We live in The Age of I. Banana Republic wants to leverage this phenomenon.
The Age of I refers to the tension between two strong human desires: the need to belong (inclusivity) and the need to have a unique identity (individualism). It is an overarching paradox that drives attitudes and behaviors. People want to be seen and respected as individuals with special characteristics. But, people also want to belong to something bigger: a community, a network, a business, a family, an ethnic group, a religious institution, a union or a nation. People want to be independent and interdependent at the same time. People want to be self-expressive, while at the same time acceptable to a community.
Trading off between these two desires is uncomfortable and difficult. Data show that the personal self and the social self mutually reinforce each other.
In our increasingly digital, networked, mobile environment, it is easy to be oneself and part of a group at the same time. Ubiquitous technology and online communities allow people to create different social identities depending on the group in which someone participates.
But, digital is not completely satisfactory. Humans are social animals. People may opt for Spotify but there is nothing like attending a music festival. This desire for individualism and inclusivity in real life is powering one of the major manifestations of The Age of I: the desire of brand-businesses to become lifestyle brands.
Lifestyle brands create communities. Lifestyle brands generate emotional and social values that connect with particular customers, exciting these customers to want affiliation with the brand. At the same time, lifestyle brands are based on the idea that individuals have their own unique identities. These identities reflect customers’ values, hopes, opinions, experiences and wants. The ability to personalize products and services within a real-world physical, emotional and social community is a sought-after experience.
There are many lifestyle brands on the marketing landscape. Ralph Lauren, Anthropologie, Restoration Hardware, Goop (the wellness lifestyle brand-business) and, now, Barbie, are a few.
Anthropologie states the following:
Anthropologie is a unique, full-lifestyle shopping destination, with a mostly exclusive assortment of clothing, shoes, accessories, beauty, furniture, home décor, garden, bridal and more.
Our customers are creative people who want to be and look like themselves. They have a sense of adventure about what they wear and take a thoughtful, personal approach to interior décor and the harmony of home. Although personal style is important to them, they’re not governed by trends. We listen to our customers and community for inspiration and feedback – the intention is to exceed their every expectation in unexpected ways.
Ralph Lauren states:
Our Purpose at Ralph Lauren is to inspire the dream of a better life through authenticity and timeless style. Each word is deliberate, deeply rooted in our history and in our culture. Inspiring the dream of a better life is not about material status, but about a life filled with hope, possibility and a sense of realness that never goes out of style.
We do this The Ralph Lauren Way – love what you do, be passionate, work hard, embrace individuality, work together, take risks, stand up for what you believe in and aspire to the best. The Ralph Lauren Way is what built this Company; these values are enduring and will help carry us into the future.
Lifestyle brand-businesses focus on embodying beliefs and behaviors that have meaning for a specific group. Lifestyle brand-businesses aim to encourage, entice and excite people to want to belong to the community. Lifestyle brand-businesses want their products and services to help define how the customer wants to define their way of life.
The latest entry into the lifestyle experience is Banana Republic, part of the Gap group. Banana Republic wants to become a lifestyle brand. This means adding home goods to the established clothing line. And, according to Banana Republic, the lifestyle strategy could mean adding hospitality.
According to The New York Times, Banana Republic is selling “… home textiles… having rolled out throw blankets, rugs and bed frames….” Banana Republic CEO, Sandra Stangl, indicated that the inclusion of home décor items gives Banana Republic “a bigger addressable audience.” CEO Stangl also admitted that adding these home-oriented items will help to “stabilize” the bran-business, as the pandemic and changes to work behavior and dressing impacted Banana Republic sales.
Observers are not particularly upbeat about Banana Republic’s lifestyle brand-business strategy. It is not just that the competition is tough. Will Banana Republic be able to capture the values, aspirations, attitudes of its target audience in ways that optimize the paradox of The Age of I? Will Banana Republic be able to satisfy individualism and inclusivity? Can Banana Republic create a world in which people can be self-expressive while wanting to belong in a Banana Republic-defined world?
One issue is how Banana Republic sees its market segment. According to the brand-business’ chief commerce and experience officer, Banana Republic has an opportunity because “… no company has more than 5% of the home market.”
This comment is a red flag.
A market is a want: a customer want. If there is no want, there is no market. A market is not a category: there is no home décor market. There is no lifestyle market. For Banana Republic to be successful, the brand-business needs to focus on the “want” for its lifestyle brand: who are the customers, why do they want this brand and what is the context for this brand? The retail lifestyle brand-business landscape is not unidimensional. Which brand-business is Banana Republic’s competitor according to customers?
There are probably many different customer-defined markets for lifestyle brands. Banana Republic does not define the market: customers do. Ralph Lauren or Anthropologie would probably say they are not competitors in the same market as Banana Republic. Nor would Ralph Lauren and Anthropologie agree that each is the other’s competitor.
Banana Republic is not alone in the pursuit of a lifestyle strategy. The Wall Street Journal reported that H&M, the Swedish fast-fashion brand-business is moving towards a lifestyle approach. H&M is adding home décor as well as makeup and brand-name items. And, then, there is Sporty & Rich, highlighted in The New York Times. Once an Instagram account; now, a lifestyle brand-business aiming to be “a younger person’s Goop.” The New York Times labeled Sporty & Rich as “ a brand world.”
Lifestyle brand-businesses are important in The Age of I. But, customers are savvy. Having a bed frame does not make a lifestyle. Banana Republic needs to define its market space, own it and then consistently deliver. What is the driver of Banana Republic’s ability to offer independence and interdependence, or as one professor states, our desire for separability and situatedness? In other words, what is the definition of Banana Republic’s optimization of individuality and inclusivity? Rather than starting with a bed frame, Banana Republic must articulate its promised experience in ways that are both provocative, persuasive and profitable.