What is a Lifestyle Brand?
Pinning down a proper definition for what constitutes a lifestyle brand is challenging. It has to be part aspirational (i.e. by supporting this brand, you are embodying the values of some desired lifestyle). It has to be hype-worthy (otherwise, people won’t line up to get it and brag when they finally do). But most importantly, it has to tap directly into a subculture.
All of this begs the question—what role does branding play in lifestyle positioning?
Even more than any other non-lifestyle brand, I think the most telling feature is that the brand goes out of its way to embody a particular set of values so that the consumer can, by purchasing and interacting with the brand, signal that they too share those values.
Lifestyle branding allows your customers to signal in-group identification. In other words, I’m one of you guys. I’m cool too.
All brands inherently have values, but for a lifestyle brand, the values that the brand embodies are as important as the product for sale itself because it allows the consumer to find belonging.
The thing you actually purchase is secondary to this end.
We’ve been trying to delineate between regular old brands and lifestyle brands for a few years and have determined that you just kind of know one when you see it.
To wit, your average brewery probably isn’t a lifestyle brand (no matter how much cool merch they pump out). But if that local brewery targets a niche demographic that centers around a specific activity, interest, locale or ethos, then they may be headed in that direction.
We receive several inquiries from breweries in planning each year who want to make a lifestyle positioning play out of the gate. And with an ever increasingly competitive landscape, we think this can be a smart move.
Here are a few prominent examples of well executed lifestyle brands:
If you’re a
hipster cool, urban young professional, you drink PBR. Or increasingly, Hamm’s.
If you’re a skater / metal head who cares about the environment (and maybe sobriety?), you drink Liquid Death.
If you’re all about that Montana lifestyle, you shotgun Montucky Cold Snacks.
If you enjoy shooting guns, owning every lib in sight and drinking coffee, then there's Black Rifle Coffee.
If you want to signal that you're health conscious and conspicuously wealthy, you can plant your precious cheeks astride a Peloton.
If you want to signal that you’re outdoorsy, and only buy high quality adventure equipment that's as durable as you are, then you grab a YETI Cooler.
Is your brand tattoo worthy? Related: I can't go to the pool anymore because all the Zoomers make fun of my Dasani back piece.
A few observations about successful lifestyle brands
1. This isn’t always the case, but lifestyle brands tend to be digitally native to start (no brick and mortar location). For product brands (Pit Viper, Chubbie’s, Duke Cannon), this means you’re built primarily through digital ads and well-curated Instagram and TikTok channels. For breweries, this means you’re probably contract brewed.
2. They target a niche subculture exclusively. You need to speak your audience’s language (usually through memes) and values (through actions and charity support). And
twirl on the haters ignore all outsiders—your group is the only one that matters. After all, not everyone can be your audience.
But paradoxically, it seems like lifestyle brands end up gaining more press and following the more narrowly they focus on their audience and sub culture. (This is likely due to a loud, overly-ardent fan base as much as it is brilliant marketing. Or that they just stand out from a sea of undifferentiated competitors.)
4. They often use influencer marketing (or “Brand Ambassadors”) as a corner stone for scaling. This can be through social media, podcasts, even television and movies—wherever your audience consumes content. (still waiting on my phone call, Dasani…)
5. They use merchandise to foster in-group identification. They give people the tools they need to signal that they’re on board (and drive major revenue along the way).
6. They meet their people where they are. Field activation is key to making this all work. You need to be wherever your fans are—music venues, bars, tattoo parlors, barbershops, skate shops, conventions, sport venues, festivals, libraries, marathons, ski slopes, etc.
I think lifestyle brands will become an increasingly common strategy for launching new Bev Alc brands over the next several years. The ability to start lean and create something that speaks directly to a well-defined, ardent audience may be a safer bet than opening yet another taproom in a city full of taprooms.
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