Brands – Know Thy Customer

By: Richard Berger

A recent chat with my colleagues about our kids turned into a great lesson about building resonant brands. I’d mentioned my daughter’s recent obsession with everything Ivivva – the Lululemon spinoff brand for tween girls – and one of the folks around the table suggested the company must be losing out on a lot of brand equity by going with the “Ivivva” brand, instead of calling itself “LuluKids.” My first instinct was to agree, but then I thought about it a moment and realized that’s exactly the reason why Ivivva should go against the ‘brand equity’ third rail. My tween daughter doesn’t want to be merely a spinoff of her mom’s brand – she doesn’t want to be relegated to the ‘kids’ version. She wants her own brand, her own logo, her own identity. Even though she knows it’s the same company, the brand resonates more powerfully with her and her friends because it’s their brand, not an offshoot of mine or her mom’s. But is that the only reason? How do Ivivva’s competitors succeed in gaining tween loyalty? Would adding “kids” at the end of the parent brand name automatically lead to failure?

Being the geek that I am, I wanted to find out direct from the source. So I ran my own little focus group this weekend and asked my daughter and her friends about this. Here’s what I learned:

  • Ownership…and aspiration: They do love having their own brand, their own logo, etc. But at the same time, the girls recognize that it’s essentially “Lululemon girls” – and in some ways they ‘aspire’ to be big enough to wear Lululemon. In fact, a few of the taller girls do so already.
  • What a niche!: I asked about additional active wear brands beyond Ivivva, and while the girls know the names, they just don’t resonate the way Ivivva does. As far as they’re concerned, it’s the only active wear brand for them, just as Forever 21 or BCX fill other apparel niches for their age group.
  • Seriously, no competitors?: Clearly I’m a bit out of my element here, but when I do a Google search for “Ivivva competitors,” I get nothing. Nada. It’s all about Ivivva. Every link on the first few pages. No ads on the side, no other brands, nothing – it’s just amazing.

I also reached out to HighPoint’s leading brand guru, Ben Bidlack, for his thoughts on Ivivva’s approach. “It’s easy to point to Ivivva’s success and forget that Lululemon had at least three very different options in developing a brand for tween girls:

  • A Lululemon sub-brand: “Lululemon Girls” (or something similar)
  • A strong endorsement brand: “Girls by Lululemon” where the “by Lululemon” endorsement always appears in the brand name
  • A new name/word (“Blue,” “Sunshine,” “Ivivva”) with a softer endorsement (“created by Lululemon”) that appears only occasionally and allows that brand to stand on its own with a bit of separation from Lululemon.

“It’s not that the first two choices were doomed to fail miserably,” says Bidlack. “But the third choice was the best choice for tweens who, judging from research across the nation and around Sumeet’s kitchen table, apparently prefer a brand of their own more than they care about associating with the potential power and/or aspiration of the adult Lululemon brand.”

The Ivivva case is a perfect example of the importance of really understanding your target customers. Determining who your core consumers are and what drives their purchasing behavior is a complex task that must be continuously revisited – and we’ve seen many clients struggle with this. Look at Abercrombie & Fitch, for example. Once a thriving teen brand, the company failed to keep track of the target consumer and fell behind on customer tastes when trends moved away from branded, uniform clothing, and instead moved to individualized mix-and-match styling. For Ivivva, the core customer question is even more complex: How do we appeal to both tween girls, who are our most ardent fans, and their parents, who are ultimately purchasing these not-so-inexpensive products? For brands such as Ivivva and Lululemon, the consumer insight needs to go beyond the obvious – “I like the Lululemon styling” – and instead reach a deeper level where the company learns something about the core values driving the purchase.

While my daughter and her friends may not be thinking about their love of Ivivva as a ‘religion,’ closely cultivated by marketers at Lululemon, the brand undeniably resonates with her and her peer group – and that means they’re doing something right (and we should take note). Digging down to discover the core values that can be tapped to build a real connection with your target customer is a valuable lesson we can apply to our own thinking about our business, and even our personal brand. Lululemon and Ivivva successfully did that (at least in my household).