Lululemon has had a rough couple of years. The athletic leisurewear brand ran into trouble when their black yoga pants were too sheer, prompting a massive recall. Then Chip Wilson, founder and chairman of the brand’s board, was forced to step down after stating that not every woman has a body that looks good in Lululemon clothing.
Yet through it all, Lululemon’s customer base has stayed loyal. Composed of soccer Moms, meditation devotees and proficient juicers of organic produce, this core market is responsible for more than two billion dollars in annual revenue. Laurent Potdevin, Lululemon’s current CEO, credits this loyalty in part to the brand’s ability to listen closely to their customers and deliver exactly what they’re looking for.
The Local Hero: Who Does Your Customer Look Up To?
When asked by CBS News how the brand stays inspired, Potdevin replied, “We’ve got 1,500 ambassadors around the world. The ambassadors are the local heroes -the triathletes, yogis, runners. They’re all around the world. We have the ability to listen at a local level.”
Potdevin’s choices make sense. Lululemon’s customers value fitness and an active lifestyle. Running is both the oldest sport in the world, and one that has been experiencing tremendous growth. Running USA reports that the sport’s seen a 300% increase in participation rates since the 1990’s, with the largest percentage of that boom attributable to women between the ages of 25-44. Almost two thirds of half-marathon participants are women; when you consider the grueling Ironman competition, female participation rates have grown by 275%.
The active athletes do garner their share of local renown and celebrity. People pay attention to them and what they’re doing. Lululemon has found them to be influential voices in their communities: while the urge to emulate their behavior may not extend to actually running miles and miles on a regular basis, they definitely have an impact on style choices.
Not All Heroes Run: Who Is Important To Your Marketplace?
Lululemon’s idea of identifying and connecting with local heroes transcends the athletic wear marketplace. Consider who the aspirational figures are in your customers’ lives. If you’re in the hardware industry, it could be a well-known local builder or the woodworker that wows everyone with their artistry. Fashion retailers know who the local style icons are – with any luck, they shop with you often already.
Lululemon actively listens to their local heroes, engaging with them on a personal level to identify trends as they emerge, get feedback about new products, and just get an overall sense of what’s going on in their lives. They use this information to continually refine their marketing in a way their overall customer base finds appealing. This is something smaller brands can do as well, by identifying and engaging with the relevant local heroes. In person conversation is always wonderful, but don’t miss the chance to follow these individuals on social media as well: many times influencers are also active on one or more platforms, sharing content that’s relevant to your target market.
If you’re not currently doing so, set a goal for yourself to identify and engage with at least one new local influencer each month. We all know networking takes time – Lululemon has been doing this since 1998! – but it’s a strategy that eventually delivers great rewards in terms of customer understanding and brand loyalty.