How Lifestyle Branding is Eating the Tech World

What tech companies can learn from lifestyle brands
 
Lifestyle and tech brands have had an intimate relationship for quite some time. Apple created a strong lifestyle around its hardware, and many non-tech brands like Nike and The New York Times have incorporated tech into their lifestyle world. 
 
They’re brands that allowed us to pursue lives of our own choosing, regardless of our lot. We could find our tribes and rally around the ideas that stirred us, whether they be aspirations of freedom, creativity, or individualism. 
 
But today, consumers are changing. People are becoming more sophisticated in the brand vernacular, and more demanding of the brand value they pay a premium for. We find ourselves with a new user that, instead of reaching for the promise of aspirational branding that once drove them to purchase, is now looking for self-discovery instead.
 
We’ve gone from macro to micro, outer world to inner world. It’s a much more intimate and personal relationship that adds a layer of intrinsic value to the product. The successful tech companies of tomorrow will actually be lifestyle brands.
 
With this new perspective, let’s look at some of the elements that should go into your brand blueprint if you find your company along this trajectory.
 
Lifestyle and tech brands have had an intimate relationship for quite some time. Apple created a strong lifestyle around its hardware, and many non-tech brands like Nike and The New York Times have incorporated tech into their lifestyle world. 
 
They’re brands that allowed us to pursue lives of our own choosing, regardless of our lot. We could find our tribes and rally around the ideas that stirred us, whether they are aspirations of freedom, creativity, or individualism. 
 
But today, consumers are changing. People are becoming more sophisticated in the brand vernacular, and more demanding of the brand value they pay a premium for. We find ourselves with new users who are looking for self-discovery instead of being pushed to purchase aspirational products. 
 
We’ve gone from the outer world to inner world. It’s a much more intimate and personal relationship that adds a layer of intrinsic value to the product. The successful tech companies of tomorrow will actually be lifestyle brands.
 
With this new perspective, let’s look at some of the elements that should go into your brand blueprint if you find your company on this trajectory.
 
Start with the conversation, not the lifestyle
 
A lot of brands falter from the very beginning because they don’t understand what a lifestyle brand actually is. A lifestyle brand initiates a conversation that happens at specific points in a consumer’s life. 
 
Forget the aesthetics or aspirations. Those are mere tactics. If you want to be a lifestyle brand, you need a rock solid understanding of the values that are worth exploring with your consumer–the ones that help them move down the path of self-discovery. Values are provocative and revealing, and you either really care or you really don’t because as a consumer, you immediately know if that value will get you to someplace deeper within yourself.
 
Peloton has squarely planted themselves in the lifestyle space, despite the fact that they are a tech company on both the hardware and software side. Over a million bike-obsessed owners have a cult-like passion for the brand, and it has little to do with the product. 
 
The brand engenders a sense of competitive fandom, where users post their at-home training videos, look up to famous users like Hugh Jackman and Richard Branson, and demonstrate their loyalty through logoed clothing and even tattoos. 
 
But what underlies all of this activity is Peloton’s commitment to a singular narrative that says ‘exercise should be intimate.’ It’s a unique value that touches all parts of the business, and why Peloton controls virtually every aspect of the experience from the music and user interactions to the carefully curated instructors and overall energy. The brand is continually using these touchpoints to push the same values-driven conversation forward.
 
Emulation vs. empowerment
 
If we’re moving from aspiration to self-discovery, then we’re also moving from emulation to empowerment. Many companies have beautiful and tight visual branding that signals something to aspire to, but not much more beyond that. We see them everywhere – clothing, food, entertainment –but as consumers, we’re so overexposed to this kind of glossy two-dimensional branding that it has started to become redundant.
 
Aesthetics, while important, are a tactical trap. They are not where lifestyle brands end, but rather where they start.
 
A simple way to vet your brand is to ask yourself: Am I encouraging people to emulate this lifestyle, or am I giving them the tools to attain something bigger?
 
Notice I said tools, not products. For truly brand-led companies, the product is secondary. You’re not selling your yoga pants in the promise that people will become more athletic – that’s aspirational.
 
Instead, you’re doing what fashiontech company Outdoor Voices is doing: building a brand around ‘happiness’ while everyone else is building theirs around extreme grit, physical endurance, and in the women’s category, sexiness.
 
Founder Tyler Haney says she asked herself: “What if I built a brand around something people loved – a recreational Nike that’s all about staying healthy and being happy doing it?” It’s this question that drives every decision within the company.
 
The brand empowers customers in unique ways, including crowdsourcing many of their designs, deliberately focusing on low-impact daily activities instead of extreme sports, and featuring ads of women that haven’t been retouched, with real bodies and cellulite.
 
It’s why the company grew 800% in 2016 alone and commands huge lines at their New York City sample sales, rivaling the sample sales of most luxury brands.
 
 
 
The buck has to stop somewhere
 
Lifestyle brands need a founder’s face and voice. People need to know that if they are investing so much intangible brand value and giving themselves over to such a demanding (but rewarding) self-discovery experience, there is someone on the other side of it who is just as committed.
 
Your consumers don’t need a relationship with the founder, but they need the comfort of knowing they aren’t being cheated by some flashy marketing gimmicks and a savvy art department.
 
Elon Musk’s personal brand of being a rebel futurist is arguably leagues ahead of Tesla’s. He gives people a channel through which to understand him and the company, and partake in a richer story. It gives avid users– the ones who spend the most money and thirst for deeper engagement – a place to direct their attention.
 
When a founder’s personal brand is further into the future than the company they are building, it demonstrates a real devotion to a larger belief.
 
You don’t need to be a celebrity CEO, but you do need to be creating spheres of influence through content, social, or in your physical network. You need a strong point-of-view that perhaps would be too heavy-handed for your company, but can comfortably be explored by you as an individual.
 
The lifestyle consumer is changing, and your brand should, too
 
The next generation of winners in tech already see that we’re moving from Lifestyle 1.0 of graphics and clever taglines to Lifestyle 2.0 of conversation, empowerment and accountability.
 
As we move from aspiration to self-discovery, you need to be positioned as a brand that can guide users deeper into themselves. It’s a riskier strategy that will take more time and money, but it’s the only strategy that will win the long game.
 
About the Author

 
Jasmine is the founder and CEO of Concept Bureau, a brand strategy agency that works with international brands and growth-stage startups from a variety of industries. Her research on emerging consumer and behavior trends is regularly published in national outlets. 
conceptbureau.com

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