The rise of lifestyle branding in travel

Lifestyle Branding

It has become increasingly apparent that one of the fundamental shifts in brand marketing is the rise in what has been termed “Lifestyle Branding”.

This term is being used to describe how brands are attempting to align their products and services with an inspirational and motivational goal in an effort to win “the hearts and minds” of their customers. This move to an emotional attachment is largely as a result of the rise in social media, used predominantly by the Millennials and Generation X who have become increasingly demanding of personalised experiences in order to give them meaningful connections to the brands’ values and lifestyles that they represent. Brands no longer sell products. They sell experiences that offer a path to feel a certain way that will empower consumers to change their world.

Amanda Hills, CEO of Hills Balfour says of the shift:

“these are exciting times, the travel industry is hugely benefiting from the rise of lifestyle branding – this has now become the norm as travellers expect to forge more of an emotional connection in order to align themselves with brands that reflect their personal values and lifestyles. Increasingly destinations are benefiting as the tourism industry is so much part of the lifestyle landscape. That said, the key is to ensure that you are constantly re-evaluating and redefining the target market. We are increasingly developing campaigns and partnerships for our clients that can help brands more easily scale their holistic lifestyle philosophy but it does require a constant awareness of how quickly this is evolving in our new and ever-shifting world to ensure our marketing is responding to customers needs.”

Top brands are successfully stepping into and embracing the philosophy of lifestyle branding, but whilst for the key companies it does require large amounts of commitment, marketing excellence and resources to achieve the goal, this is not always the case. The “Cool Brands” who have successfully managed to turn their products into a way of life naturally include Apple and Disney. However, Apple spent £1.4bn on branding in 2015, so it is still a challenge for smaller companies to follow suit. Disney have successfully inspired an extension of the original magic throughout their theme parks, private island and cruise line industry. Other large brands identified within the travel industry who have successfully inspired loyalty and carved out unique lifestyle brand niches within their customers include Virgin and Airbnb (see new brand image above) and GoPro with their adventure messaging brand partnership with Red Bull.

Hotel brands are significantly changing their approach to targeting their audience and we have found a huge increase in the demand for working with lifestyle influencers to project the key messages.

Authenticity remains a huge mandate

Of course there are still risks attached to this form of branding and companies within the travel industry are finding it difficult not only to put the required resources behind it, but are also trying to work out how to turn themselves from a product into more of a personality or a “trusted friend” without alienating other sectors. Building a community of like-minded individuals takes time and offers huge challenges in the process as travellers preferences shift, values change, regular new marketing channels in mobile, online and offline develop and demographics evolve. That said, smaller travel companies don’t necessarily need to invest heavily at all to be a lifestyle brand, it’s simply a clear brand shift to defining a purpose that plays a role in people’s lives, which can be done via partnerships or by providing experiences, facilitating social debate and sharing amongst your audiences. Often it is a matter of out-smarting them by finding a meaningful, genuine role in the lifestyle of your audience and acting on it with integrity.

One significant way that this is working is by brand’s establishing relationships with influencers in order to ensure their stories remain true to the brand. Authenticity remains a huge mandate, so working with influencers helps drive consumer trust. A recent Forbes study found that a third of millennials rely mostly on blogs they consider to be authentic and relevant, before they make a purchase compared to fewer than 3% from TV news, magazines and books. 62% say that if a brand engages with them on social networks they are more likely to become loyal customers. 43% value authenticity over content when consuming information and trust must be established and 42% are interested in helping companies develop future products and services which is an inviting opening for brands to enable their customers. 60% are brand loyal which means the rewards for building connections and relationships with millennials can reap benefits for years to come.

It’s about providing an experience that contributes to a chosen or desired lifestyle or attitude.

Anthony Dalton (MD of Hills Balfour’s Dubai office) explains that clever ad campaigns are no longer enough as the consistent key messages have to run across all online and offline activities. He has observed that “recently brands that we’ve been originating in the hospitality and tourism sector have recognised that it’s not just about providing a product or a service anymore, it’s about providing an experience that contributes to a chosen or desired lifestyle or attitude. For example in hospitality we’ve been creating new brands that don’t want to be constrained by a badge of 3 – 5 star. They are designed to provide experiences for customers to match their beliefs or lifestyles, often for millennials. They are more social, and they are chameleons that can jump between 3, 4 or even 5 star, or between resort and city life. At their core is a belief in a certain lifestyle that they recognise and contribute to no matter where they exist or what age of customer.