When Heart Coffee Roasters opened in 2009, they were just another specialty coffee roaster in a quickly-expanding industry.

They promised a premium, ethically-sourced product with clear ties to the coffee producers who supply their beans. This business model comes with greater expenses than other methods of sourcing/buying coffee. Since that time, many like-minded roasters have come and gone. At Heart Coffee Roasters, one thing that’s helped them survive is a marketing strategy that’s aligned with the values and interests of their customer base. For example, on their Instagram page, they share images from the roasting process, scenes from their cafés, and profiles of their employees and farmers.

In just 12 years, this small business has grown to three cafés and a roasting facility, all while simultaneously amassing an impressive 80,000 followers on Instagram.

What makes Heart Coffee Roasters special? Nothing. That’s not to say that they aren’t a stellar business with a great product. It is to say that you can use the same Instagram marketing methods that they’ve used to build a loyal and engaged customer base. As the most visual of all the top social media platforms, Instagram allows you to create a compelling narrative around not just your products, but also the very lifestyle that your business and products support. It’s called lifestyle marketing, and we’ll show you how.

What is lifestyle marketing and where does Instagram fit in?

Lifestyle marketing combines products and services with the idealized aspirations, goals, values, and aesthetics of a company’s target audience. The goal is to create a lasting bond between the consumer and the brand, so that customers become enthusiastic advocates.

One way lifestyle marketing does this is by showing customers how those products can be a part of the lifestyle they want to live.

This is key for small businesses as they endeavor to build and expand their customer base. When you have a limited advertising budget, you need to get creative with how and where you find and build an audience. This can be accomplished through social media campaigns that stick to core lifestyle marketing principles.

In short, lifestyle marketing can be summed up as marketing that speaks to prospects’ values, aspirations, interests, attitudes, or opinions, instead of focusing on the hard benefits/features of a product. Whereas other marketing might say, “buy our coffee, because it tastes better than the competition,” lifestyle marketing would say, “buy our coffee, because you’re the kind of person who wants to make the world a better place.”

Instagram, in particular, is especially suited to lifestyle marketing. Sure, other social platforms let you post photos or videos, but Instagram is a completely visual platform. Remember the old writing standby, “show, don’t tell?” Instagram makes it easy to show would-be customers what they’re missing.

Looking at a picture or watching a video evokes a sense of place much more immediately than reading a tweet or a post on Facebook. And brand photos/videos are often taken from the perspective of someone using the product, which lets the viewer see what their life would look like with the product.

Aside from the form factor of the platform, Instagram also has a large audience—at least 37% of United States adults actively use the platform. Their user-base tends to be supportive of small businesses, as well, with 84% of people on Instagram saying they’re more likely to shop at a small business.

With the right content and message, you can use Instagram to take consumers from followers to lifestyle ambassadors and enthusiastic brand evangelists.

Building your strategy

Before you start posting, you need to take some time to create a solid strategy. For example, you’ll want to create rules concerning filters, hashtag usage, and frequency of posting. But more than that, you want to decide what your approach is in sharing content.

Here are a few ideas that can fit into a lifestyle marketing strategy:

  • Photos or videos shot from the POV of your customer
  • Profiles of customers and how they use your product/service
  • Profiles of employees or other people involved in the behind-the-scenes process of your business
  • Reaction videos of customers using your product for the first time
  • Posts that speak to the values or concerns of your target demographic

You can pick one or two types to start with, but just make sure—no matter what approach you take—all of your posts match your aesthetic guidelines.

Outside of the bigger picture, you’ll want to create some more granular guidelines to keep you on track and help you show up consistently to your audience. Dedicate an hour or two a week to hone-in your brand, looking over your statistics from the last week or two and seeing which posts worked and which didn’t. Using social media marketing software can help you track what days and times attract the most customer engagement. It can also let you schedule posts for specific days and times, so your posts always have the best chance at high engagement.

Should you use professional photography?

If you’ve never ventured into the world of Instagram photography, you might be unsure of how to start. Do you need to hire a professional? That depends, but almost certainly not.

People who use Instagram are used to photos that look curated and are aesthetically pleasing, but anything that looks too staged or too much like a “professional photo” can actually be a turn off. Users want authenticity, or at least the appearance of it.

With the availability of powerful smartphone cameras, you can learn the guidelines of photography and what makes for a compelling photo, and start taking photos yourself. If you do want to hire a photographer, whether to start off your profile or to build a backlog of photos to use, consider checking local trade schools and colleges for photography students. You’ll save money, and a younger photographer might be more on top of the latest social media trends.

Keep it consistent

Haus is a good example of using consistent photos that align with your overall message. They’re a relatively new boutique apértif brand that—in less than two years on Instagram—have amassed 43k followers in under 200 posts.

When you look at their Instagram page, you’ll notice they stick to a few very well-defined parameters of lifestyle marketing. Not only do they use a good deal of stage-setting for the images in their posts, they’ve clearly have a professional photographer from the start.

Little of their content deviates much from their core lifestyle marketing strategy. The majority of the images Haus produces offer a slight variation on the theme of early evening/before dinner enjoyment of their product, surrounded by friends, in a warm, inviting space. All of this is designed to make the consumer want Haus in the daily routine of their life.

This strategy might not work for everyone. Haus has essentially one product with a few different flavor options that it sells online. Companies with drastically different user personas (for example, a protein powder brand that has a vegan line in addition to their main line) may want to experiment with mixing up their posts, or creating a different Instagram account for their sub-brands. Needless to say, the less cohesive your brand is, the less cohesive your marketing story can be. If you have a large number of disparate target personas, lifestyle marketing may not be the right strategy for you.

Know your audience

Another component to lifestyle marketing is understanding that your business is going to be more successful if you’re very specific about who you’re marketing to. Businesses are often eager to reach the largest audience they can, especially in the early years—but by making yourself more generic in a bid for mass appeal, you’re making yourself more forgettable.

You may have already done some of this work when creating the rest of your marketing strategy, but before you dive into Instagram, it’s a good idea to:

  • Talk to your existing customers, whether via survey or focus group/interview.
  • Get details about every area of their life and goals, not just the area that relates to your product. This list of 66 questions can give you some ideas. You want to see how your product/service fits into their dream life, and make that connection as clear as possible in your posts.
  • Create detailed customer personas, and make sure they’re accessible to anyone on your team who will be posting on Instagram.

Once you have a clear picture of your audience, you can communicate it efficiently with a few key indicators on your company’s Instagram profile.

Look at Tentsile as an example. This company manufactures tree tents that are secured to a tree, much like a hammock, and say on their profile page that they plant 20 trees for every hammock sold. That’s geared toward the audience they want to reach: someone that is both an outdoors hobbyist and environmentally conscientious.

Their approach is simple. They show off great photography of their product in nature, remind customers that they plant trees for every purchase, and keep the posts of their tents in natural settings coming in on a regular basis.

The lifestyle is the product you’re marketing

It’s also important to tailor the “style” of your lifestyle marketing to fit the product. Sometimes this can be directly marketing a lifestyle itself.

Take, for instance, the proliferation of CrossFit and workout bootcamps.

These businesses have multiplied in the last decade, and continue to grow. They are not only selling gym memberships, classes, and sometimes equipment—they’re selling retention.

The hardest part of any sort of commercial gym environment is keeping people coming back. These business owners have to think about creating content that expresses why you should come back to their gym repeatedly, and shows that you are an important part of their community.

Fit Body Boot Camp, for instance, takes a decisively different tack in content from Haus and Tentsile, and that’s the point. By using a mix of photos of average gym members enjoying themselves and encouraging one another, along with graphics of motivational slogans, Fit Body Boot Camp creates an inviting sense of community and participation to get people moving.

Educating the customer can invest their interest even more deeply

Another aspect of lifestyle marketing is how much customers know about the products they are purchasing and how they were made. Depending on your specific product or business, this may not be relevant information, but if you do have something to highlight here, it can help boost engagement.

Adding educational content to your overall lifestyle marketing strategy can build a sense of community among your customers, and foster customer loyalty and brand ambassadorship.

Haus, for instance, has a significant amount of content devoted to differentiating their product and the way it’s produced (on a farm, natural ingredients, apértif not hard liquor, etc.) from the way larger alcoholic beverage manufacturers produce their products. This can generate the same sort of appeal that coffee roasters, like Heart, use when describing all the lives and livelihoods touched in coffee’s journey from farm to cup.

By pulling the customer in to the product-creation process, you’re adding another layer of aspiration to purchasing your product. The customer gets to have the lifestyle they want, and they get to reach that goal while also feeling good about the way they got there. Now, they’re a person who supports sustainable farming and small farmers, someone who stands up for the little guy, in addition to someone who has classy-yet-relaxed get-togethers with their stylish friends.

Getting the most out of your efforts

What sets these strategies apart is that they sell their products by showing the customer what their new life could look like…once they make the purchase, of course. A comprehensive lifestyle marketing strategy will engage the audience beyond the sale, and move into building community and engagement with your customers. Instagram can be a great way to do this, when you follow the principles above.

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