Ever talk to someone who shops at Lululemon? It’s simply not normal how emphatically the brand’s customers — my wife included — talk about their leggings (even if they are sheer in all the right places). The Lululemon brand connection is forged on something more than yoga clothing and gear — it is forged on a lifestyle of health and well-being that makes shoppers feel that they are part of the “tribe.” In fact, Lululemon employs “ambassadors” — really just adoring fans — to spread the word about the brand in cities around the U.S. and Canada.
Lululemon knows one important fact about branding today: In order to resonate with consumers, you cannot simply offer products and services. You need to offer a way of life — an emotional bond that connects one shopper to the next and makes them want to return, again and again. Here are some pointers for brands looking to create a tribe through a total experience.
Let your tribe connect with each other
Several fairly recent online communities, including Etsy, Pinterest and Airbnb, are giving their users online spaces where they can connect with like-minded individuals. Etsy calls itself “more than a marketplace: we’re a community of artists, creators, collectors, thinkers and doers.” Airbnb calls itself “a community marketplace for unique spaces,” while Pinterest puts all the power in users’ hands: “Pinterest is a tool for collecting and organizing things you love.” Users of these sites go to them knowing they will find people with similar tastes to their own, which perhaps grants them permission to spend time there — and spend time they do, making Pinterest one of the fastest-growing social networks out there right now.
Elevate your tribe’s purpose
Certain brands approach customers so that their experiences leave them feeling like a better person. At MAC Cosmetics, the attention showered upon you and the personal service allows you to feel comfortable, confident and free to express your desires without judgment. Celebrity endorsers like RuPaul, Lady Gaga and Elton John preach inclusivity and are atypical “beauties” — a fresh departure from beauty brands that feature flawless, airbrushed models. MAC’s social media efforts, “Back to MAC” social responsibility program and friendly makeup artists create a tribe that is totally inclusive.
Create a community in your brandspace
SoulCycle has turned legions of New Yorkers and Los Angelenos into spin worshippers by offering an experience that elevates exercise to a whole new level. Instead of pushing “celebrity,” SoulCycle markets “real.” People bond on favorite instructors and playlists, and popular classes sell out in minutes. Walls, t-shirts and products are covered with inspiring words, and it would be easy for a new visitor to forget that SoulCycle is actually about spinning. There are celebrity endorsers up the wazoo, like Kelly Ripa and Lena Dunham, but they endorse at their own volition. Once you are inside their studios, there’s no attitude whatsoever…just a group of like-minded people looking to clear their minds and have a bad-ass workout.
Offer unforgettably unique experiences
To create its tribe, American Girl taps into the imaginations of little girls and offers experiences at its stores that doll owners can’t find anywhere else (sorry, Barbie). In the brand’s own words, it is “more than just a store — it’s a place where her imagination can soar.” Doll owners can take a cooking class with their dolls, or eat next to their dolls at the restaurant, or wait months for a highly coveted appointment at the Doll Hair Salon. American Doll owners spend thousands of dollars to make pilgrimages across the country to the flagship store on Fifth Avenue. Members of the American Girl tribe can bond with one another at historical scavenger hunts and events that revolve around specific dolls, like Julie and Saige.
But here’s the thing about tribes: They need to stand for something. They need to have a common spirit that pervades a group and the physical trappings that unify, and they need to evolve over time. Brands that don’t do so start to lose their relevancy, and in turn their followers. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Catholic Church.