Research and Trends

Brand Central

September 1, 2012


If you ask any brand expert what a lifestyle brand is, you’ll get a range of answers that all dance around the same core idea: “It’s a brand that is more than a product.” “It’s a brand that helps a person define how they want to be perceived externally.” “It’s a brand that embodies the values of a person or group for the purpose of marketing.”

These statements scratch at the surface, but how are they different from the definition of a luxury brand, for instance, or cause branding?  Just like the ever-famous hierarchy of needs we all had to memorize in college Psych 101, there is a hierarchy that has developed over the recent course of branding that clearly places brands in an order. The question is, in order of what? Relevance, desirability, importance? I would argue that they are in order of aspiration, each one slightly harder to create than the one beneath it. The further up you go on this ladder, the more impossible it becomes to bottle what makes the brand “the brand.”

Brand ladder:

  • Corporate brand

  •  Private brand

  • Product brand

  •  Service brand

  • Cause brand

  • Lifestyle brand


So how did these lifestyle brands ascend so quickly to the very top, while flying under the radar until recently? Fundamentally, there are five basic attributes that all lifestyle brands have:

  1. At their very core, lifestyle brands are the most authentic.
  2. Lifestyle brands can extend beyond their core product because they have a halo effect that legitimately allows them to enter into other categories. However, these  categories must be in line with their essence.
  3. Lifestyle brands cannot be everything to everyone; by definition they are selective.
  4. Lifestyle brands are less about packaging, product and promotion and more about community. If you own a  Vitamix, you know what I’m saying.
  5. Lifestyle brands have to work harder than other brands to maintain the first four. It’s just the burden they bear.

These five attributes have come together to define lifestyle brands because of several market factors at play. First, there is commodity creep. It used to be that the product touting the highest quality won the race to the register. Now, quality is really a cost of market entry. Consumers assume that if you’re a brand worth knowing, your product quality is good. The war in the store is waged on price and promotion. This is combined with consumers being savvier than ever when it comes to marketing. They don’t want the “story”; they want the truth.

Private brands have also made their claim on the consumer relationship by combining product with service. Retailers have changed the private brand’s role from a low-cost generic option to a quality branded offering. They own the consumer experience. Across all categories (mass, grocery, drug, convenience store, hardware and more), retailers have introduced products under their own names and private labels, offering quality tiers, innovation and personality — things once reserved for major product brands.

Cause branding has also carved out a unique place with today’s consumer, and there are two levels of branding going on in this space. First, people are highly motivated to affiliate with cause brands when purchase proceeds go to that cause. Consumers benefit from supporting something they care about, and the brand expresses to others that they support the cause. Tom’s Shoes has become a leading example of this. Now, it has taken that platform and expanded into other products, such as sunglasses.

The second level of cause branding goes beyond a monetary support. These brands actively affect a consumer cause through the development of their products, services and charity. Consumers who buy the brand buy it because the development and ongoing use of that brand has the desired impact they’re searching for. Seventh Generation is a strong example of this. Not only are its products environmentally friendly, its product development processes and packaging are low impact. All these elements work together to entice consumers who consider a green lifestyle an important aspect of their lives.

It’s at the level of lifestyle brand that you finally have all these elements working together: inherent authenticity and quality, an ability to reach into other categories when it makes sense, and the need for consumers to externally identify with the brand so that others see them as a part of the larger community they want to be known for. For consumers, having an experience is no longer enough. Consumers are now looking for personal transformation. 

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