The once sharp line between selling a product and selling a lifestyle has become increasingly blurred. This is a monumental shift transforming everything you know about marketing.
Look at what’s happening. Equinox is getting out of the gym to create fitness-focused, high-end tours to exotic destinations around the world. Capital One is transforming banks into cafes that serve card carriers discount coffee with a checking account on the side. Both West Elm and Restoration Hardware are opening boutique hotels decorated with their products—when you fall in love with the lamp in the lobby, you can grab one for yourself on the spot.
A brand’s product now often takes a backseat to the community it creates. And the best ads today aren’t even ads in a traditional sense. They’re brand experiences, so integrated into daily life that they become a catalyst for consumers to live their most fulfilling lives.
Now, striking the right brand-tribe balance can be tricky. It requires a smart understanding of what audiences are seeking from the brands they adore. Two schools of thought are emerging.
Know your tribe; serve your tribe
The first school increases the opportunities for brand-tribe dialogue. Brands in this camp clearly understand their community’s ever-shifting needs, and show it. They’re constantly on the lookout for new ways to expand the relationship. And they always think on their feet.
Here are some executions that fall into this category: KFC in its streetwear collaboration with Nigo; Bonobos with its #EvolveTheDefinition campaign; Outdoor Voices with its augmented reality Trailshop app; online giant Glossier going offline with a stunning brick-and-mortar flagship; HBO creating an interactive Westworld maze on Amazon’s Alexa; and Lockheed Martin’s engineering student outreach concept, Think Inside the Box.
Campaigns like these have found ingenious, brand-relevant ways to connect with their respective tribes and say, “Hey, we get you. We’re excited to bring color to your life. And, oh yeah, we also sell things.”
Love your community; become your community
The second school is all about brands exploring go-to-market strategies that are so immersive and integrated into their communities that consumers don’t even notice they’re being marketed to.
Because, really, they’re not. They’re just happily living their lives as they experience a brand’s benefits firsthand, in real time, and in a completely real way. The Equinox trips, the Capital One Cafés, and West Elm and Restoration Hardware hotel stays represent increasingly creative, successful and exemplary illustrations of this phenomenon in action.
But no one embodies the second school of thought as well as WeWork’s parent brand, We.Co. Because they didn’t just find a way to integrate into an existing community–they became the whole damn thing. Their version of brand-tribe immersion is so complete—and their guiding philosophy so welcomed by their customers—that a person could choose to live, work, exercise and educate their children all under the We.Co umbrella. It’s incredible. They’ve staked a claim on whole swaths of life and lifestyle that were once the sole purview of personal choice and public policy. They’re creating cities within cities. Welcome to the next frontier of integrated marketing.
Finding the brand-tribe balance: A 5-step gut check
So, how do you shift KPIs and sales goals to align with this new level of consumer expectation? Answer: you don’t. Same KPIs. Same goals. Just a completely different mindset.
1. If you’re thinking “selling products,” you’re doing it wrong. When a brand becomes a community builder, that’s when the magic happens.
2. Create communities. Your brand is a catalyst for connecting people with people. Give first priority to relationships, not transactions, and long-term brand love will blossom.
3. Prioritize passion points. Own the lifestyle. Go for human truth. Help your audiences discover and feel good about themselves. Their success is your success.
4. Stand for something and take full ownership. It’s not what you say, it’s everything you do. Purpose is powerful. It doesn’t mean wading into every controversy. But it does mean having a clear and consistent point-of-view.
5. Give your tribe something to brag about. Be agile and responsive. Form new partnerships. Expand the conversation.
Remember, your tribe should be at the center of your every decision. Dig deep and go boldly. Show them that you know exactly what they want, even if they didn’t know it’s exactly what they need.
Cara Oppenheimer is head of creative at The XD Agency where she and her team design experiences that create devoted brand-tribes for Fortune 500 companies.