The 4 Rules for a Lifestyle Brand

With a boom in small independent food & beverage brands seeking to carve out a space in the market and entice a new generation of consumers with their honest, often tongue-in-cheek attitude, there is a risk to drown in a sea of same-ness and noise. So how do you cut through the clutter and build a strong lifestyle brand à la Oatly?

With our learnings from the Oatly repositioning work we did, we have drawn 4 simple rules that we recommend you should follow if you want to be a truly lifestyle brand (we defined what is a Lifestyle brand in the FourFactors® Academy) that stands out from the rest of the crowd and creates a bond with a new generation of consumers who do not feel particularly attached to any brands “I am my own priority, not staying with a brand”  .


1# Disrupt the category

A lifestyle brand is by essence a challenger brand, which brings a fundamental change to a category and wants to help the consumers who are open to change to embrace a new behaviour.

This fundamental change can be described as the “Big Why”, shifting the focus from What We offer (Product) to Why We offer it (Brand Purpose). Most of the time, the Big Why can be articulated from the founding idea, in the case of Oatly, we helped them to articulate the Purpose behind the Science: “Create a Milk for Everyone”.

Don’t assume that consumers will be on board straight away. You must create awareness of the need for change. The way to dramatise this is to reframe the problem by bringing a new perspective and challenge the status quo of the category. There needs to be a trigger, an eye-opener so you can rally consumers around the new perspective.

In the case of Oatly, the problem was reframed as follows: “Why must we drink cow’s milk, which is designed for baby cows?”

Oatly communication “It’s like milk but made for humans”. Visual from Oatly

Another great example is the brand Otto, a fresh organic baby food brand that dared to challenge the highly processed infant category by simply saying, “Why should baby food be older than the babies?”

“Is it reasonable that baby food is older than babies”. Visual from Otto Barnmat


2# Unique Belief system

Consumers in lifestyle have strong beliefs and political views on the world they live in and seek brands that share the same values. Those consumers understand the power of their choices, they “buy-cott”, they deliberately choose to buy certain brands because they believe in and support their values, they vote with their wallet.

They seek brands that are not afraid to take a position on an issue, have a strong view on the world and bravely walk the talk, helping consumers to become agents of change themselves.

The second rule of play in lifestyle is therefore to craft a set of values in tune with early adopters own beliefs. These values should crystallise what you wish for the world, what keeps you awake at night and how you do things to make a difference, have a positive impact on the society.

In the case of Oatly, a simple drawing showing the Oatly Way versus the Cow’s Way enabled to demonstrate not only Oatly’s search for a better milk but also the values they nurture: they are here to make the change easy, they value innovation which helps to find smart shortcuts for a better future and they have a strong commitment to a sustainable future.

The Oatly Way versus the Cow’s Way. Visual from Oatly

Another example would be Tony’s Chocolonely, the outspoken chocolate brand on a mission to make 100% slave free chocolate the norm.

Interestingly, you could argue that most of the premium chocolate brands are fair-trade nowadays but only one brand, Tony’s, decided to turn their commitment to fair-trade into their values “We are serious about people” and a mission “everyone should have an equal share of the bar/profit”. Suddenly, their chocolate brand appeared as a powerful force of change. By doing this, they are making it very obvious for the consumers who share the same values to rally their cause and feel they are making a difference.

Comparison between Tony’s Chocolonely with a usual fairtrade chocolate. Visual from Tony Chocolonely and internet

3# A distinct signature

The third rule, a distinct signature, enables the brand to be seen and heard even if consumers don’t look for it. The brand becomes a lighthouse brand.

In the case of Oatly, “Wow, no Cow” became a distinct signature. It was visible across all the key touchpoints such as on pack, sang by the CEO himself in a field of oats and made its way to the superbowl advert where it disrupted by its simplicity and created a little buzz.

Oatly’s CET Toni in campaign video “Wow no cow”. Visual from Oatly Campaign

The bold Swedish natural attitude is also part of Oatly distinct signature, taking the mick where possible out of the conventions even on large billboards and becoming a talking point.

Another classic example would be the brand RX BAR, the idea to put the ingredients list on pack was part of the distinct signature to show their true transparency of their bars’ being free from any shady ingredients that many of their competitors in the established shelves have. Instead they show how their bars are full of clean goodness that they proudly have prominently front of pack.

Visual from RX bar

4# An aspirational experience

Finally, the brand must develop an inviting brand world, which is also aspirational so that early adopters proactively bring the change to the market.

Start building an authentic relationship with consumers through social media channels as well as thought-through events to establish your own community and fan base. Make them feel they are part of a new cool movement, in Sweden, Oatly bonded with the post-milk generation at music festivals.

You must think: where do I want to be seen first? Which product should be the hero product to be experienced first?

In the US, Oatly decided to be sold exclusively at the most loved and renowned hipster coffee shops. They did not have to do any marketing and the word spread like wildfire because the coffee shops and baristas felt unique and wanted to brag and share the ”latest” with their communities and networks. Of course, Oatly had made sure their barista product was just perfect and delivered superior quality to any other milk alternatives.

Oatly bonding with the post-milk generation at music festivals and baristas in coffee shops

A latest entrant in the scene of hand-crafted brewed Kombucha in Singapore, Brewing Booches, invite the consumers into a world where they connect via a shared love for travel, movement and mindfulness.

Visuals from brewing booches and their instagram channel

To help further develop the right brand world for the lifestyle consumers, HMT ConsumerLab with Lund University have dimentionalised the lifestyle consumers into four narratives: Self-care where the brand world enhances the well-being experience, Performance where the brand world demonstrates it is the best of its kind, Activist where the brand enables the consumers to express their political views and Heritage where the brand invites into a new authentic story with strong roots.

By Aurore de Monclin,

Managing Partner & Senior Strategy Consultant at The HMT, and have worked in more than 20 countries from US to Kazakhstan, leading brand positioning and innovation projects for medical nutrition, food, beverage and ingredient clients.

Do you want to learn more about how to build a strong Lifestyle brand à la Oatly?
How to win the lifestyle consumers and cut through the clutter?

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