Storyteller, Podcaster, Marketer, Commonsku’s Chief Content Officer, and long-standing friend and mentor to Brand Fuel, Bobby Lehew, put his brain on WiFi and shared with creative abandon. We hosted Bobby for an exclusive event and here are our top 10 takeaways!

1. Embracing Playfulness and Collaboration. To create covetable merch, brands must embrace playfulness, collaborate wisely, and balance exclusivity with inclusivity. By respecting the influence of culture and navigating exclusivity and inclusivity, brands can elevate themselves to be a part of today’s cultural zeitgeist.

2. Demographic Shifts in the Workforce. The workforce demographics are shifting dramatically. Millennials comprise the oldest segment, while Gen-Z represents about one-third of the workforce. By 2025, over 75% of the workforce will be digital natives, and Gen Alpha will enter the workforce in the late 2020s.

“Merch Madness” article in Eater by Linni Kral. Illustration by Carolyn Figel

3. Cultural Relevance in Merch. Younger audiences, particularly Gen-Z and Gen Alpha, view merch as an extension of cultural relevance and self-expression. Successful merch combines good design, brand meaning, and the creation of items that are both covetable and impactful. Brands don’t need to be huge to create cultural relevance; understanding and leveraging cultural trends is key.

Mill Scale, a small but mighty brand, in Lockhart, TX gets merchandising!

5. Engagement and Fan-Fueled Merch. Fan engagement drives the success of merch. Notable examples include President Biden’s “Dark Brandon” meme merch, which significantly boosted campaign traffic and sales. Branded merch has evolved from a marketing tool to an integral part of business strategy, with fans and consumers expecting innovative and meaningful merchandise.

6. Merch as Experiential Marketing. Merch is the original form of experiential marketing with social impact. Items like books and Formula 1 merchandise demonstrate how tangible, unique products hold social currency. This trend underscores the importance of creating merch that resonates deeply with audiences, offering them a piece of the brand they can cherish.

7. Inclusivity in Merch. Inclusivity in merch design and marketing is crucial. Brands are increasingly focusing on creating products that cater to a more diverse audience, including various sizes, genders, and ages, without upcharges. This inclusivity not only broadens the market but it also fosters a deeper connection with consumers.

8. The Boutique Merch Experience. Low-risk personalized and exclusive merch experiences, such as Pop-Up Shops, are gaining popularity. These experiences offer unique and limited-edition items, attracting dedicated customers and creating a sense of urgency and exclusivity. Hello FOMO for PROMO!

9. Impact and Social Responsibility. Modern consumers, especially younger ones, care deeply about the impact and inclusivity of the brands they support. Socially responsible sourcing and messaging are crucial for building brand loyalty and engagement. Brands that demonstrate a commitment to social and environmental causes can significantly enhance their appeal and credibility. Hello B Corp movement!

10. The Future of Branded Merch. As we move further into the digital age, the landscape of merch will continue to evolve. Brands must stay innovative, culturally relevant, and responsive to demographic shifts to maintain their competitive edge. By leveraging these trends, brands can create powerful connections with their audiences and elevate their status from products to cultural icons.

Over 500,000 of the iconic The New Yorker tote bags have been purchased!! “I’ve been at Conde Nast for almost 20 years, and I’ve never seen
anything like this.” -Dwayne Sheppard, VP, Consumer Marketing.

We’re turning it up to 11 with this bonus tip. Death of the Follower. Founder of Patreon, Jack Conte, said “It’s about depth, it’s about quality of interaction, it’s about finding that small portion of your fans that are your engine, that are your core, and then figuring out how to reach them. Building deep connections with a dedicated fanbase, rather than chasing ever-increasing views and subscribers, is the key to long-term success.” 5% of your fans will drive 90% of business. What’s key is that deeper connections with fans are more important than more fans. Direct-to-fan connection is a good future strategy. Yes, it may be time to revisit your marketing plan.

PS Include merch.

The old swag: Sh*t we all get. The new merch: The gear we covet!