This article originally appeared in Contently’s publication “The Content Strategist” on August 9, 2016. You can read it in its original form here.
Lululemon has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1998 as a part-time yoga studio in Vancouver.
Today, Chip Wilson’s yoga and fitness apparel company racks up over two billion dollars in annual revenue, largely because it’s come to embody a lifestyle. It’s the stuff of active soccer moms, meditation devotees, and women who only consume organic food and raw juices. You don’t just wear Lululemon. You are Lululemon.
The broad scope of lifestyle brands like Lululemon can present a huge content opportunity. But it can also be difficult to zero in on a mission when your brand appeals to so many different people. Marketers are left answering questions like: Who, specifically, is the target audience? What lifestyle content topics are relevant? And is anything truly off brand?
What is a lifestyle brand?
This desire to embody a brand—or, rather, to find a brand that embodies you—is the mentality that lifestyle companies hope to impart on their customers. “Lifestyle” is a broad category, describing everything from travel to DIY, parenting to single living, cooking to fashion, beauty to sportswear. Lululemon, for example, creates an active, wellness-oriented culture through athletic gear and yoga mats. Lifestyle brands like Lululemon sell their culture, not just their product.
Creating a culture-based mission
Defining a mission statement is the first stop on the path to lifestyle brand status. To get there, brands have to know their customers very well. While B2B companies need to answer the question “What service does my product provide?” lifestyle companies need to ask “What kind of unique culture will my brand embody?”
To do this, companies first need to delve deep into their customers’ psyches. What food do they eat? How do they feel about current events? What are their passions? How do they spend their free time, even when they’re not interacting with the product? In short, who are they, and what kind of person do they want to be? This isn’t news, obviously. Market research and surveys are staples of brand development. However, this knowledge of customer behavior can be used differently by a lifestyle brand: Instead of just informing product development or targeted advertising, it also informs the specific culture that the brand creates through digital and other marketing—and the mission statement that drives it.
The components of a powerful mission statement
The mission statement that guided Lululemon’s rise to success provides a strong template for brands developing their own mission. It’s a statement that guides the brand without feeling unnecessarily restrictive.
A mission statement summarizes crucial information that determines a company’s path forward, so it’s important to get it right. The statement should answer these questions:
- What does the company do or provide?
- Who is the customer?
- How does the brand address the customer’s needs?
Lululemon’s original mission statement reads: “Creating components for people to live longer, healthier, fun lives.” There are a few significant factors at play here.
For one thing, notice that Lululemon’s mission is to “create components,” not “sell gear.” There’s a big difference. “Components” might include activewear, water bottles, and yoga mats, but it might also include healthy living tips, running clubs, yoga classes, green juice recipes, detox programs, and books about meditation.
The fact that Lululemon doesn’t limit its mission to products shows that the company recognizes all the other aspects of being a lifestyle brand. The fact that it creates culture is inherent in its mission.
Think about how the company answers the question “Who is the customer?” As a fitness brand, Lululemon knows that its customers are active, wellness-oriented and health-conscious. From there, it can infer other things about them. They are probably interested in diet and nutrition, travel, self-reflection, community, holistic medicine, and events pertaining to those topics. They are generally well-educated and interested in bonus lifestyle topics such as travel and art. This informs the “components” that the company will create in order to build culture around its products.
And finally, per our mission statement guidelines, how does Lululemon address its customers needs? The answer is through the “components” that help customers “live longer, healthier, fun lives.” These components include yoga gear, classes (so customers can get involved and meet others in the community), ambassadors (so they can learn about Lululemon from someone like themselves), healthy living advice, holistic nutrition tips, wellness ideas, travel, inspirational stories, and news pertaining to active living.
Creating culture through content
Never before has there been such an inclusive and far-reaching opportunity to build a brand’s culture. Social media, email messaging, and video and blog content all support a brand’s culture. As a result, content is one of the most important aspects of a lifestyle brand’s marketing plan. Lululemon’s blog and social media topics include wellness tips, personal accounts by athletes and prominent yogis, information on trending health topics, interesting stories about art and culture, and informational how-tos about a conscious, active lifestyle.
All of these factors informed the Lululemon Manifesto, a collection of branded phrases that convey customers’ lifestyle and values. The manifesto is deeply informed by market research. It contains inspiring, uplifting messaging that appeals to Lululemon’s active, success-driven, health-oriented customers. “Do one thing a day that scares you.” “Friends are more important than money.” “Sweat once a day to regenerate your skin.” “This is not your practice life. This is all there is.”
Drawing the line
With so much room for variety, marketers are often left wondering what is truly off brand. The most direct way to tell is to ask whether or not it violates the company’s mission statement. In this way, the mission statement serves as a hard-and-fast line for deciding what will bring the brand value and what will not.
However, given the broad scope of the lifestyle space, some issues will need to be given close examination on a case-by-case basis. Let’s take the example of healthy recipes within Lululemon’s brand messaging.
Many Lululemon customers are vegetarian, a long-held tradition within the yoga community. However, other customers may go a totally different route with their diets. The recent trend of Paleo eating is popular among some fitness gurus, as are gluten-free and low-carb eating. How, then, should Lululemon handle health and wellness posts pertaining to dietary choices? Should it create a positioning statement detailing where the brand stands on matters of diet?
Probably not. Since it would risk alienating customers if it took a position, the best way to handle the issue is to not take one at all. While many wellness brands offer gluten-free and meat-free dietary advice, Lululemon has largely opted out of this content topic. The brand hasn’t published a food-related post since February 2015, when it included an interview with a popular vegetarian food blogger. Instead of including information about vegetarianism specifically, the blogger’s advice was broader. In other words, while Lululemon acknowledges that eating healthy is important to its customer, it doesn’t tell her how to do it.
Let’s compare this approach to that of Crossfit, the fitness and muscle-building program that’s inspired thousands to take up a Paleo-based eating program. The company’s mission clearly states, “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar.” In its first two words, the statement alienates vegans and vegetarians, discouraging them from partaking in Crossfit’s fitness culture. As a result, the niche has been filled not by Crossfit itself, but by independent bloggers and bodybuilders who can capitalize on the need for veg-friendly culture within the Crossfit community. It falls to the brand itself to determine what cultural choices would be in direct violation of company values, and which are simply limiting its reach to a larger potential audience.
Living the life
Lifestyle companies have a unique opportunity to turn their own customers into walking advertisements for their brand. Through these customers, companies show people what their lives could look like if they took up the culture of the brand. Whether you like Lululemon or not, there’s no question of its relevance within the fitness world. Lululemon’s customers’ clearly identify with the company. In many ways, they structure their lifestyle around the products and digital content put forth by the brand.
Lululemon customers aren’t just consumers, they’re devotees. They themselves are the company’s best advertising tool, and that’s because they embody its culture, rather than simply wearing its product.