Lifestyle Branding: That Isn't Enough, Either

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 16, 2013
Lifestyle branding is more powerful than functional branding because it appeals to consumers' emotions rather than rational considerations in the decision-making process. But it seems to me that there are different kinds of “lifestyle branding” and they are not equally strong.

It's clear that when consumers adopt specific brands and make them their own -- when brands become a part of their lifestyles -- there is an emotional bond. This is optimal for brand owners, provided that their brands consistently deliver on their promises. Yet consumers naturally migrate to brands and away from them as their lifestyles and perceptions shift. Sometimes this happens as a result of brands losing authenticity or relevance or because they don't evolve with their adherents. At other times, it seems to be a matter of consumers' own evolutions.

Still, lifestyle brands with staying power appear to be able to transcend trends and remain relevant, no matter what happens. This is especially true for entertainment brands. They seem to retain their magic for their brand devotees and attract new ones, with fewer going on to seek new brand experiences. The question is: how do they do it?



We have defined three types of lifestyle branding. The first is accomplished via image building. Next, there is a brand with a story that evolves until it becomes a classic with real heritage. Then there's a deeper, more lasting branding accomplished through the establishment of a mythology (read: a rich backstory that evolves into a saga.) Creating a mythology has more power in the subconscious of the human mind, which is hard-wired to absorb it as a result of thousands of years of conditioning to storytelling. Mythology encompasses everything that makes us human, from shared knowledge and experiences to an understanding of deep human yearnings that matter most: a sense of belonging, hopes, dreams and self-realization.

Undoubtedly, successful classic brands benefit from storytelling -- their stories have become part of our cultural consciousness at a deeper level. The most compelling stories penetrate people's psyches and become part of their own stories in a highly emotive and connective manner. These are the brands that have a powerful impact on our culture. Their stories continue to evolve so they have the potential to reach new generations of consumers as they maintain older consumers as loyalists.

These brands are truly iconic -- a descriptor that is overused and largely rendered meaningless these days. Think: Harley Davidson, Jack Daniels, Disney, Sesame Street's Elmo. World Wrestling Entertainment, Batman. The New York Yankees. All of these brands are truly icons -- they are legendary.

These franchises have rabid fans and cult-like followings that in many cases have not diminished despite their significant longevity -- and myriad entertainment choices. Characters come and go, story lines change, but the legends grow. All due to the powerful mythologies connected with these brands, merged with and part of their fans' personal stories.

“It's a journey, not a destination” resonates on a deep level. The Harley Davidson brand speaks to more than core American values, but to deeply held human ones: rugged individualism, freedom and an open road -- all leading to personal fulfillment. Yet, in the 1980’s, Harley Davidson floundered due to intense competition from abroad and a recession. Cheaper quality, fewer technological and design innovations wreaked havoc with the brand and its legendary story, threatening its existence. Fixing its problems took hard work and dedication but it put the brand back on course -- its mystique intact and still growing.

Rich backstories and their ongoing sagas make these brands riveting. But they must remain authentic and true to their roots or they face the same peril as other brands that lose their way and ultimately fail.

Image-conscious lifestyle brands lead to transient engagement with consumers, while brands with their own lifestyle heritage engage consumers for a while. As they move on, new groups of consumers engage with them. But a precious few brands become deeply embedded in our culture and personal lives -- so integral to the lives of their adherents, that moving away from them is unthinkable. All because their mythology becomes entwined with our own personal stories. Legendary!

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