The phrase “lifestyle marketing” gets tossed around a lot, but I haven’t seen a good definition of it. I figured the best way to kick off this blog and frame the posts to come is to offer my own working definition. I think this is a good start, but I’d like to revisit this definition in the future as my thinking becomes more refined.

Traditional brands
Traditional brands differentiate based on objective, quantifiable things like price, performance, and features. Their tactics are familiar: price promotions, ads boasting that they’re “new and improved,” and so forth. It’s important to note that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a traditional brand. For example, Tide is a multi-billion dollar juggernaut of a brand that’s been going strong for half a century. It differentiates primarily on performance, and and the results speak for themselves. A particular area of interest for me is traditional brands that become lifestyle brands, so expect to see lots of thinking around the intersection of the two worlds.

Lifestyle brands
Lifestyle brands, on the other hand, differentiate based on subjective, hard to quantify things like design. Lifestyle brands are fundamentally vehicles for self-expression. They don’t play by the rules of old-school marketing. They don’t try to be all things to all people. They simply are what they are, and in a world in which we’re increasingly defined by the products we buy, they can be an important part of our lives. We buy them because it’s a way to tell the world something about ourselves, not simply for a functional benefit. Perhaps the ultimate example of a lifestyle brand is Nike. Thanks to decades of brilliant marketing, they’ve made athletic shoes into the premier platform for self-expression in youth culture.

While it’s usually obvious whether something is a traditional or lifestyle brand, there are areas in which the boundaries are blurry. For example, cars have characteristics of both traditional and lifestyle brands: performance is a big deal, but brand character and heritage also matter a lot. Shoppers spend a great deal of time comparing power, mileage, price, and other elements that are important to traditional brands, but they can also be passionate evangelists for a brand (see the Ford/Chevy rivalry).A

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