A lifestyle is a collection of habits, attitudes, tastes, and moral standards which one aspires or is accustomed. Sounds like an ideal marketing model for building your brand, right? Maybe…

In recent years, it has also become the lazy catch-all for anything remotely aspirational and arguably, the term “lifestyle brand” has become overused in consumer products. But maybe the term “lifestyle brand” is just misunderstood. The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a lifestyle brand as “a company that markets its products or services to embody the interests, attitudes, and opinions of a group or a culture. Lifestyle brands seek to inspire, guide, and motivate people, with the goal of their products contributing to the definition of the consumer’s way of life.”

So, which is it…OVERUSED or MISUNDERSTOOD?

The case for overused…

Speak to just about any founder of a CPG brand in the last 5 years and you will hear them talk about how they are building a company that’s more than the products it sells. On top of these new digitally-native brands, older legacy brands from conglomerates like Unilever, J&J, etc. have joined in the lifestyle branding party. But does a few key strokes by the marketing department make you a lifestyle brand?

Nike started off as simply another sneaker company that slowly, over time built a reputation among its customers that identified with its performance and quality. It allowed Nike to morph into an brand beyond just sneakers to include apparel, shoes, and accessories that fit into an athletic lifestyle beyond just sports. Similarly, Apple now has people lining up for blocks on product launch days not because it one day declared itself a lifestyle brand, but because its products represent both functional quality and a sense they’re on the cutting edge of technology and style.

Truth is, not all brands are lifestyle brands and they shouldn’t shift to become one!

  1. A shift from functional positioning can make brands lose focus and forget to sell. The purpose of marketing is to help make a sale. This is a risk that can’t be understated in business.
  2. Lifestyle positioning sets companies up for broader, more fierce competition beyond just their typical competition. Because they are now competing based on lifestyle, there are just only so many outlets for such brand identity.

The case for misunderstood…

If you go back to AMA’s definition, even I have trouble with the differences in knowing a regular brand from a lifestyle brand. In my experience, most brands attempt to differentiate on emotional benefits more so than functional. The category that sometimes leans to functional over emotional is nutritional supplements but even that is changing rapidly. In general, brands focus on wants over needs. Their marketing is indirect. Instead they find creative ways that their brand can enhance their consumers’ way of life. Brands are now widely positioned as solutions that make people’s lives easier and more enjoyable.

A recent MediaPost showed that overall ad-supported digital media spend was down in 2017. That went against most assumptions as digital media consumption as a whole is up. I believe this is due to the shift of lifestyle brands marketing approaches from hard selling to soft selling. Lifestyle brands are moving to marketing models that support influencers and adding value through content creation that blends their product use functionality with the lifestyle it is accustomed.

So why do brands shift to lifestyle branding from functional branding when they know there will be increased competition? As the barriers of entry to starting a business decrease with the age of the Internet, competition will continue to be more fierce by the day regardless of positioning. Studies show customers tend to support brands that they can forge stronger relationships. This is usually easiest done with appealing to interests, attitudes, and opinions of a group or a culture. If a consumer is emotionally connected to a brand, they are much more likely to be brand loyal and advocate positively for the brand with social networks.

So, which do I think it is?

Both 🙂

Yes, I took the easy route on this one. The fact is that the term lifestyle brand is overused and misused by 1000s of brands. The great thing is that time and time again the consumer figures it out and growth of that company or shift in marketing is terrible. Do most business people misunderstand the true value of good lifestyle brands, definitely! Only time will tell how this shift plays out…