi Strauss & Co continues to stay relevant 170 years on

Modernity vs heritage: How Levi Strauss & Co continues to stay relevant 170 years on

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A well-fitted pair of jeans is a wardrobe staple and thankfully, Levi’s has had us covered for decades. A heritage brand in every sense, with a history of 170 years, Levi’s has undoubtedly set a standard for how brands can adapt to the times and remain relevant no matter its ever-evolving target demographic.

In fact, despite the introduction of new brands and through the ebbs and flows of culture, generations, fashion trends and social media finds, Levi's continues to stand out and be at the forefront when one thinks about a good pair of jeans. 

To get a clearer idea on just how Levi’s has managed to do this, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE sat down with Hervé Bullot, the marketing director at Levi Strauss & Co in the East Asia-Pacific region, to learn more about their strategies. 

The most crucial way to remain relevant, according to Bullot, is to adapt your brand’s customer experience strategy to keep in tune with a brand’s evolving target audience. Bullot stated that while Levi’s is a heritage brand, it consistently looks at ways in which it can contemporise its brand values and evolve the strategy through partnerships and collaborations that resonate with younger consumers.

Don't miss: Levi’s expands retail footprint in Asia to connect with growing base of young consumers

“For example, in Asia, our partnership with K-Pop group NewJeans as Levi’s new global brand ambassadors, our participation in renowned events such as Lollapalooza in India, as well as our global partnership with the world’s largest hip-hop music festival, Rolling Loud, were driven by our understanding of the significance of music and subcultures to our younger audiences,” he said.

A key ingredient that spices up Levi’s consumer strategy though is its focus on direct-to-consumer, which is an omnichannel approach to retailing its products. Bullot stated that by retailing its products directly to its consumer, Levi’s is in a better position to pivot easily to meet changing trends in consumer demand and to bring greater results of product innovation with a shorter lead time. For instance, sustainability is all the rage at the moment, which means that to appeal to consumers, brands need to proactively bump up their sustainability efforts to meet their ESG goals.

In line with that, Levi’s took its iconic 501 jeans range and introduced its ‘circulose’ 501 jeans in early 2022, which are jeans made from fully recycled textile waste such as worn-out cotton jeans. As part of Levi’s’ WellThread initiative, which is the main vehicle to drive the brand’s sustainability efforts, the brand prioritises environmental conservation in all its materials, amidst other priorities such as product durability, circular lifecycles, and producing garments in factories that promote workers’ wellbeing. 

How does Levi’s shape its marketing strategies?

Treading the fine line between following trends and remaining true to its heritage seems to be the secret to Levi’s marketing strategy. Underpinned by a deep understanding of consumers’ needs and desires, Levi’s aims to bring with it the most value when it engages with brands. For example, sustainability and women empowerment are two issues that the brand has long been passionate about, which according to Bullot's observation, are some of the values which matter most to consumers today. 

“When it comes to our business – and that includes our marketing strategies – one non-negotiable is our underlying 'profits through principles' approach. We do not trade responsible social conduct for business performance. Standing firm on this approach has allowed us to choose right over wrong and has guided us in managing the business for the long term,” Bullot added.

Other than being trend-forward, BuIlot highlighted that Levi's also regularly alters its strategy to leverage the advancements in the tech and digitalisation space. He stated that Levi’s supercharges how it connects with its consumers by embedding these advancements in almost all aspects of its operations – from product innovation, retail experience to customer engagement.

“For example, we’ve noticed that livestream shopping has gained popularity in the region, especially within South Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia - and we have seen strong results in driving conversions. We’ve been experimenting with the technology and with livestream shopping pilots on platforms such as Twitch. We also acknowledge the potential of the metaverse, and have collaborated with platforms such as Zepeto, a South Korean app which has attracted over 340 million users in major Asian countries and globally since its launch in 2018, to add a new dimension to the shopping experience,” Bullot said.

On the AI front, Levi’s has leaned into using AI tools in its customer management strategy, specifically to enable it to scale personalisation for its customers.

He said:

With AI, we are able to predict and put forth customer connection touch points that are likely to resonate with each of our loyalty members.

This eventually leads to a better-informed purchasing experience, he explained. 

The next generation of shoppers

Largely comprising Millennials and Gen Zs, the next generation of shoppers carries with it a high purchasing power. For Millennials, according to Bullot, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of hybrid work arrangements and a casualisation of office wear, with many within the workforce moving towards traditionally dressed down elements.

He said that with Gen Z, Levi’s has noticed a strong influx of shoppers entering the consumer market who are heavily influenced by social media, and with whom online content and trends create a huge sway in purchasing decisions. One example of this is the trend of Y2K fashion which found its prominence on TikTok.

In conjunction with being influenced by social media, Gen Z consumers are also being influenced by their moral compasses. “We are also noticing the new generation of shoppers increasingly prioritising spending on brands that align with their own values, beliefs and causes.

In Asia, there is a surge in ethical shopping alongside a growing awareness of social and environmental issues. Ultimately, to effectively and authentically connect with the next generation of shoppers in the region, long-standing brands such as Levi’s need to be present during key cultural moments that matter to their consumers,” Bullot said.

With Levi's, Bullot explained, the brand’s longevity can be partly attributed to its ability to innovate to meet consumer demands and preferences, while still remaining true to its long-held commitment to providing customers with high-quality denim that can last them a lifetime. It does so by consistently adapting to evolutions in consumer demands and changing socio-economic priorities on a broader scale while holding true to its guiding principle of producing well-made apparel that brings value to its wearers.

“As a company, our heritage is not just an origin story, but a rich guidebook of foundational principles that we can constantly learn from and build innovations upon."

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Related articles: 
Levi’s expands retail footprint in Asia to connect with growing base of young consumers
Levi’s names NewJeans as new global brand ambassadors
Levi’s appoints OMD China as media agency

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