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The rise of lifestyle technology brands

The first successful phone call was made on March 10, 1876 when Graham Bell spoke into the device, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”. Since that day, phones have become portable, personal, slimmer, multi functional and one could claim they’ve replaced dogs as man’s best friend.

Before the introduction of mobile phone, a phone was exclusively a household device, a device used when needed, by anyone in the house or office, much like a fridge. The introduction of the mobile phone, with the release of Motorola DynaTAC 8000X in 1984, signaled a change in our relationship with the device which was no longer attached to a space but to a person. The iPhone launch in 2007 and the mass adoption of the smartphone quickly established phone as a lifestyle product. Today the relationship with our phone reflects much more our relationship with a fashion accessory, like a handbag or our shoes, rather than the relationship we have with home appliances. It serves a practical purpose, but most of all communicates our status and personality.

As our relationship with technology has become more intimate, technology brands have also shifted their positioning from utility brands to lifestyle brands. Lifestyle brands inspire, guide, and motivate customers beyond product benefits alone. By buying to a lifestyle brand, a customer buys into a lifestyle, reinforces ties with a specific social group or culture and in essence tells the world “this is who I am, this is where I belong”. This gradual transformation of technology led brands has manifested in the marketing messaging of the companies but also in their retail strategy and hires, over the past four decades.

The 80s: It’s all about technology!

In the early 80s most of the advertisements for computers and mobile were text-heavy, focused on the technical characteristics of the products and were hosted mainly in new magazines that emerged to serve the emerging market, like Byte and PC. Soon two major players dominated the communication game: Apple and IBM. Apple welcomed IBM to the market with an ad that read: “Welcome, IBM. Seriously. Welcome to the most exciting and important marketplace since the computer revolution began 35 years ago.” Τhe PC wars escalated between and IBM and Apple, with one of the most iconic TV spots in history as its memorial: Apple’s “1984” introducing the Macintosh, directed by Ridley Scott.

The advertisement was in contrast to the more product and technology focused approach so far by marketeers and played on mystery and emotion focusing on the consumer instead. It set the foundation for Apple as a lifestyle brand, a brand that represented freedom, creativity and innovation. The archetype of Apple’s consumer: innovative, creative, imaginative and smart was reflecting Steve Jobs’s mysterious personality in contrast to the more introvert, conservative and nerdy figure of Bill Gates from Microsoft.

The startup scene was dominated by companies like Sun and Oracle, heavy on biotech and B2B software, but the introduction of AOL in 1985 signaled what would be a wave of consumer focused companies and services in the 90s. The decade ended on a high with the introduction of the first wearables, Nintendo aired the first Power Glove commercial and tied it in with the classic film The Wizard.

pic via giantbomb.com

To put things in perspective, the 80s marked the rise of the first big lifestyle brands mainly from the world of fashion. These brands used a much more daring narrative and used controversial advertising in comparison to the more conservative and wholesome approach of the tech industry. Two characteristic examples is the iconic Calvin Klein 80s campaign with teenage Brooke Shields asking the camera, “Want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” and the long term collaboration of Benetton with Oliviero Toscani on a series of ads touching a lot of social issues, like racism and AIDS.

90s Celebrity glam and educating the masses

The 90s marked the mass adoption of a number of new technologies: PCs, the internet and mobile. Ads and communication strategy of major tech companies focused in educating the users and making them feel safe. In order to achieve that they invested in big marketing budgets, enlisting influential celebrities. Intel’s “Intel Inside” by Dahlin Smith White is still ringing in our ears, while they enlisted actor Jason Alexander in a humorous commercial where he tries to impress potential dates using Intel’s videoconferencing technology. Microsoft started with a quite plain ad for Windows 95, but quickly turned for help to its FRIENDS.

In 1990, cellular phones were a $2 billion business. Motorola made a dynamic entry in the market with a campaign aimed at educating consumers about cellular, “Making Cellular Work for You.” Nokia’s tagline was the memorable “Connecting people” and focused in all its campaigns on its mission to bring people together, rather than on the product’s technical characteristics or on specific groups of people like Motorola did by using professional golfer Lee Trevino to appeal to golf-loving businessmen.

The rapid rise of the web as a mainstream medium by mid 90s resulted in an explosion of online businesses. Driven by the desire to get brand recognition and gain the interest of consumer and investors, dot-com companies invested heavily in mainstream media advertising. By the end of 1999, total revenue for the U.S. TV industry from tech startups was estimated at $1 billion, according to the Television Bureau of Advertising. The ads looked in majority like infomercials with a cheesy twist.

pic via macmothership.com

Once again Apple stands out as a true lifestyle brand, consistent with the message of the 1984 spot, with its award-winning campaign, “Think Different.” The successful campaign instead of having celebrities endorsing Apple, showcased Apple endorsing celebrities, highlighting its human centric culture, and quickly made iMac the country’s top-selling computer in 1999.

The 90s also saw the first TV shows and movies highlighting hackers and entrepreneurs as protagonists, the tech rockstars: Hackers, The Net, Pirates of Silicon Valley, and more.

During the same time, lifestyle brands like sexy, carefree and youthful Guess, adventurous Quicksilver, rebellious Harley Davidson and Starbucks were building consumer tribes around their philosophy of life, as if foreseeing the rise of online social networks in a couple of years. Another brand that took the tribe approach to the next level, building a global network around fitness, was Lululemon, founded in the late 90s.

00s: It’s all about mobile

The 00s saw PCs phasing out of focus and mobile taking front and center stage, while the dot com bubble burst resulted in a significant drop in ad spending, which by 2003 went down by 44.1 % from 2000. The spending picked up in late 00s, with tech companies standing out with their creative ads (Xbox, Monster.com, ) and infiltrating pop culture making for some iconic moments in entertainment, like Carrie’s relationship with her macbook throughout Sex & The City ( “My motherboard, my self”), Mapple on The Simpsons and tech-savvy Gossip Girl.

On the PC front, Intel addressed from aliens to business people in 2013 for its $300 million Centrino technology marketing campaign for its designed for mobile computing. The ad calling professionals to “Unwire” offered a glimpse to the future of work and the rise of mobile workforce, estimated at 1.3 billion people today.

In mobile, Nokia and Motorola were dominating the space. Nokia with the moto “The world at your fingertips.” started losing ground in 2004 in a more and more competitive landscape. Motorola made a turn to lifestyle as a hip, fresh and youthful brand with “Hello Moto” under former Nike marketing chief Geoffrey Fost.

Under visionaire Steve Jobs’ direction Apple, turned its innovative viewpoint on the world to the music, entertainment and telecommunication industry. Steve Jobs, according to Lee Clow, chairman of Apple’s marketing partner, TBWA Worldwide, had “a very rigorous view of Apple’s tone of voice and the way it talks with people” and has always been clear that Apple is a human centric and most of all accessible brand that leverages simplicity to empower people to integrate technology in their day to day lives.

The 2000s was a big decade for the company that launched two new products that had huge impact in the market: the iPod and the iPhone and skyrocketed Apple’s popularity to new heights. Apple introduced iPod in 2001 with a not that impressive and inspirational ad, followed by the iconic silhouette campaign in 2004 that inspired a lot of spoofs and memes. Widely loved by and inspiring to the internet community was also the Mac vs. PC Ad Campaign in 2006, reviving the PC wars. The ad personalized PC as a conservative, middle aged, awkward man and Mac as a young, hip, artistic guy. The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 changed forever the game for Apple and the wider technology landscape, with a simple “Hello” while Apple stores and Apple’s WWDC, became reference points in culture, elevating Apple to a religion/cult status.

The first startups with strong focus in lifestyle were born in 2000s like Zappos, Net A Porter and Airbnb, and spent their first years establishing their core products to develop their lifestyle messaging over the following years. At the same time lifestyle brands from fashion and music expanded in tech, blurring the lines between technology and lifestyle even more, for instance Nike with Nike+, Prada with its phone with LG and Dr Dre that leveraged his personal brand for beats by Dr Dre.

2010 and beyond

The decade we are living is the era of the technology lifestyle brands. From hardware to software and from public to startup companies, lifestyle messaging is front and center. The bigger companies like Google and Apple are expanding their lifestyle empires to other industries, like fashion, entertainment, home appliances and the automotive industry.

Early 2010 saw also many of celebrities from the music and film industry coming together with big technology companies to help them innovate, approach the creatives or simply reboot: Polaroid signed Lady Gaga as creative director in 2011, Intel hired Wil.i.am as creative director and Lenovo named Ashton Kutcher product engineer. Tech is front and center in the entertainment industry (virtual 2pac) and tech founders have become pop culture icons (The Social Network, Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs, Startups: Silicon Valley). The glamour surrounding the tech scene facilitates the collaboration between technology brands and established lifestyle brands from other industries. It also attracts diverse creative talent to the startup scene, resulting in the rise of tech led lifestyle companies, like Everlane and Vinaya.

Established startups like Evernote, expanded into lifestyle offerings and etailers, like Net A Porter launched magazines (The Edit, Porter) and new verticals (Mr Porter). Customer centric Zappos, after the publication of Tony Hsieh’s best selling book “Delivering Happiness” in 2010, making Zappos culture a product of its own. The past few years Zappos tapped into talent from the traditional fashion world to boost the launch of Zappos Couture, but so far had a lukewarm reception. At the same time that etailers expand into publishing to promote their lifestyle messaging, traditional publishers expand in ecommerce, like Condé Nast with Style.com. Traditional lifestyle brands like Open Ceremony, Ralph Lauren, Tag Heuer, Rebecca Mikoff launched new technologically enhanced products tapping into our new connected way of life.

In travel, Airbnb has focused its storytelling around experiences and the mission of bringing the world closer together. Airbnb has been growing into a lifestyle for hosts and travellers and markets as a community connecting people and cultures, rather than a marketplace for rentals. With the moto “Belong Anywhere”, Airbnb puts the spotlight on its members and invites people to make the brand personal and even buy custom made merchandise. Parallel to intense lobbying campaigns, Airbnb invests in heartwarming campaigns like One Less Stranger, Is Mankind? and Host With Pride focusing on Airbnb values and mission rather than its offering.

Apple, the pioneer of lifestyle technology, has focused its efforts in luxury. This strategy reflects in strategic hires from the luxury world, like the hire of Burberry’s VP of Digital Retail Angela Ahrendts, in minimalistic billboard ads, like the Cannes Lions Grand Prix winner World Gallery iPhone 6 campaign, in the launch of new products like Apple Watch and in partnerships with high profile luxury brands like Hermès. The challenge for Apple moving forward is to stay true to its DNA, the brand of the “crazy ones”, the creatives, the rebels, while growing into a luxury lifestyle brand. It’s a tough balancing act, but the timing could favor Apple as Gen Z redefines luxury with a focus on expressing values over prestige and want to have control and preference options when they buy.

Google, is more known about what it means to lead the Googler life, rather than to live life by Google, mainly because we all live the Google lifestyle without realizing. Google’s reach in our day to day lives is vast from the way we search to the way we communicate and are entertained. The restructure under Alphabet made clear that, although Google today is big, the vision of tomorrow is much bigger and includes ventures in various verticals. The new structure will allow Alphabet companies to have more flexibility in developing their branding and lifestyle messaging. This will favor the launch of new verticals, like cars, home appliances and fashion, as the launch of Google Glass proved that it’s hard to get rid of the geekiness associated with Google and develop an influential lifestyle brand, despite the the support of big fashion players like DVF and Topshop.

Moving forward

The Internet of Things and wearables are about to integrate technology deeper in our lives and the core of every industry, impacting our lifestyle and aspirations. Researchers expect that in 2020, over 30 billion connected devices will be in use, automating processes, communications and perhaps making some purchasing decisions for us. We communicate with friends and coworkers today mostly through technologically platforms, like messaging services, Facebook and Slack ( Human — Machine — Human) and we’ve started communicating directly with machines as well like Nest, Google voice, Siri, Amazon echo ( Human — Machine, Machine — Machine). VR is promising to open the doors to a parallel, fully digitized universe, ready to suck us in. Perhaps this means that we will value human touch and collaborative experiences more.

New working conditions and a nomadic way of life will change drastically our day to day lives and consumption habits. WeWork the real-estate startup offering office space and a new way of co-working is already designing a new way of living for its rapidly growing community, WeLive. Airbnb having changed its tagline from: “Find a place to stay” to “Welcome home”, is already experimenting with offering a marketplace for experiences.

So far lifestyle brands have been marketing to groups of people associated with certain aspirations and culture, but moving forward in a selfie dominated world, where customisation is expected, will the brands leverage the wealth of data on our profiles to become more personal, associated with individual lifestyles and shaped accordingly to each one’s goals and needs? Will my Apple be different than your Apple, perhaps without me even knowing, much like getting different search results on Google?

One thing for sure, we won’t have to wait that long to see ;)