Q&A with Chris ‘Drama’ Pfaff: Confessions of a Millennial Marketer

January 15, 2016

Editor's Note: This post was contributed by Rod Kurtz, a New York-based media strategist. It is part of LinkedIn Marketing Solutions: Financial Services’ new editorial series focused on creating conversations about topics that matter most to financial marketers.

When the name of your brand is “Young & Reckless,” chances are you're going to spend a lot of time thinking about millennials. Fortunately for Chris “Drama” Pfaff, founder and CEO of the fast-growing youth-apparel brand, he has the benefit of being one of them.

Born in suburban Ohio, Pfaff started Young & Reckless at the age of 22, after noticing a seemingly glaring hole in the massive streetwear market—brands were either exclusive to the point of exclusion, or they were so mainstream, they had lost any semblance of a meaningful message. He wanted to create a line of T-shirts, hoodies, and other apparel that spoke to a young generation of doers and dreamers, but didn't talk down to them, and was attainable for everyday kids at the malls he frequented during his own adolescence.

With 10 seasons of reality television also under his belt—as the unlikely co-star of the wildly popular MTV series Rob & Big and Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory—Pfaff also gained unique insights early on into how and where to reach the coveted 15-to-24 demographic.

Now 29 and based in Los Angeles, Pfaff and his team have grown Young & Reckless to nationwide distribution at outlets like Macy’s and PacSun, as well as on their own site—largely thanks to an authentic, behind-the-scenes social-media strategy that has netted them millions of followers on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and beyond, and increasingly, through original content like documentary shorts on inspirational young people.

For Part 1 of a two-part series, we recently sat down with Pfaff, to learn more about how his brand effectively targets millennials, where many brands go wrong, and what is perhaps the best $25,000 marketing spend you can make.

Q&A with Chris “Drama” Pfaff, Founder and CEO of Young & Reckless

LinkedIn: How would you describe the Young & Reckless mission statement?

Chris Pfaff: We support the disregard of rules, boundaries, and the status quo, in an effort to create a more enjoyable and productive life. That’s exhibited through our apparel, the visuals, the aesthetic, and the content we create. It’s really that 15-to-24—it’s that next generation of the people that are shaping the world we live in, the next generation of entrepreneurs, athletes, artists.

LinkedIn: What particular branding criteria does the Young & Reckless team keep in mind while building a business supported by a millennial audience?

CP: To me, it’s consistency. It’s consistency and constantly staying true to the core values of the brand and what we stand for. I think it’s all the way from the verbiage on the actual T-shirts, to the people we choose as brand ambassadors, to the general tone of all of our content that we create—everything from 140 characters on Twitter to the mini documentary series that we do and also in-store imagery that lives in thousands of malls across the country.

LinkedIn: Given Young & Reckless’ focus on apparel, what strategies have been most effective in carving out demand and creating brand loyalty?

CP: It’s really social media, more so than anything. When you’re dealing with third-party retailers, the amount of data that you get is really limited, so it’s almost impossible to tell brand loyalty, because you don’t know who’s a returning customer, etc. The best way to really grasp that is to look at the hashtags and the followers on social that are engaging with the brand.

LinkedIn: Millennials are not a one-size-fits-all group. How do you see the generation break down more specifically by culture, region, and beyond?

CP: To me, I think that’s a mistake that a lot of brands make. They aren’t all one category. And I think if you try to hit every single millennial, you’re going to fail. Our strategy is to be very strong in our messaging and our branding, and we’ll attract the ones that do relate to the brand. Those who are the most engaged will be the most loyal.

LinkedIn: For years now, as millions across social media know, you’ve run the #SpendReckless contest, where you give away $25,000 to one lucky Young & Reckless fan. How did that come about?

CP: Every year, right before the holidays, we do a contest, promoted through social media, where any of our fans can sign up. We encourage them to use the hashtag #SpendReckless throughout the contest, posting what they would do with the money, who they would help with the money. And at the end of the month, we select a winner at random and hand-deliver them $25,000. It’s really cool to not only get straight to the point—and there’s obviously nothing people love as much as cash—but throughout that month, you really get to see who your customer is, what their dreams are, what their troubles are, it really opens your eyes to what you’re doing as a brand.

A lot of times, people think too much about these campaigns and about these social-media engagement things and get all “in-depth.” What we realize is that our kids have a million messages coming across their screens and a million ways to engage, and we think it’s best to just get to the point and keep it simple. And nothing is as simple as $25,000 cash.

LinkedIn: To what extent do you and Young & Reckless feel pressure to innovate or align with advancements in technology, if at all?

CP: Realistically? To a pretty large extent. I think, for us, that means ecommerce and driving ecommerce sales, because retail sales are slowly, but surely, dipping. And I think for us, it’s a constant game of how to gain more traction on social media and through content and however we can to drive people to sales at our online store.

Coming soon: Part 2 of our conversation with Chris "Drama" Pfaff, where he opens up about how to win with video, where to find millennials, and why it's important to listen to them.

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