Sell the Dream, Not the Product

Written by Paul Marchildon, on April 23, 2014.


“’Here’s what our product can do’ and ‘Here’s what you can do with our product’ sound similar, but they are completely different approaches.” Jason Fried, founder and CEO of Basecamp, the world’s #1 project management tool.

We don’t need more stuff; we need more experiences. A new phone, a new bag, a new pair of shoes won’t fundamentally change our lives – but what we do with them can. That’s the promise lifestyle brands hold out to their audiences, a promise that encourages them to stop buying “stuff” and start living the life they want. It’s not about selling the product anymore; it’s about selling the dream. (And creating it.)

Several companies are taking a “lifestyle” approach. How do they reach out to their audiences and become more than the sum of their products?

Lululemon: More than Expensive Yoga Wear

Lululemon’s message has always been health and exclusivity. These aren’t your Gap yoga pants; this clothing makes you part of an elite community, one focused on high-end fitness. It’s a lifestyle that many find appealing – especially Lululemon’s employees themselves.

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The company cultivates a culture of leisureology: employees not only talk the talk, they walk the walk. Or yoga the yoga. The company pays for fitness classes for its employees and sends them to intensive (and expensive) goal-setting retreats. They’re encouraged to share their personal goals and work towards them.

As former CEO Christine Day once said, “We’re not afraid to have a good time, to have a good laugh, stand for something, create a conversation. Our clothing is a medium for people to live a life they love.”[1]That starts at work; it starts with motivated and engaged employees.

Lug Brand: “Living Life in Colour”

For Lug, the goal is to create colour in a sea of black. I recently met founder and University of Waterloo graduate, Ami Richter at an alumni event, where she shared her story and previewed her spring/summer 2014 line.

Lug is the epitome of a lifestyle brand: Ami and Jason met in Las Vegas, where they’d traveled for a trade show, and Lug was born on a 1500 mile road trip from Dallas to Toronto. They felt that airports, train platforms, and backseats of cars were “filled with black and boring product. And we wanted to add some colour.” [2]

Lug’s products break up the “black and boring” with bold colour, innovative designs, and intuitive features that make you want to go from Point A to Point B with them. But it’s not just the bags: it’s the promise of adventure, of traveling better, of finding something new, that makes this company so unique. Lug takes leisure to a product level brilliantly.

Incorporating Your Own “Colour”

You can incorporate the lifestyle message of brands like Lug in your own culture. Maybe it’s rethinking how you market your own products and services. Maybe it’s using their story as an employee motivation tool. Maybe it’s offering a travel bag as an incentive or a reward for stellar performance. In any case, you will be selling the dream, too.

Ami Richter recently did a TED talk, in which she urged listeners to “connect your skills together with your DNA.” In other words, do what you are passionate about. “What is your DNA? I’m not talking about genetics or chromosomes here. I want to talk about your likes, your interests, your passions, what gets you going, what gets you excited, what makes you you?” [3]

It’s not about bags for her; it’s about helping people do what they are passionate about. It’s about making it easier, more fun, and more stylish to seek out new adventures. And that’s the message that you can send to your employees: when they do what they’re passionate about, they’ll find success and happiness. They’ll be engaged in their work and motivated to do more.

Possessions don’t hold as much power as experiences. People don’t want to buy a product; they want to buy its potential. And you know what, employees don’t want to create just products either; they want to help shape that dream. In both cases, a lifestyle message helps build greater passion into everyday life, and greater engagement into whatever it is you do.

Paul Marchildon

Paul Marchildon

A self-proclaimed Leisureologist and Motivational Speaker, Paul Marchildon applies his vast expertise in human engagement to help leaders create more productive, effective organizations. Building on an influential career as a pioneer in employee incentive and loyalty programs, strategic creative communications, social media and mobile marketing, Paul provides insight into the advantages of incorporating a leisure culture in the "work" place. He is past president of Society of Incentive and Travel Executives’ (Site) Canadian Chapter and founder of Atlantis Creative Group (now part of Maritz Canada). He is one of a select group of Canadians who have received the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.