What even is a Lifestyle Brand?
Lifestyle: we’ve heard that word a million times, and it’s an idea swept up by businesses spanning all market sectors who position themselves as “lifestyle brands”. The idea that brands should understand their clients’ attitudes, opinions, and behaviours in order to sell products that enhance a desirable lifestyle seems pretty straight forward. But, the term itself is vague to say the least—since it first took off in the fashion and beauty industries, now any brand seems to position itself within the lifestyle category. Brands who were once performance driven have ditched straight-up branding in favour of lifestyle positioning within the past decade. So, what is a lifestyle brand? Does lifestyle branding work for all businesses?
There are various definitions of the term lifestyle, according to the Collins English dictionary it’s the “living conditions, behaviour, and habits” of a particular person or group of people. According to the Oxford English dictionary, it’s simply “the way in which a person lives”, or “products designed to appeal to a consumer by association with a desirable lifestyle”. At the core of lifestyle is the ability for consumers to express an identity and share it with others. We are all in different ways constantly curating an identity, and making purchase decisions that signify to our peers what kind of person we are, or which group we want to be part of.
Branding is exactly about belonging to a group, and lifestyle branding taps deep into the target audience’s way of living in order to make sense of who they are as a culture, and deliver a distinct experience. Lifestyle brands don’t just acknowledge subcultures as if they were demographics, they dig deep to understand the in and outs of their target audiences’ way of living as a group and as individuals. They understand how their target audience want to be perceived by their peers, the activities and experiences that they aspire to, and the things that motivate them. Lifestyle brands operate in the perspective that traditional advertising and branding alone isn’t enough to convert savvy audiences who crave distinct experiences and a sense of belonging over products.
As such, the three cornerstones of a lifestyle brand are:
Loyalty to a Subculture
Using lifestyle as a temporary means to create quick a return is less effective than being dedicated to a subculture in the long run. Surfwear company Quicksilver dedicated their brand to the lifestyle of surfers since it started in the late sixties, and now continues to dominate the surfwear scene nearly four decades later.
Overt branding and product take a back seat, whilst lifestyle activities take centre stage. Lululemon’s brand revolves around yoga, lifestyle activities such as yoga classes and festivals take centre stage, whilst products are weaved into their carefully curated experience.
Sense of Community
Individuals are brought together though a shared aspect of their lifestyles—the brand becomes a background platform through which audiences connect. The Nike+ app brings together users who share an interest in running, allowing them to share their running routes and receive feedback from peers—fostering a sense of community between users whilst the Nike brand takes a back seat.
When lifestyle first took off in fashion, brands could widen their offering and extend their reach across neighbouring industries. Take for example, Stella McCartney which started as an ethical clothing line that resonated with veggie fashionistas. The brand has since launched perfumes, a lingerie collection, and ongoing partnership with Adidas to produce sport performance collections—capturing every aspect of its audiences’ lifestyle. In travel, businesses benefit from social media influencers, who turn their social accounts into lifestyle brands that resonate with and create the desires and aspirations of their thousands of followers. With their lifestyle brands, travel influencers can stride several sectors outside of travel itself whether it be food, beauty, or technology, connecting with users in a social way. Lifestyle branding can increase the breadth of a business’s offering and create emotional connections between brand and audience, however it’s not always the best move for everyone.
Not all businesses should be lifestyle brands.
With lifestyle positioning placing so much emphasis on subtle marketing, it’s easy to lose track of actually selling product. Understanding your target audience culture, is after all part of your marketing approach, and marketing exists to aid sales. Lifestyle positioning shouldn’t be a buzz word thrown into your marketing mix, think about your product or offering and where it best sits in your sector—not all businesses should be lifestyle brands.
Lifestyle branding is not a license for a less than good product. Whilst lifestyle brands avoid placing emphasis on product in favour of crafting a distinct experience, using lifestyle temporarily to generate hype around a poor product isn’t sustainable. At the end of the day your product still needs to hold its ground, be it quality, competitive pricing, functionality, and of course effective branding. Lifestyle can’t exist without branding—it’s the fundamental tool for communicating your message to your target audience no matter what your brand is.
Businesses seeking to position themselves as lifestyle brands should be aware that consumers can easily sense whether something is authentic or not. Does your business’s offering call for lifestyle positioning? Audiences don’t want to feel like brands are dictating and defining their lives, but rather adding value to their lifestyles. Don’t overstep boundaries—audiences know the difference between brand and way of life. Stand by your company values, and go back to them in everything you do.
Lifestyle brands can benefit from a valuable consumer following and emotional connections through a deep understanding of their audiences’ culture, however when used as a temporary marketing tactic lifestyle branding can backfire. Not all businesses should be lifestyle brands—in a marketing climate that’s saturated with emotional storytelling and subtle cues, a straightforward approach and focus on exceptional product can be refreshing.