Lululemon: Lessons and Mistakes From Shortsighted Branding
Like never before in our history, we are blending our public and private existence. Social media is an incredible example of just how the personal and private realms are now intimately intermixed. We spend as much time snapping pictures, writing posts, sharing media and "liking" our world via the internet as we do sleeping. Our life, and yes this includes our private life, is often displayed before total strangers well before some of our most intimate contacts hear the "news". So...what is your message going to be and are you telling an interesting story or just talking? There are people that talk to hear themselves speak and there are people that speak because they believe what they have to say is important. Social media is a messaging platform. While you can limit, to some degree, who sees your message, you are representing yourself to the world with every like and comment you make. I think this is obvious to most moderately intelligent people. The not so obvious piece is that no one will pay attention if you don't provide contrast. The best stories always have contrast...ALWAYS. So after you have posted the third selfie of you in your 4th yoga challenge it becomes monotony...unless you make it unusual, unique, or substantially different from the last 47 images of you in a yoga posture.
The human mind is hard wired to recognize and identify with contrast...it is how we survive. The most basic example of this is shadow and light or our relationship with the sun. Every living organism in the world is designed around if or to what degree solar radiation is available. Even deep sea creatures living in total darkness require energy available as a result of our relationship to the sun. The contrast of shadow to light is one of the greatest storytelling techniques. We see it in the heroes journey (monomyth), climbing the mountain, the false start, etc. Contrast can make even the most banal of stories tolerable and more importantly it resonates with us on a primal level...an emotional level. Great messaging is not the same picture of you and your perfect life...no one believes the plastic oversaturated sweetness, not really. We all know that life is filled with heartache, pain, sadness, failure and disappointment as much as or more than it's filled with success, pleasure, and joy. People are looking for a way to make sense of shadow and light and how they relate to one another...good messaging provides the tools for this process. Great messaging encourages people to learn to reframe their failures, their blunders and embarrassments as opportunities to expand, as a way to transcend and attempt the next great challenge. Great messaging is real and gritty and sometimes a little dirty but, and this is BIG, it is honest.
I wear Lululemon clothes because I like the way they fit and frankly (Athleta) there are not many alternatives out there for men. I have never appreciated the artificial sweetness of the lulu brand (walk into any of their stores and you will feel it...two words...cult and unreality), so when their founder, Chip Wilson, started making comments about women and fitting into lululemon pants I was mortified. My mild distrust of the brand turned into a clear need to steer clear of any association with its confusing messaging. What made it worse is that lululemon the brand had no one to turn to as a contrast to the founders offensive remarks. Instead, all they had/have are an endless parade of "uplifting" slogans like "dance. sing, floss and travel" and glossy images of really thin women. Just one real person, you know the kind of person we can identify with, the kind we believe...just one of these people could have provided a contrast to the original remark of "Some women's bodies don't work for the pants" made by Chip Wilson. Instead, they eventually removed Chip from Lululemon and continued the ridiculous branding of only thin women are beautiful...just go take a look at the lululemon website. I don't know many athletes that look like these women.
Make it interesting, invite dissent, engage on a real level...people want to connect. Apologize when necessary. Stand up for what you believe and if you don't know what you believe then why are you talking and not listening? Finally, don't be afraid of the nay sayers, the "unfrienders", the snarky comments. People will disagree with you, they will "unfriend" you, they will say things to literally billions of people on social media that they would never say to your face. So take a deep breath and reframe the conversation back to your message, to your story. Often it is the contrast provided by the negative or dissenting opinion that really gets the discussion going. Spend time reflecting on how valuable and necessary it is to have people that don't agree or even like your message...they help move it forward just as much as all the mindless "likes". Let the ranters get stirred up and then use that energy to say something incredibly important!
Your life is a message to the world and today it is accessible to thousands if not millions of people. What story are you going to tell them? How would you like to inspire change and make the world a richer place to be? Can you be honest enough with who you are to tell the truth, to tell a really interesting and at times heart wrenching story or are you just going to post another picture of the latest yoga challenge?