SELLING BACK TO OURSELVES:
Fremont businesses use new marketing technique that reflects customers’ lifestyles
This column originally appeared in North Seattle Herald-Outlook, published May 2, 2007
by Kirby Lindsay
Staid and conventional hardly describe Fremont, so it comes as no surprise that some small businesses here already incorporate an innovative businesses technique. Lifestyle branding or lifestyle brands, the latest trend in marketing, is gaining use by retailers and manufacturers everywhere.
According to Bob Schuessler, Coordinator of the Communication Program at North Seattle Community College, modern marketing revolves around the idea that “we’re being sold back to ourselves.” Using demographics, and psycho-graphics that take into account psychological and sociological factors, marketing involves a scientific study of consumers.
Stores create a niche, an identity and a familiarity that their customers automatically associate with a business name, or a brand, and products they use and want. Nike started with running shoes and now offers a line of sporting gear and clothes, identifiable to anyone who craves the healthy lifestyle image Nike has built into their brand name.
Retailers also sell lifestyle brands. Both Sound Speed Scooters and Sonic Boom General Store offer “lifestyle” items. Grace Kim, store manager of Evo, located on the far west end of the Fremont business district, answers questions about where she works by saying, “it’s a lifestyle shop.”
Evo currently sells everything to do with skiing, snowboarding and wakeboarding. “We’re trying to support the lifestyle,” she explains, as they offer the “hard goods” of the sports as well as art, music, fashion and even occasional concerts that interest their customers. Even their altruism goes towards local initiatives and environmental causes related to customers’ interests. “As much as we focus on the actual sport, we focus on what the lifestyle demands,” Kim clarified.
In teaching about lifestyle brands at NSCC, Dr. Schuessler has instructed on how “the phenomenon of the Internet has changed the look of the brick-and-mortar store.” Internet sites use links to lead consumers to similar, associated and familiar products, while keeping them connected to a common source for those products. Stores now attempt to make those links a reality within their locations.
For Evo, the evolutionary process actually went in reverse. Begun as an on-line niche business, evogear.com, they sold only “hard goods” - skiis, snowboards and wakeboards. “When we opened this retail location,” Kim explained, “we modified the website making it so the two can run in parallel.” In the store they saw “a lot of cross over” to skateboarding, so they’re now adding that line as well. In Evo’s case, brick-and-mortar affected technology and turned evogear.com into a lifestyle site.
Specialization can backfire. “Media allows us to be more connected,” Dr. Schuessler stated, “but also, we tend to have our behavior reflected back at us, reinforcing what we already like.” This can lead to boredom, overexposure or lack of adaptation as we grow, or grow older.
Kim admits “we think about it all the time.” Continual study and effort remain necessary for Kim to keep the focus of Evo. Wake boarders may cross over into inflatables, she explained, but Evo won’t. Instead, they “keep it focused with the brands and the products” of four sports and what those participants want.
“The irony of having all this media to be connected to one another,” Dr. Schuessler mused, “but to have to e-mail a colleague down the hall…” People have grown desperate for a sense of community to belong to and fit in with, and marketing responds. Stores, and products, that connect our interests build community, easily identifiable images and a sense of ownership.
Some refer to the lifestyle brand strategy as a holistic approach, by providing consumers everything under one umbrella, or name brand. Kim resisted the idea of references to one-stop-shopping that might give the impression they are “like Wall-Mart.”
Dr. Schuessler quoted marketing pioneer Tony Schwartz who suggested marketing is about “turning the attention to the consumer instead of the product.” The professor explained, “in a way, the product and the service become irrelevant.” Instead, stores become a mirror, a reflective surface that shows us who we are and who we’d like to be.
“Definitely.” says Kim, as products Evo carries focus “more on the athlete than the sport.” Evo vendors designate the store an ‘image account’ – manufacturers can stock a broader spectrum of products in Evo than in a sporting goods store and reach a wider market of consumers than in a specialty boutique.
This ‘image’ may extend beyond the doors of Evo. In many ways, the Fremont business district, with its wide selection of complimentary stores, restaurants and entertainments, carries a certain lifestyle branding. The only piece missing is a defined demographic and psycho-graphic of the people who fit this lifestyle. For the time being, it remains all things to all customers who shop here, and want to be part of this lifestyle.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.