To map the evolution of brands-turned-cultural-touchstones, this report identifies three canons of brands that are often considered “lifestyle brands”:

1.0: Brands that promulgated an aesthetic through a wide breadth of SKUs in many categories. These brands are sometimes conflated with “lifestyles,” but more accurately popularize a style more than a way of life.

2.0: Contemporary brands that aspire to become or claim they are “lifestyle brands,” but mostly use digital media to promote their products as the entree to a way of life. These brands represent the digitization of 1.0 rather than an entirely new rendition.

3.0: Brands that exist as part of a larger culture and foster a way of life, but don’t exist purely to sell products and are not in control of this larger culture.

When it comes to 3.0 brands, which may appear long-established cultural touchstones in the 21st century, hindsight often seems 20-20. However, their resonance in the contemporary moment follows many decades of evolution—years of sometimes interconnected, sometimes parallel, and sometimes independently operating forces that eventually converged to create what we perceive as a culture today. Importantly, for the brands involved in this canon, the work isn’t finished: they experience constant tension between growing the business and growing the culture, and will have to evolve to maintain relevance moving forward.

For 3.0 brands, we assess six pillars that offer insights on what sets a brand on the path for sustained cultural relevance, which also serves as the Playbook. Instead of commoditizing or exploiting a culture for commercial gain, these brands seek a grander objective. But because a brand cannot intentionally plan to become part of a culture, these questions serve as a starting point:

  • Aspirationality
    • Does the brand stand for something consumers can aspire to?
    • Are the products in and of themselves aspirational?
    • How does aspirationality play out in terms of price point?
  • Authenticity
    • What values are connected to the lifestyle, both in terms of the brand and the products?
    • Are there rabid fans or followers or do people associate with the brand more casually?
    • Does the brand spark controversy or debate?
    • What value does the brand place on its origin as it grows and scales?
    • How defensible is the brand in the economy—how desirable and substitutable is it?
  • Accessibility
    • How easily can a consumer “enter” this lifestyle, from both a pricing and geographic perspective?
    • What are the different entry points to the lifestyle (media, consumer products, experience, etc.)?
    • How do these different entry points attract different types of consumers? How wide is the breadth of consumers and what does it mean for the brand and the lifestyle it represents?
  • Distribution
    • Who are the trailblazers or figureheads forging a path for the culture’s growth? Do these players limit the dissemination of the lifestyle or do they grow it?
    • Conversely, does “the crowd” carry the lifestyle forward? How does the crowd interact with the figureheads?
    • How does the lifestyle spread and grow? What is the effect of the internet on popularization and growth?
  • Scaling
    • How does the brand grow as a business? How does this growth affect the values of the brand and the lifestyle it belongs to?
    • How can the brand become part of an ecosystem or network? How can it foster growth in this ecosystem or network?
  • Evolution
    • How pliable is the lifestyle to change? How has the brand changed over time, and how can one expect it to change in the future?
    • How does the evolution of the brand affect the consumer base? Whose interests does the evolution reflect (i.e. companies, brands, consumers, community)?