lululemon ambassadors: yoga marketing warriors

A yoga class in a Washington DC lulu store (via washingtontimes.com)

According to a Wall Street Journal article, yoga-inspired clothing manufacturer lululemon is employing unconventional and inexpensive marketing strategies. While other fitness-wear lines (especially multinational sports shoe brands) pay crazy money for big name celebrities to push their lines, lululemon appoints community ambassadors and doesn’t pay for them, instead giving them $1000 worth of product and inviting them to teach for free in their stores. This is, apparently, a very radical thing to do in the fitness apparel industry.

Analysts say they are particularly impressed that Lululemon eschews the traditional marketing strategy of hiring high-priced sports celebrities to model its outfits. Lululemon spends almost nothing on advertising beyond occasional print ads in yoga and running magazines.

Instead, it recruits the type of athlete who tends to influence active women: fitness instructors who lead yoga, spinning, Pilates and running classes. The cost of this stealth strategy—Lululemon declines to call it marketing campaign—is minimal.

Lululemon provides apparel stipends of varying amounts to local fitness stars who model the apparel not only in their regular classes but also in sessions held inside Lululemon stores. [via wsj.com]

It seems to be working and lululemon is cashing in on the $15 billion market for women’s fitness clothing. The article gave us some stats, which I don’t understand, as proof: “Lululemon posted second-quarter earnings of 30 cents per share, far above the 24-cents-a-share mean estimate of analysts and more than double the 13 cents a share posted in last year’s quarter. The earnings gain came on a 56% rise in revenue, and a 31% boost in sales at stores open more than a year.”

News to me: lululemon only runs “occasional” print ads in a handful of yoga and running magazines. Basically, they have eschewed traditional advertising strategies in favour of getting into the local community and marketing through word of mouth and local influencers.

What I find interesting about this is that while lululemon is basically operating on a grassroots model, the rest of the yoga industry is operating on the big sports brands model (think: Seane Corn for Lucy, a number of teachers for Manduka/Jade yoga mats, everything that YAMA promises, the list goes on…). I don’t know how much a high-priced yoga celebrity would cost, but I assume it’s much more than the $1000 stipend that lululemon gives its community ambassadors.

  1. other brands do appoint “ambassadors.” they, however, do not get free clothing, just hefty discounts. i think other yoga clothing manufacturers are taking the hint, but it might be a bit too late.

  2. The other genius thing about it is two-fold: they ask for feedback from the people they give their clothes away too – those who are wearing it all the time, about what works and what doesn’t. And so then, both yoga teachers/fitness leaders and their students get the sense of what works and what doesn’t.

    I admit I have a few Lulu pieces, but not everything and heaven help me if I become one of those Lulu-only-wearing yoga teachers (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) 😉

  3. I think the culture and idealism behind Lululemon’s organization (and marketing strategy), and their product is a perfect mix of what “works”.

    They have GREAT product (I’ll admit, I am one of those lulu-only wearing teachers). The fabric is stretchy, flattering, and absorbs sweat. They think of EVERYTHING when designing product, from reflective threads to little pockets for keys, cards, cash & iPods. Even their zippers have been carefully sourced to work well for specific activities under specific condistions.

    Their organizational culture is inspired and enthusiastic (some other teachers have categorized it as “cult-like”, but again, I don’t think Lulu employees are brainwashed, they’re just enthusiastic).

    And, best of all, they listen to and engage with their customers. Have you seen their Facebook fan page or blog post? They manage the best examples of online community management I’ve seen, not to mention the brand champions who follow it – myself included.

    Yoga teachers WANT to become Lululemon ambassadors because they love the product. Yoga students often put their teachers on pedestals. Therefore the influence (via word of mouth, and just wearing the product) that yoga teachers have on students (and sometimes vice-versa) is working perfectly for them. I applaud Lululemon for the way they run their company and handle their marketing. It’s clearly working for them!

  4. I’ll bash Lululemon until they start marketing to the 50% of American women who are larger than a size 12. It sucks to be left out.

    • Sweetie, it’s fitness clothing. It’s no secret that people over a size 12 don’t engage in fitness.

  5. it’s too bad that while lululemon “have eschewed traditional advertising strategies in favour of getting into the local community and marketing through word of mouth and local influencers,” they also eschewed the local production of their products. according to their site “Global economic forces, including the elimination of worldwide manufacturing quotas under the Multi Fibre Agreement, have shifted manufacturing to more cost-attractive locations and resulted in closures of some domestic factories.” i applaud the company’s efforts to choose factories that “are safe, clean, ventilated, well lit, healthy work environments” but i’d be 100x more likely to support them and buy their products if they were more fully committed sustainable, local production! thanks for shining the light on these thought provoking and relevant yoga topics, roseanne!

  6. Try this one on for size – lululemon ran a national print ad campaign featuring a yoga teacher I know and a/ didn’t tell her, b/ didn’t pay her, c/ didn’t get her to sign a release. She was a lulu ambassador, and so received the store credit, but oops – they didn’t tell her the pictures could be used in a national ad campaign without her knowledge or consent!

  7. Lulu can do grassroots effectively because the stores are ubiquitous & the clothes rock.

  8. I don’t wear any of their clothing and don’t think I ever will. I’m also not a woman and I wear the same t-shirts and athletic shorts to class as I do when I play soccer. There seems to have become a dress code and although I’ve heard nothing but good things about the way lululemon clothing fits, I can’t help but feeling like the yoga class room is turning into a golf club of fashion.

    It seems to me that ideal yoga clothing would be the kind you don’t ever think about. We are all thinking a lot about lululemon. I wonder how many people are thinking about it while they are in sivasana…let alone other poses.

    Ben – Solyoga Trips

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