photo collage of sneakers, shirts, a hat

How to Build an Authentic Lifestyle Brand

Lifestyle brands build a connection with consumers beyond their wallets. Here’s how to become an authentic part of this movement.

Many yoga enthusiasts wouldn’t do downward-facing dog in anything but Lululemon. Those wanting a good night’s sleep think Casper mattresses are dreamy. And some people are so passionate about Sweetgreen, it’s hard to believe they’re talking about salads.

How do some brands achieve this kind of cult status to become so integrated in their customers’ lives? And how can your company become a lifestyle brand?

Living the Lifestyle

“Humans like being a part of a community or group—it’s ingrained in our DNA,” says Vic Drabicky, founder and CEO of marketing agency January Digital. “When a brand can effectively position itself as a lifestyle, you are giving customers a chance to be a part of that community.”

Recreation apparel company Outdoor Voices has succeeded by focusing on the health and happiness that comes from being active just for the fun of it rather than on athletic performance. The company shows its products on real people of all shapes and sizes, and customers share photos of themselves on social wearing the clothes with #doingthings.

Another example is skin care and beauty products company Glossier, which became a billion-dollar brand by embracing low-maintenance, comfortable-in-your-own-skin affordable beauty. The brand aesthetic is clean and simple, and influencers and media outlets have dubbed Glossier the “no-makeup makeup brand.”

Ultimately, lifestyle brands help define who or what your customers want to become and give them the solution to achieve their goals.

“Customers get value not only from the product but also the lifestyle it stands for and community that comes with it,” Drabicky says. “That truly valuable proposition can often lead to better loyalty and higher purchase frequency, and even give the brand the ability to increase prices.”

Customers get value not only from the product but also the lifestyle it stands for and community that comes with it.
— Vic Drabicky
Founder and CEO January Digital

Take a Stand

Customers’ lifestyles are more than the products they use. They have beliefs and values that guide them and causes they care about, and they want the companies they buy from to reflect that. In fact, nearly two-thirds of consumers buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue, according to a 2018 study by Edelman.

By standing for something and using their platform to make the world better, lifestyle brands can connect with customers on the issues that matter to them. For example, luggage company Away has partnered with Peace Direct, a nonprofit focused on grassroots peace building in areas of conflict worldwide. This is a natural extension for a travel business brand whose customers value the human connections made through global exploration.

Photo courtesy of LaCroix
The Best and Brightest

These companies are nailing the lifestyle brand game, says Anjelica Triola at Wethos. Here’s why.<br><br/>Nike and Patagonia are willing to take a political stand. They have engaged people on values and issues, and they put advertising their products second to embracing a greater vision.<br><br/>Glossier and Fenty Beauty have gone above and beyond to create a community based on shared identity. Their efforts have led to customer loyalty and brand evangelism.<br><br/>Taco Bell and Sweetgreen have created an ethos and unique culture around a basic fast-food experience. Taco Bell offers a community that’s always down for a good time. Sweetgreen customers, meanwhile, are a group that’s in the know about what’s good for our bodies and our environment.

Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and LaCroix have infiltrated pop culture to quickly scale from unknown products to omnipresent health brands.

Apple and Google inspire ardently loyal users who will fiercely defend their allegiance. By appealing to free-thinkers who want to lead rather than follow—and by constantly delivering innovative products—both brands tap into the powerful psychographic demo of trendsetters.

Be Authentic

A lot of brands try to jump on the lifestyle bandwagon, but customers can sense inauthenticity and aren’t afraid to call out poseurs.

“You can’t just talk the talk,” says Anjelica Triola, director of marketing at Wethos, a company that builds freelance brand marketing teams. “You need to back it up with your actions.”

If your entire organization isn’t aligned on your purpose and how it comes to life across all consumer touch points, your buyers may feel pandered to rather than understood and supported.

This was the case last year for a couple of popular fitness studios: Equinox espouses the virtue of “commit to something” (both fitness and its slate of charities) while SoulCycle promises its workouts will “change your soul.” Both came under fire when Stephen Ross, chairman of the company that owns controlling stakes in both brands, held a fundraiser for President Donald Trump at his home. The fitness giants faced a boycott, with a trending social media hashtag, Twitter protests from celebrities and membership cancellations.

When you’re a lifestyle brand, the business and the personal are intertwined, and your brand community will expect those to align. One misstep runs the risk of alienating your clientele and losing their business. But an authentic connection could give you a passionate customer for life.

Photo courtesy of SoulCycle
How to Start Building a Lifestyle Brand

Not every company can build a lifestyle brand. Anjelica Triola of Wethos offers a few pointers to get started.

Look within. Begin by asking why. Why did we start this company? Why are our employees drawn to it? Why do we show up to work every day, and why are we excited to build toward something bigger? If you have an authentic and compelling reason for why your company exists beyond revenue, identifying and articulating your purpose is step one.

Think about the specific customer segment you’re designing for. Who are they? What do they think? What are their attitudes and values? How and where do they connect with others?

Identify their behavioral and cultural themes that overlap with your core purpose. If you can deliver value in a way that authentically speaks to what you’re both passionate about, you’re on your way to building a meaningful lifestyle brand.

This was the case last year for a couple of popular fitness studios: Equinox espouses the virtue of “commit to something” (both fitness and its slate of charities) while SoulCycle promises its workouts will “change your soul.” Both came under fire when Stephen Ross, chairman of the company that owns controlling stakes in both brands, held a fundraiser for President Donald Trump at his home. The fitness giants faced a boycott, with a trending social media hashtag, Twitter protests from celebrities and membership cancellations.

When you’re a lifestyle brand, the business and the personal are intertwined, and your brand community will expect those to align. One misstep runs the risk of alienating your clientele and losing their business. But an authentic connection could give you a passionate customer for life.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Plomp, Taco Bell, Tim Foster, Youssef Sarhan 

Photo courtesy of Outdoor Voices
It’s Not for Everyone

With consumer behavior trending toward value-driven buying, it might seem that every company needs to position itself as a lifestyle brand to be successful.

That’s not the case, though, says Vic Drabicky of January Digital. He breaks companies into two categories: chores or cherish.<br><br/>For chore purchases—like dishwashing detergent and other everyday items±—lifestyle is less important than product effectiveness and an easy shopping experience.

For cherish (nonessential) purchases, customers need a reason to part with their disposable income. “When you have a strong lifestyle associated with your brand, it becomes a much easier sell,” he says.