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When Values Collide: Lululemon’s Value-Based Quandry

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Core values are a driving force behind much of contemporary consumer behavior. In order to set themselves apart, brands now need to create value-based relationships with their customers in order to establish long-term relationships that will ensure not only immediate success, but also future engagement with the company as well. Recent research has shown that 47% of consumers report buying something monthly to support a cause. Furthermore, when quality and price are the same, consumers now say social purpose is the most important factor in their purchase decisions, with an increase of 26% from 2010. Many brands, such as Patagonia and Sephora , have successfully integrated a sense of corporate responsibility in their messaging, yielding positive results. Conversely, yoga brand Lululemon serves as a cautionary case study of the potential pitfalls of ignoring or misreading societal trends, as well as the values of its own customer base.

Lululemon is a luxury yoga brand that has become the leading yoga brand in the U.S. by selling higher end yoga apparel and products, which many feel are primarily targeted toward wealthy, slender, Caucasian females. While they have achieved a high level of success and market share in the United States, Lululemon has also alienated a substantial portion of the wider yoga community by embodying a set of values that many feel go against basic yogic principles of inclusivity and diversity. For example, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson came under fire recently for suggesting after a recall of a line of their yoga pants that their products may not be right for all women’s bodies. The company has also been criticized for placing a quote from conservative writer Ayn Rand on one of their products, a move seen by many in the yoga community as promoting self-interest and elitist principles over the more yogic philosophies of altruism and community. These, and several other public gaffes by Mr. Wilson led to his resignation as chairman of Lululemon last year. The backlash against the company spread quickly, generating hoards of negative publicity, and causing many yoga practitioners to abandon the brand.
Despite their missteps, Lululemon remains the most popular yoga brand in the U.S., indicating that many of its customers are either unaware or unconcerned with the values and principles that Lululemon seems to endorse. But public perception of the brand has clearly turned sour in many circles, largely due to a fundamental conflict of values. People view the brands they choose as part of their identity, and will often reject a brand that contradicts their personally held value system. Zenzi’s Social Values practice has identified six distinct value segments, each with its own characteristics, motivations, and consumer patterns. While yogic values are often associated with Zenzi’s Purpose Seeker type, Lululemon’s marketing seems to be targeting Prestige Seekers, who place a high priority on individual achievement, personal responsibility, and career success. While one can debate the merits of their choices and tactics, they have clearly succeeded in targeting a certain value segment within the greater yoga community – but at what cost?
Lululemon has expressed a desire to expand globally, a move that they claim will help spread yoga to those less fortunate than well-to-do Americans. However, it remains to be seen how the values they stand for will translate to other cultures, especially amongst the wealth of negative publicity surrounding the company. Some may argue that a corporation is accountable only to their shareholders, and can target whomever they choose. While this may currently be the case, consumer trends seem to suggest that support for this type of attitude is waning, while an approach that listens to and incorporates the needs, desires, and values of the consumer base is moving to the forefront.
Zenzi’s Social Values practice is specifically designed to help businesses who wish to capitalize on this burgeoning consumer trend by offering services that get at the root motivations of their customers and employees, creating value-driven brand relationships that generate loyalty and repeat business as societal trends continue to evolve. Consumers have more power than ever before, and whether a company such as Lululemon can expand its customer base worldwide without a cultural shift toward monitoring customer values remains an open question. To learn more about Zenzi’s Social Values practice, visit www.zenzi.com, or email us: info@socialvalues.com.



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