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Founded in 1998, Lululemon is a yoga and sports apparel company from Canada.
Although its first store was opened in 2000, the company sold $350 million worth of products in their 113 retail stores 8 years later.
In 2012, Lululemon was reported to have the third most productive retail store in the US, only behind Apple and Tiffany & Co.
According to Nina Gardner, Lululemon's community relations manager, the company achieved all this almost entirely via word-of-mouth, and with ads in only two publications:
We don’t do ads. All of our marketing is done word-of-mouth and grassroots Gardner said. The only place you’ll see ads is in ‘Yoga Journal’ and ‘Runner’s World,’ two national publications.
Let's take a look at how a company that started off selling yoga pants managed to grow so big from leveraging on word-of-mouth.
[su_box title="2021 Update: Alo Yoga" box_color="#0F70FF" title_color="#ffffff" radius="2"]
For a more modern example of the word-of-mouth marketing playbook, check out Alo Yoga and how they built a brand across Owned, Earned and Paid channels.
1. Lululemon's customers are eager to show off their inspirational-poster themed shopping bags, just as they might on Pinterest.
Lululemon is all about living an active life, evidenced by their goal to "sweat every day", and other activities like breathing deeply, drinking plenty of water, and going outdoors.
These values promote a very positive and healthy image, something that customers can relate to and aspire towards. And customers who shop at Lululemon are given tote bags that have the company's manifesto emblazoned all over them:
The feel-good quotes on the bags serve as a form of "social snack": something we look at to make ourselves feel better throughout the day.
By associating the brand with these values, customers would feel as if they're "connecting with her best self" as they buy their yoga pants.
Word-of-mouth action tip: Make something about your product worth showing off to others.
2. Lululemon staff feel more like your yoga or gym buddies – they'll happily talk to you more about yoga and goal-setting than their products.
Lululemon's store employees "are encouraged to discuss exercise goals with customers and take into account their feedback written on chalkboards in the fitting rooms." This ensures the staff is better equipped with more information to give personalized recommendations to every customer.
They are also instructed to dress like they were going for a workout, so customers would see them more like people you see in a gym or yoga class, rather than a store employee.
Plus, most people who work at Lululemon are athletic and fit individuals, so they have a lot in common with their customers. This relatability and similarity make them a lot more likable, and customers are more comfortable trusting them.
And this building of relationships is exactly what Nina Gardner is trying to achieve:
Making sure we’re really building those relationships (with customers) — that’s what really sets us apart from being just another retail store that’s opening up to sell clothes. Absolutely we sell clothes, but we are building relationships. We are supporting communities.”
Word-of-mouth action tip: Don't rush into selling your products – connect with your customers like a friend, so they'll like you more and open up to you.
3. Retail stores transform into fitness and conversation hubs on weekends for free lessons, to give back and get people involved with the brand.
One of their stores in Burlingame, California hosts free yoga classes on Saturday mornings and Sundays, as well as a weekday run club. This practice originated from Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, who used his office space as a yoga studio at night to help pay for rent back in the day.
This, according to former CEO Christine Day, positions Lululemon stores as a "fitness and conversation hub". It also increases customer engagement, encourages regular visits to the store, and keeps the brand constantly top-of-mind.
What having similar-minded individuals for store employees and free fitness classes in-store does is – it evolves customers' perception of the brand from being an apparel company to an entity that embodies your ideas, and a community to find like-minded people.
Christian Buss, a Wall Street analyst described Lululemon's brand identity to a fitness partner:
They're selling a brand identity...the model that Lululemon is trying to build is, you're pretty cool, we'll be your partner in being your best possible self. And that kind of turns retail on its head.
Word-of-mouth action tip: Leverage your existing assets to contribute to your community.
Read next: Community marketing examples
4. Lululemon engages fitness trainers and athletes as brand Ambassadors to inspire and engage with their customers, so they can feel motivated to keep fit.
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Nicole Katz from Yoga 216 is one of the many brand ambassadors of Lululemon.[/caption]
So if Lululemon organizes free yoga and fitness classes regularly all throughout the world, who exactly leads all those classes?
They are Lululemon's brand ambassadors; yoga teachers and fitness trainers that have chosen embody the brand's values and lifestyle.
These 1,500+ ambassadors host classes in Lululemon stores within their communities, and according to a yoga teacher from the Australian fitness group OzSquad, get support from the brand to pursue any events and initiatives they desire.
Of course, they're also outfitted with the Lululemon products, so they get to wear free gear while promoting their own yoga schools and the Lululemon brand.
Apart from local yogis and fitness trainers, world-class Olympic athletes are also part of the ambassador program, such as Olympic cross-country skier Sara Renner and Jaime Komer.
Word-of-mouth action tip: Celebrate and promote individuals who embody your brand values, so customers will think of you when they look at them.
Lululemon has always been a brand that connects their products with values that inspire their customers. People buy Lululemon pants because they agree with the values that Lululemon embodies and expresses.
And that can be a powerful thing, as a branding expert and author Karen Post explains,
They’re selling emotion and happiness and joy and feeling good about yourself, ... and when companies keep their eye on that in a more focused way, and less on the features of the product, their chances of being a successful brand just go through the roof.
Questions to ponder:
- What are some values that your target customers live by?
- Does your company embody and communicate those same values in your marketing?
- How can you create a positive and engaging community, where your customers can interact with your brand?
Hey! Check out these 25 prove to work Strategies From The Fashion Industry.