Fighting commoditization by aspiring to be lifestyle brands

June 26, 2013

Apple, Nike and Starbucks. These strong brands achieve high affinity among their customers and are revered by marketers. They are commonly classified as lifestyle brands and we can point to their legions of fans – that consider these brands integral to their lives – as proof.

It seems safe to say that every consumer brand aspires to be a lifestyle brand. Brands want to be embraced, loved and worn with pride because they represent their customers. They want to be a part of our lives, and in many ways these brands admittedly serve that role for their loyal customers.

Yet, now it seems that more and more brands that are not typically credited for being a part of our lives are vying for the space as well. This spring, Bank of America moved away from the ‘Bank of Opportunity’ campaign and rolled out its “Life’s better when we’re connected” campaign. It concedes that “We know we’re not the center of your life, but we’ll help you connect to what is.” The campaign’s web page affirms, “We’re working every day to connect you to what matters most, whether it’s growing a business, getting involved in your community or developing better financial habits.” In other words, Bank of America is committed to being a part of your life as it connects you to potential success through a small-business loans or discounts enabling you to spend a day with your kids in a museum.

Another example came to light this month as Allstate Insurance launched its ‘Good Life’ campaign. Its ad focuses on the fact that even though we know there are dangers in our life and risks in everything we do, we don’t let that stop us from living our lives. “Because I think deep down we know, all the bad things that can happen in life, they can’t stop us from making our lives good.” So, Allstate helps us forget the ‘bad’ with their insurance so that we can focus on the ‘good.’

Taking a step back and looking at these brands, the commonality here seems to be that these companies are trying to stand out among a sea of competitors in highly commoditized spaces. Aside from price, it can be difficult to see how one brand differentiates itself from other banking or insurance brands. People likely see them as just another shade of gray. So, why not reach above the crowd to a truly aspirational concept: ‘bettering our lives?’

Yet, is this strategy actually effective? If it doesn’t feel credible, it can most definitely do more harm than good. It seems like both brands are conscious of this fact and are trying to temper their moves by simply being associated with these simple truths– ‘good life’ and “life’s better when we’re connected” – to venture into the space.

This theme almost seems to be the start of a trend. In fact, now Apple seems to be explicitly delivering the same message. Over the past decade, Apple effectively achieved the status of a lifestyle brand with its innovative products, but rarely struck a truly aspirational tone. In its newest ‘Signature’ ad, it makes familiar claims, “We spend a lot of time on a few great things, until every idea we touch enhances each life it touches. You may rarely look at it, but you’ll always feel it. This is our signature and it means everything: Designed by Apple in California.” Coincidentally, this ad comes as the smartphone and tablet markets are becoming increasingly competitive.

Is this a trend – is this ‘bettering our lives’ space the new prescription for brands in commoditized markets?

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