Lululemon's community-led growth strategy
Lululemon, the Canadian athletic apparel retailer known for its premium yoga wear and stylish activewear, has become one of the world's most successful brands. Suffice to say that its estimated value adds up to more than Canada’s entire economy; it’s in the trillions of dollars.
But this immense success isn’t just born out of selling clothes. Lululemon has built a loyal community of fitness enthusiasts who live by their mantra – "it’s so much more than apparel; it’s about people."
Interested to learn exactly how it all unfolded? Read on as we delve into the unique community-led growth strategy that sets Lululemon apart from other brands and explore some key takeaways.
Lululemon: a quick history
Back in 1998, Chip Wilson had the vision to create a space that combined his love for yoga and athletic clothing. Thus, Lululemon was born in Vancouver, Canada, as a cozy yoga studio where people could not only practice their poses but also find comfortable and stylish garments to wear during their sessions.
As word spread about Lululemon's innovative approach to activewear and its unique fabric technology – like the trademarked Luon material – the company quickly gained traction among fitness enthusiasts who appreciated its fusion of style, comfort, and function. This rapid growth eventually led them to expand their offerings beyond just yoga gear into other types of athletic apparel such as tops, shorts, jackets, sweaters, accessories, and more.
Today – with over two decades under its belt since those humble beginnings in Vancouver – Lululemon has evolved into nothing short of a global phenomenon. The brand now operates more than 500 stores across different continents, along with maintaining a strong online presence.
Employing over 15 thousand dedicated individuals who share Chip's original vision, this powerhouse continues making strides within the realm of activewear by pushing boundaries on design innovations while staying true to its core values.
Product and values
Founder Chip Wilson is often credited with the conception of ‘athleisure’ – you’ve likely heard the term, as the clothing category’s value now sits at around $330 billion globally.
“The mission of my family, which ended up being Lululemon, was for people to be able to live healthier, longer, and more fun lives,” Wilson explained in an interview with Vikas Shah MBE for Thought Economics. “Our designers used that mission as their basis – the result being high-quality clothing, which had to last a long time.”
At its core, Lululemon strives to provide durable yet comfortable clothing for those who lead an active lifestyle. Their products are made using innovative materials that provide excellent support while maintaining breathability during intense workouts or daily activities such as walking or running errands.
In addition to offering quality products at premium price points, Luluemon also places a strong emphasis on promoting mindfulness and well-being among its customers through various initiatives like free meditation sessions at its stores.
One of the secrets behind the massive success of this brand lies in its three-pronged community strategy centered around fostering healthy living:
- A Brand Ambassador Program
- Content Creation
- In-store Events & Global Gatherings
Lululemon officially unveiled this approach in 2019 as part of the ‘Power of Three’ strategic plan – but in reality, it’s been fostering community-led initiatives for at least a decade.
Pillars of the strategy
Let’s break down the ins and outs of this three-tiered approach to community-led growth. Each pillar is as potent as the last, and all have been fundamental to the brand’s NIKE-esque success.
Brand ambassador programs
Unlike many big names like Nike or Adidas, Lululemon doesn’t rely on celebrities for endorsements. Reebok has Gigi Hadid; Puma has Rhianna; but what does Lululemon have in the way of advocacy?
Instead of relying on fame and fortune, they've built a network of hundreds of authentic brand ambassadors – ordinary people who share their passion for an active lifestyle and resonate with the values of the company. These homegrown influencers help create organic buzz around the brand and establish genuine connections within their communities.
Lindsay Claydon, the EU Director of Brand and Community, described the program as a way to “celebrate and promote local leaders who reflect our culture and share our passion and dedication for elevating the health and fitness of our communities.”
Bolstered by #TheSweatLife hashtag and incentivized with tools, networking events, and experiences, the program attracts fitness enthusiasts from all walks of life. It was a proper stroke of genius that set the brand apart as being truly for the community.
Like most global activewear brands, Lululemon has the usual social media setup: a main parent account, then several offshoot accounts to cover different regions, countries, and languages.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the brand’s content strategy.
Collaborating with its extensive network of brand ambassadors, Lululemon produces a wide range of content – from workout programs to travel tips – that fosters a culture of well-being and fitness among its audience.
Whenever a humanitarian cause is supported or affiliated in any way with Lululemon, the company adds a cover story to their ‘Beyond the Mat’ community highlight on Instagram. For instance:
Where the content strategy truly shines, however, is in the way ambassadors are encouraged to create their own content.
Here are a few recent ambassador posts to give you a clear idea of the content style:
It’s a unique approach, one that attracts a lot more organic, authentic interest. Customers appreciate the inclusion of ‘everyday people’ such as themselves and relate to the ambassadors a lot more readily than they could with celebrities.
In-store events & global gatherings
To further foster community spirit, Lululemon hosts various events at their storefronts across the world – yoga sessions, wellness workshops, and run clubs, just to name a few. These gatherings promote not only personal development but also connect like-minded individuals who share similar interests in health and fitness.
On top of local events held by individual stores worldwide every year (over 4000!), Lululemon also organizes annual global initiatives such as Sweatlife Festival, which includes outdoor fitness sessions, meet-ups with brand ambassadors & other experts as well as immersive workshops aimed at fostering holistic growth.
What can we learn from Lululemon?
Case studies like these are an incredible learning opportunity and an inspiration to those of us launching our own brands. When it comes to Lululemon’s unconventional rise to the top, there’s plenty to take away – so let’s recap the key focal points. By examining their journey, we can gain valuable insights into strategies that have contributed to their success.
The power of human connection
When marketing a product or service today (especially one in direct competition with behemoths like Nike), forming authentic relationships is more effective than any paid campaign featuring big-name celebrities could ever be. Through its grassroots approach to building community via an ambassador program and localized events, Luluemon has managed to win hearts (and wallets!) all over the globe.
Instead of relying on flashy ad campaigns featuring celebrities, Lululemon chose a more organic approach – and it allowed them to win over customers across the globe who appreciate authenticity and personal connection with their favorite brands.
Consistent value delivery drives long-term growth
An essential ingredient for sustained growth is regularly offering value-added content or experiences that resonate with your target audience. Whether it's crafting engaging blog posts or hosting interactive workshops, investing time and effort in delivering consistent value helps retain current customers while also attracting new ones intrigued by your brand's commitment to nurturing meaningful interactions.
As we clearly see in Lululemon's trajectory, this focus on providing continuous benefits has been instrumental in driving long-term expansion and loyalty among its customers. There has never been a dull moment for the community since Lululemon arrived on the scene; value has been delivered every step of the way, and the consistency has well and truly paid off.
User-generated content brings authenticity to your brand
There’s no denying that Lululemon can stand on its own two feet – but part of its online power comes from the community of ambassadors. The company has created a genius strategy in which ambassadors generate content on an incentivized basis in a way that feels incredibly genuine and authentic.
If you can find a way to encourage user-generated content that bolsters the message your brand is trying to send, you save a lot of time and money – and your advertising efforts come across far more authentic.
In a world where brands are constantly vying for consumer attention, Lululemon has managed to carve out a niche by prioritizing community-building over traditional advertising. By staying true to their mission of promoting health and wellness through authentic human connections, they've built an ever-growing loyal following that transcends borders.
The three main facets – brand ambassador program, content creation, and events – have been instrumental in establishing this strong sense of belonging among fitness lovers worldwide. As more companies recognize the value of genuine relationships with customers, it's worth taking notes from Lululemon's playbook when strategizing for your own brand growth.