Why lululemon, with its new running shoes, should resist the pressures of mass appeal

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Lululemon made headlines last month when it launched its first-ever women’s running shoe, Blissfeel, in select stores in mainland China, North America and the UK. Blissfeel is also available online and three additional styles – Chargefeel, Strongfeel and Restfeel – will be introduced in the coming months.

According to at CNN, lululemon analyzed the foot scans of over one million women to create a shoe specifically designed for the female foot. Lululemon Chief Product Officer Sun Choe previously explained that the brand intentionally started with women first, as it saw an opportunity to address the fact that, more often than not, performance footwear is designed for men. , then adapted to women, which was not the case. sit well with lululemon.

Meanwhile, CEO Calvin McDonald said in early March that the shoes were “the next natural step” for the brand to grow and apply its long history of innovation in fit, feel and performance. The Blissfeels officially launched on March 22 and seven days later on its fourth quarter 2021 financial results call, McDonald’s said initial customer response to its latest shoes “has significantly exceeded [lululemon’s] expectations.” It also received “incredible reviews from a number of publications and guests, he shared.

The sportswear retailer said the Blissfeels are running shoes “designed with an upper that supports movement and energy-filled underfoot foam cushioning technology,” making running effortless. Overall, reviews of Blissfeel have been mostly positive, with several netizens raving about its comfort. Lululemon declined to comment. MARKETING-INTERACTIVE requests.

A natural progression for the brand

Founded in 1998, lululemon is best known for its activewear and the athleisure boom in the wake of the pandemic has solidified its name with consumers. The brand has seen steady growth throughout 2020. First quarter 2020 revenue was $652.0 million, down 17% from the same period in 2019. However , by the end of 2021, its revenue had soared to $2.1 billion. Having built a cult following, lululemon’s foray into the footwear scene has the potential to give mainstream athletic shoe brands such as Nike, adidas and Under Armor a run for their money.

Jessalynn Chen, Managing Director of Labbrand Singapore, said INTERACTIVE-MARKETING that Blissfeel is “a natural progression” for lululemon to expand beyond its current product line, as shoes will complement the overall look. “Brands such as Nike, Under Armor and adidas adopt typical conventions for highlighting performance, function and design elements in their product naming,” she said, adding:

Using an emotive product name such as “Blissfeel” is a clever move by Lululemon to touch the hearts of consumers.

When brands turn to athleisure, they usually have to expect the competition to intensify in the space, Chen said. As such, each brand needs to take a close look at its brand philosophy and ensure that its innovation, marketing and product creations reflect brand values ​​and are all following the same direction of growth. “Lululemon is not a competitor to be underplayed; it has a crazy cult culture that stands firmly behind the brand. In fact, it is a leading brand in the sports category that has successfully used lifestyle marketing to create a strong brand community,” she says.

Lululemon said in its 2020 annual report that women accounted for 69% of its net income. MMeanwhile, a report by SEO agency Linchpin SEO title Trends shaping the outlook for the sportswear industry for 2022,” said the The sportswear market is roughly 60% female versus 40% male.

Based on these factors, Chen said that Lululemon’s strategy of introducing footwear designed for women is an attractive angle and a nice plus for the brand – based on the premise that health and wellness is the new luxury for women. “Like it or not, the athleisure trend is not going away. In fact, it is and will continue to grow. Designs and sizes are also changing and improving to embrace diversity so that more wearers have the opportunity to look good,” she says.

Similarly, Samir Dixit, managing director of Brand Finance Asia Pacific, said that while the shoe can be seen as a natural extension of lululemon, known for its “ultra high-end and luxurious designer sportswear”, it cannot. not be just any. shoe. It should complement what the brand stands for and this is where the customer review would take place. Apart from brand fit, the next aspect to keep in mind would be audience adoption of the extension.

“A good indication of public adoption of a new product or expansion is an early sale, and that’s already happening because some of Blissfeel’s designs are already sold out,” Dixit said, adding:

In fact, lululemon would be more of a threat to high-end shoe manufacturers such as Aldo, although the latter may disagree and claim that its customers do not overlap with those of lululemon.

At the same time, he explained that what makes a product successful is a gap in the market, which is perhaps the case for lululemon. “Shoes are an important aspect of the athleisure package and lululemon customers may have always felt that gap, which has now been filled,” he said.

That said, that doesn’t mean big brands like Nike, adidas, and Under Armor should consider lululemon a threat. “As a brand, lululemon operates in a reasonably different segment than the Nikes and adidas of the world. They all have their own brand image and audiences. So there’s no reason for traditional brands to feel threatened. They are more mass than lululemon should ever be,” he said.

Resist the pressure of mass appeal

On brand extensions, Ambrish Chaudhry, Superunion’s Chief Strategy Officer, Singapore and Asia, said there is often a misconception in marketing that a brand can only stand for one thing. “Throw it in the trash! Customers who are more aware and in direct contact with the brands they care about are the perfect recipe for building community,” he said, adding that this is where lululemon has excelled.

“Across its stores, you see lululemon employees and customers who have embraced the brand’s ethos and feel a sense of community in its suggested lifestyle. he said. While it’s not too different from Nike and adidas which started with sneakers before expanding into apparel and accessories, Chaudhry explained that there’s still an undercurrent of masculinity in their makeup. It still exists as these brands have targeted women.

Citing American track and field athlete Allyson Felix as an example, Nike refused to guarantee her a similar level of approval a few years ago if her performance sagged in the months surrounding childbirth. In 2021, however, Felix won his 11th Olympic medal in Tokyo wearing his own brand of sports shoes, Saysh, designed and created especially for women.

Products and brands specifically targeting women have their heyday in the sun.

“Whether it’s personal finance, fitness, or buy now, pay later, women’s brands for women are emerging and catering directly to a vastly underappreciated segment, although it this is a very lucrative segment for financially independent women,” he said.

Clearly, lululemon’s formula hit the right tone with its consumers standing out from other sports brands. Brand Finance’s Dixit said lululemon should stick to its core audience and imagery and not be sucked into the pressure of mass appeal and mass selling. More importantly, he needs to stand firm on who his competition is because the brand is “definitely not the Nikes of the world” – which isn’t a bad thing.

“If lululemon operates in an ambitious athleisure performance apparel world versus the Nikes and adidas operating in a more functional athletic performance apparel world, then lululemon needs to keep that under control at all times because it is very easy to get left behind. distracted by market forces,” he said.

Blissfeel is just the first step in lululemon’s foray into the footwear scene as the brand plans to launch a collection of men’s shoes next year, along with special editions and seasonal collections. From an experience perspective, with COVID fatigue and return spending, lululemon should continue to explore unique retail formats through experiential spaces for customers to interact with the brand and try freely the products, as well as experience the customization or personalization technology, Chen added.

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