Lifestyle is attractive business model for luxury brands
Last week, an article by Vanessa Friedman on the Financial Timesblog caught my attention. Published just before the Financial Times Business of Luxury summit held in Marrakech, Morocco, Friedman explored the growing trend of leveraging consumer lifestyle as a marketing strategy and candidly asked what it meant when “brands attach the word ‘lifestyle’ to themselves?”
Friedman wrote that the context of “lifestyle” as marketing term is mirky, convoluted and confusing to her as journalist. She has every right to feel that way. Why? Because most brands, luxury or otherwise, are searching for context and definition of “lifestyle” themselves.
Finding the true meaning of lifestyle is more than a simple exercise of creating a pretty infographic with words and ideals, it’s an internal search and a frank look at your company to find out what’s at the core of the issues you’re trying to address through marketing in the context of lifestyle. It goes to the very foundation of your brand strategy. – Macala Wright
Consumer purchases have purpose
The digital era has given consumers enormous voices and choices. The path to sales conversion has not been linear for nearly a decade and consumers can make or break a brand by simply vocalizing their opinions on social media platforms. Brands realize that to empower consumers to purchase with a purpose and embark on digital programs the brand must maintain its relevance to current and would be customer bases. In order to do this, brands must reach and resonate with customers in the communities where those customers interact–Twitter, Facebook, brand portals and Pinterest. So how can a brand do that? The easiest way, it seems, is to look at the consumer’s lifestyle.
Legacy brands will have a tough, tough time unless they borrow from their more authentic peers. - Mich Baranowski, BBMG
Let’s start by defining what lifestyle is and is not. Lifestyle is not just based on product offering, categories and skus. A lifestyle is something that a person lives as an individual. It’s created from his or her own unique experiences, interests and possessions that make up each consumer’s world. A person’s life, and therefore lifestyle, is a multifaceted place that no brand or marketing executive can ever fully understand.
Putting lifestyle into context for luxury
We must be honest with ourselves as brands or marketers. Can we honestly expect to market to the depth and complexities of our consumers’ lives? Realistically, no. But what we can do are craft ideas about our target audiences, back those assumptions with internal data and external information gained from consumer marketing research and address the people we wish to reach into segments. We then can overlay the concept of marketing to specific audiences while marketing to the masses with a big picture strategy.
“There’s traditionally a gap between brand and strategy,” says John Caswell of Group Partners. “Brands need to focus on how to get into the heart and mind of the consumer, this requires focus on way more than the bottom line. Too often the problem a brand is trying to address is not what they assume or think it is. While a brand may focus on revenue as the end result of leveraging lifestyle as marketing tactic, it will definitely need to focus on and understand its relevance to its consumer first.”
When it comes to luxury, digital and how to infuse lifestyle attributes (a few or many) into a brand’s marketing mix, I often explain it by saying:
Fashion is a mask. It tells the story that its creator wants to tell the world, it doesn’t go below the surface to tell an inner story. That’s too vulnerable a place to be. We cannot lead someone to dark places filled with insecurity, pain or doubt. Instead, we always need to project out what could be–aspiration that brings joy, inspiration and influence behaviors that lead to positive changes in someone’s life.– Macala Wright, publisher, FMM
This is why and where lifestyle comes into play–articulating marketing aspiration and inspiration is something that brands, especially luxury brands, know how to do very well.
Luxury shifts to lifestyle because of social pressures
Luxury today has shifted due to social pressures. Mich Baranowski of BBMG also notes that consumers no longer want to simply purchase products, they want to connect with the brands they buy. In the age of austerity, Luxury is no longer always about merchandise; it now includes purchasing behaviors that support ethical, environmentally friendly and sustainably delivered goods, according to Chris Sanderson, CEO of The Future Laboratory, in an interview with BBC.
Lifestyle is about social values that incite action
So in essence, lifestyle is about the social values, conversation and collaboration between groups of like-minded individuals, which Francois Henri Pinault of PPR Group eluded to in his conference speech when he stated ”lifestyle is a shared behavior.” The end product of a successful lifestyle marketing strategy is action.
Action is subjective; it can be simple or complex
While these examples are good inspiration for brands wishing to go deeper in their digital engagement strategies, most brands are just starting to explore consumers’ lifestyles as part of their overall brand strategy. Moreover, lifestyle is a subjective term. What it means to one brand is not what it’s going to mean to another.
Taking a holistic approach
A brand’s passion and human connection, both within a company and toward its consumers, will drive its lifestyle marketing strategy and subsequently address Kevin Kleinmann of Universal Music’s four “E’s”–emotion, experience, exclusivity and engagement. Now that you’ve got a better grasp on the concept and context of lifestyle, as well as what goes into creating successful programs under the banner, I’d encourage brand marketers far and wide to go beyond surface level when leveraging it as part of their marketing strategy.
Strategy, no matter what the platform (social, lifestyle, media, digital), needs to be unique to the brand. Brands should not produce a one-off version of the Holstee Manifesto, nor should they focus solely on data based on Micheal Stars’ “one size fits most” model. Most often traditional business models won’t work. In fact, they’ll fail because they’re not well rounded and they’re not made to suit that specific brand with a specific set of issues.
As Ron Johnson, current CEO of J. C. Penney and former SVP of retail operations at Apple, said during his presentation at FTBS last week: “Market research will always lead you to the same conclusions. You have to think outside the box to flourish.”
Take a Steve Jobs stance, stay foolish… and go way outside the box.
Photo Credit: Murphy Photography