We live in a world full of noise. Every day, we are bombarded with hundreds of messages from brands asking us to pay attention, purchase something, or take some sort of action. As these days pass, the world gets incrementally noisier and more competitive. For CPG brand marketers, this is an increasingly complex problem – a problem that is only compounded by the fact that the average person checks their phone 80 times a day, which makes getting a consumer’s full attention like spotting a unicorn in the wild.
So, how do CPG brands successfully convey their messages when their audience is constantly distracted? Recent trends suggest one possible winning strategy is for brands to intentionally position themselves as closely aligned with a specific lifestyle.
What Is a Lifestyle Brand?
The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a lifestyle brand as “a company that markets its products or services to embody the interests, attitudes, and opinions of a group or a culture. Lifestyle brands seek to inspire, guide, and motivate people, with the goal of their products contributing to the definition of the consumer’s way of life.” A lifestyle brand recognizes the fact that for most of us, life seems boring. Although we generally enjoy our lives, we often aspire to achieve certain changes in ourselves, like becoming more adventurous, athletic or socially conscious. Because of that, lifestyle brands focus on wants over needs. Their marketing models support using influencers and creating content that blends a product’s functionality with the lifestyle it embodies.
The Case for Lifestyle Branding
The main argument for why lifestyle branding is effective is that the average consumer is sick of traditional hard-selling advertising. Recent stats that support this assumption include that over 30% of consumers choose to block online ads and that over 70% of consumers regularly use their mobile devices while watching television. A lifestyle brand positioning can more easily reach consumers by utilizing soft-selling strategies that appeal to emotions. These soft-selling or indirect marketing strategies shift the communication style from purely transactional to conversational. This conversational communication style allows the consumer to relate to the brand in ways that the transactional hard-selling approach never fully could.
Consumers tend to support brands with which they can forge stronger relationships, and this is usually easiest done by appealing to the interests, attitudes and opinions of a group or a culture. If a consumer is emotionally connected to a brand, they are much more likely to be loyal to and advocate positively for the brand on social networks. This emotional connection allows the brand more latitude to expand outside of its original product and create a portfolio of associated lifestyle products. This ability to broaden and launch more products is extremely useful in two ways: it can extend brand lifestyles, and it continues to keep the CPG brand at “top of mind” in a noisy environment.
The Case Against Lifestyle Branding
Despite the appealing arguments stated above, shifting from a functional to a lifestyle branding strategy can present several challenges and risks for CPG brands. First, the soft-selling marketing strategy can lose focus and forget to sell at all. At its core, the purpose of marketing is to help make a sale. This is a risk that can’t be understated in any business.
Another risk, specifically for most legacy CPG brands, is that they have abandoned brand storytelling and other marketing activities that tie back to human aspirations. Because of that, these CPG brands require a fundamental reboot of their traditional marketing monologue, which will incur major rebranding expenses and possible alienation of longstanding customers.
Finally, functional brand positioning allows the CPG brand to be hyper-focused on competing with a targeted set of similar products. Though lifestyle branding allows you to broaden product categories, it sets brands up for more fierce competition. This is because a lifestyle CPG brand doesn’t just compete with other similarly positioned lifestyle brands but also with similarly positioned lifestyle brands from other categories.
Is There a Winner?
CPG brands are facing complex challenges surrounding the ability to effectively reach consumers. That set of problems is certainly real, but there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to anything in business. Even if we look at a recent Y brands survey of 80,000 young consumers or the annual Brand Spark survey, it shows that both functional and lifestyle brand positions can be effective for building a trustworthy brand in 2018. In conclusion, CPG brand marketers need to be aware of the emerging branding trends, but they must be realistic about how they can be used successfully in their unique situations.
Joshua Schall, MBA has an 11-year background in the emerging and intersecting CPG/FMCG categories of functional food and beverage and nutritional products.
He currently is the owner of J. Schall Consulting, an Austin, TX-based boutique management consulting company that focuses on digital growth strategies for CPG/FMCG brands that range from pre-launch to portfolio companies with $500M in yearly revenue.
Joshua enjoys an active healthy lifestyle but still finds himself spending way too much time scanning social media and digital grocery aisles for new consumable brands.