Lululemon Athletica is a global sportswear powerhouse that has had a meteoric rise to the top. Founded in 2000 by Chip Wilson in Vancouver, the brand has seemingly moved from an upstart in a crowded market to a global dominator, pulling in more than US$4.4 billion in revenue in 2020.
But how did it get there? How did Wilson take the brand from a single store in British Columbia to over 491 by the beginning of 2020? The answer – as it usually is – is smart marketing, a good product, and the right approach.
Join Impressive as we dive into what makes the Lululemon Athletica brand so special. We’ll uncover what makes it a truly unique feature in the sportswear market.
Inventing a new category in your wardrobe
The time of Lululemon Athletica’s intro to the market is incredible. When Wilson founded it in 2000, the sportswear market had been dominated for decades by household names like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. Surely there was no way a foundling business was going to make a dent in that market.
The stroke of genius was deciding not to even go after it. Instead of launching into a crowded segment and floundering, Lululemon made their own market. Credited with helping to popularise the ‘athleisure’ fashion trend, Lululemon transformed both the clothing and sportswear industries, triggering a change that is still being felt today.
All we need to do is take a closer look at 2020, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the brand was forced to close all of its stores in North America and Europe, and most in APAC, direct-to-consumer revenue soared by 70% as the company targeted consumers eager to buy comfortable exercise wear in place of their normal office attire.
Positioning its closing as lifestyle wear that performs excellently inside the gym, but also looks great outside of it, Lululemon was able to exploit the Law of Category, choosing to be first in the category of their own choosing, rather than last in someone else’s.
Community, not market segments
Underpinning the Lululemon marketing strategy is recognition that when people buy sportswear, they’re potentially buying more than just gym shorts or a running top. A new pair of shoes, a sports bag, a yoga mat – these could all signify anything from a new year’s resolution and a fresh start, to a return to exercise and athletics after an injury, or a new way to spend time with friends.
So many emotions and experiences are tied up in these events – the anxiety of not knowing whether you’ll be able to run like you used to, the excitement of starting a new exercise routine, the joy of finding something new that you’re good at. Most people don’t spend hundreds of dollars on state-of-the-art athletic clothing for no reason, but rarely are the specific implications of doing this examined.
By making the bet that they’re doing it for a reason , and those reasons have powerful emotional motivators, Lululemon has been right more often than it’s been wrong.
Obviously no two people’s goals and motivations will be the same, so how do you make customers feel like their individuality has been honoured, while still reaching a mass market? Lululemon has managed to strike a balance between the two approaches by addressing their audience as a community, rather than a market segment.
By treating their customers as a group of people brought together by the common purpose of a healthier life – rather than a block of anonymous and interchangeable buyers – they’re able to create deeper connections with customers without diminishing their reach.
Their focus on community is core to the Lululemon Athletica marketing strategy, and it’s one they push across every channel – creating an all-inclusive and consistent experience across their promotional materials, social media, website and brick-and-mortar stores. This focus on community can be seen in everything from the way athletic achievements of individual people are celebrated on social media and the manifesto composed of inspirational slogans plastered on their eco-friendly reusable shopping bags.
The Lululemon Athletica community – or ‘the Luluheads’ as they’re known by the company’s PR director – aren’t just an online fiction, they’re encouraged to come together in the real world. Lululemon takes care to foster a sense of local as well as global community through in-store yoga classes and fitness camps, helping the fitness-oriented and health-minded people it attracts meet each other. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this was put on pause; however, the experience was offered virtually to maintain their community.
The potential value that these classes offer the company is significant – groups of people introduced to each other directly by Lululemon Athletica who then reinforce each other’s preference for the brand.
Leaving room for your customers
Lululemon is also doing something interesting at the individual level. The flipside of treating your customers as a community rather than a market segment is that while you’re able to unite them under certain elements, you also have to acknowledge their individual differences. While it can be challenging to develop this capability, Lululemon has managed to walk the tightrope, creating close enough relationships with customers that they feel like the brand is a part of their journey, while still leaving them room to define what that journey is.
By positioning themselves as your partner in athletic and lifestyle achievement, Lululemon Athletica can shape customer behaviour while still creating room for customers to project their own narratives onto the brand. Just like how a good reading experience is a collaborative exercise between the writer’s pen and the reader’s imagination, the company is able to enhance the customer experience by allowing them to imagine how they’d make the Lululemon lifestyle their own. In this way, a casual jogger and a diehard Crossfit devotee can both equally feel a part of the Lululemon community.
The two arms of the strategy – personal success and group belonging – work together. It simultaneously encourages those interested in group activities to chase their own success, and those coming primarily to achieve their own goals to see if they couldn’t get a little bit more performance out through group training and support. The end result is that people are encouraged to stay within the Lululemon community, however they’ve entered it.
Finding an audience
The two most vital questions in any marketing strategy are ‘what are you selling’ and ‘who’s buying’. We know what Lululemon is selling, and they have an extremely clear idea of who they’re aiming at.
Their slightly uncommon approach to targeting immediately sets their strategy apart from the norm. While Lululemon does use target personas, they made the inspired step to not simply describe their ideal customer but to create personas that people want to be. Referred to as Ocean and Duke, they are the epitome of cosmopolitan American success – both earning more than $100,000 per annum, owning their own condo in a major city, engaged, and in top physical condition. Defining these two as their target audience and building all messaging with them in mind accomplishes two things:
- It attracts a valuable demographic with a lot of disposable income and a reason to shop at Lululemon, and
- It encourages those who fall outside that demographic but are interested in Lululemon to aim to become part of that demographic.
The community nature of Lululemon reinforces this – if you’re looking to be part of the Lululemon community, you’re going to want to feel like you fit in and achieving the Ocean/Duke lifestyle is one way to feel like it.
Take a different approach to marketing
Lululemon is an incredible success story that has transformed the way people around the world look at athletics wear. If you’re after a new way to capture your audience’s attention, speak to the team at Impressive. Our expert team of techs, creatives and marketers has what it takes to help you cut through the noise.
Set your business apart with a smart, omni-channel campaign from the team at Impressive. Speak to our strategists today and take the next step.
Cover image source: Mike Mozart/jeepersmedia via Flickr