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How Authenticity Drives Business Results

Lifestyle brands are proving that when you put authenticity first, results follow.

Lifestyle brands create relationships by embodying the interests, attitudes, and opinions of a particular group. Sports, for example, are an emotional part of many people’s lives, so it’s not surprising that some of the strongest lifestyle brands are often found in this world. Sports brands usually represent a team or culture one already believes in and to which one already feels a sense of connection or loyalty. Since all people want to “belong” somewhere, customers are naturally attracted to these brands, identify with them, and are happy to become a part of the values and spirit they exemplify.

While sports brands are a prime example, many others—from fashion labels to consumer electronics companies—want to be defined as lifestyle brands as well, for an obvious reason: it’s a way to better connect with customers.

What it takes to become a lifestyle brand

One of the most important Brand Strength elements all successful lifestyle brands share in common is Authenticity. This isn’t just a matter of consumer perception, but the very foundation that has shaped perception—a brand that is soundly based on an internal truth and capability, has a defined heritage, a well-grounded value set, and can deliver against the (high) expectations that customers have of it.

In recent years, we worked with a sports category client that is a leader within its edgy, counterculture lifestyle niche. After assessing the brand and its retail model, it became clear that the brand was intended to target very young action sport enthusiasts (ages 14-24), especially those who viewed themselves as being outside of the norm. Toward that end, the client had already defined a visual style for the brand’s communications and the overall vibe. Yet, within the next breath, the client expressed a desire for the stores themselves to be shoppable for all people. They were picturing mothers coming in to buy something for their kids, tourists dropping in to pick up a hoodie—and, really, at the end of the day, they wanted everyone to buy one of their hoodies.

Rather than focusing on creating a space where they could really connect with their core customer, they wanted everyone to be comfortable in the stores. But the incongruousness of having an out-of-store connection that targeted a counterculture nice and an in-store experience that was “made for all” clearly presents a problem in terms of achieving authenticity.

To succeed as a lifestyle brand, know who you are—and know your core

The bottom line is that, if you don’t have clarity around what your brand stands for and who your audience is, authenticity is going to be a challenge. And if you can’t convey authenticity, you won’t be able to leverage it as the holy grail of your brand experience or as a key element in achieving business success. Unfortunately, business objectives are often inflated because brands are actually trying to deliver on shareholder objectives. This is a great reason why a balanced set of KPIs that includes both financial indicators and brand strength factors should be part of all business meetings. Indeed, it’s often the failure to leverage the brand that causes companies to fall short of performance goals—and has led to the downfall of many lifestyle brands.

Some brands, however, get it right. Vans, for example—originally a hit with the California skateboarding and surfing set—has gone back to its roots. In an effort to rebuild its equity, Vans is focusing on its core—skaters and skate shops—with one key overall objective: not compromising its authenticity. The model allows for strong market interest, but ensures that the company maintains credibility with its core. Proof that this strategy works? Vans has grown into a $2 billion dollar brand—without the big celebrity endorsement deals so many others in its category rely on.

Maintaining authenticity over time requires effort and commitment, but, as Vans illustrates, the payoff can be considerable. To reap the potential rewards, however, lifestyle brands need to take stock of every aspect of the experience and determine whether all the details support—or detract from—their authenticity.

Every decision, in fact, should be considered through the lens of the brand: Does this help personify my brand or make it more relatable? Does it help customers connect with my brand me in a deeper way? How does this align with my other points of contact to ensure a strong relationship? And, finally, would people who share my brand’s lifestyle feel especially comfortable here—and would those whose interests fall outside of this lifestyle feel uncomfortable here? While there is always the impulse to appeal to everyone, the truth is—you can’t. In fact, when you consistently succeed in creating experiences that make your core target feel included, while making others feel out of place, it shows you’re doing authenticity right—and ensuring your brand will create value for the long term.

If you would like to contact Sarah White about any of the opinions or insights expressed in this article, please send an email to hello@interbrand.com.

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Brand Analytics Director