Brands are constantly at the forefront of our minds due to the vast amount of advertising we are exposed to daily. In order to cut through this clutter, companies are constantly searching for new ways to connect with their current customer base as well as potential customers. Brands no longer want to just communicate to you what they are doing, they want to draw you in to get you engaged and involved with what they are doing.
Branding has become such a strong point of differentiation and competitive advantage for companies, but many brands are striving to be more than just a list of relatable traits and instead want to promote a true “lifestyle.” But how do you take the step from just wanting to be a lifestyle brand to actually positioning yourselves as such in the minds of consumers. Lululemon, a Canadian company specializing in luxurious fitness clothing, has done just this by community building. Building communities of loyal customers has been seen in other brands such as Apple and Harley Davidson; these virtual communities of loyal brand followers are not bound by their geographical locations and allow consumers to connect on a deeper level with other brand enthusiasts and the brand itself. Lululemon has taken this a step further by localizing their virtual communities and engaging with people face-to-face, thus increasing the connection felt by those involved.
Since opening stores in 2000, Lululemon has grown exponentially and found success in many markets around the world. Lululemon has taken its local approach of community building, and turned that into monetary success for the company on a global scale. How have they done this? I have narrowed it down to three key components that set Lululemon apart from competitors, authenticity of lifestyle, social media engagement, and commitment to local involvement.
Authenticity of Lifestyle
While many brands are trying to change from focusing on the functionality of their products and instead are appealing to customers with a “lifestyle” approach, not all have successfully done so in a way that feels authentic (Chernev, 2011). Furthermore, if the strategic switch from functionality to lifestyle branding is too far off from their previous appeal or doesn’t quite fit with the brand, it may have the opposite intended effect on consumers. With the opening of its very first store, the purpose for Lululemon was to create a hub in the community where customers could come to discuss, share, and learn about living a healthy lifestyle from physical to mental health (Lululemon Athletica, 2015). To this day, they still exemplify their mission statement of, “Creating components for people to live longer, healthier, fun lives.” Of course the functionality of their products and selling products is important, but has never been the sole focus of the company.
Social Media Engagement
Lululemon has a very decentralized approach to social media. They do not have just one social strategy, but instead each platform has its own strategy based on the user needs (Mann, 2014). Additionally, each store has its own Facebook page to connect with customers in the area. While some companies struggle to stay relevant and even seen by customers on Facebook due to changing algorithms, Lululemon does not have to worry about this as they have such a high level of engagement from customers. With teams dedicated to particular platforms, customers can expect quick responses to inquiries and conversations regarding new and potential products, yoga, and other common interests. Beyond being able to communicate with the brand, loyal customers can connect with one another in this space to share tips and tricks, help one another, and add to the strong sense community.
Commitment to Local Involvement
In addition to bringing these communities together online, Lululemon does the same in their stores. Adapting to the needs of local markets can be a significant investment of research and time but it has payed off for Lululemon. For example, nearly every store offers a free yoga class once a week that is open to the public and taught by local instructors who are ambassadors of the brand (Singer, 2012). These events help to strengthen relationships with customers and brand ambassadors alike. In addition, Lululemon also puts on large-scale events in targeted markets bringing the community together to sweat it out and connect with like-minded people. Anyone who works for the brand, from the store level, those working at the guest education centre, to people working for the head office have a genuine love and passion for yoga culture.
While its authenticity of lifestyle, social media engagement, and commitment to local involvement have definitely set Lululemon apart from competitors, there are a multitude of reasons as to why their approach has worked so well. In Personality, person-brand fit, and brand community: An investigation of individuals, brands, and brand communities, an article by Kurt Matzler and colleagues published in the Journal of Marketing Management in August 2011, they explore the relationships within these brand communities. The focus is on two main relationships, customers’ relationships with the brand and the relationship between customers and the brand communities. They found that individuals are more likely to feel attached to a brand community and its members if they are extroverts who possess the qualities of being social, assertive, and active. This is an interesting implication as it could suggest that some of the success of Lululemon in establishing brand communities could be due to their customer base rather than their efforts in creating a loyal brand community. It was also found that affection for the product does play a large role in customers’ willingness to connect with the brand community. Therefore, without their consistent superior quality of products that customers value, Lululemon may not have the brand following and communities that it does. While establishing brand communities may not be the answer for every company, it has proven to be a success for Lululemon.
Matzler, K., Pichler, E., Fuller, J., & Mooradian, T. A. (2011). Personality, person-brand fit, and brand community: An investigation of individuals, brands, and brand communities. Journal Of Marketing Management, 27(9/10), 874-890. doi:10.1080/0267257X.2010.543634
MANCUSO, J., & KAREN, S. (2015). Creating Community. Marketing Insights, 27(1), 20-21.
Chernev, A. (2011, June 7). Pros and Cons: Should you embrace lifestyle branding? Retrieved from Advertising Age: http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/marketers-puma-embrace-lifestyle-branding/228028/
Lululemon Athletica. (2015). Lululemon Athletica: our company history. Retrieved from http://www.lululemon.com/about/history
Mann, J. (2014, June 12). Building a Brand and Lifestyle Through Customer Engagement. Retrieved from Social Media for Business Performance: https://smbp.uwaterloo.ca/2014/06/building-a-brand-and-lifestyle-through-customer-engagement/
Singer, J. (2012, October 23). Lululemon: A Cult, a Phenoenon, or Just a Great Brand. Retrieved from The Robin Report: http://www.therobinreport.com/lululemon-a-cult-a-phenomenon-or-just-a-great-brand/
Photo Credit: http://pixeldreams.com/blog/brand-culture-from-the-bottom-up-christine-day-lululemo/