My last two CMSWire articles provided an overview of lifestyle branding and why it’s an effective strategy companies should consider to increase customer loyalty and long-term retention. I’ve also offered some steps on how brands can start to become one themselves.
But maybe you’re still skeptical. Perhaps the idea of building a brand defined by the strength and fervor of the customer communities around them, with everyone rallying around a purpose and mission, sounds like a huge investment with an uncertain amount of return.
In this final article of the series, I want to go through what I consider to be the classic lifestyle brand case study, one that started with zero products in the field the company would become most known for, and ended with one of the most recognizable lifestyle brands in the world.
That brand is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. So get your sandals on, grab a Landshark Lager and relax as we go through how Mr. Parrothead himself transformed from singer-songwriter to one of the most influential branding maestros of the past 50 years.
The 3 Steps to Lifestyle Brand Status: The Margaritaville Story
In the second article in this series, I laid out three steps brands need to take to transition from being a product-led company to a lifestyle brand. The first is to do away with the traditional product roadmap in which companies build new products in adjacent categories (like starting with T-shirts and moving to polos) and instead identify new products/ventures that align with their customer’s preferred lifestyles.
Jimmy Buffett’s first encounter with commercial success was due to his talents as a singer songwriter. Songs like “Come Monday” and “Changes in Attitudes Changes in Latitudes” were the rare country crossover successes in the 1970’s, and Buffett quickly became one of the largest concert tour draws of the next few decades.
However, unlike other business-minded musicians who attempt to diversify into adjacent ventures like founding record labels or production, Buffett decided to invest in finding ways to build communities around what his music stood for, i.e. the island escapism lifestyle.
Thus for the better part of the last 40 years, Buffett focused a lion’s share of his efforts on investing in products and services designed to help consumers tap into the island life without necessarily leaving the comforts of modern living, all under the brand name “Margaritaville.”
Let’s quickly review the rapid expansion of the Margaritaville empire. In 1985, they opened their first retail location in Key West, Fla., quickly followed by a restaurant in 1987. The restaurant chain has since grown to 31 locations across multiple countries, complemented by more than a dozen retail outlets located in the US and Caribbean. Beginning in the early 2000’s Margaritaville expanded into vacation resorts located throughout the Caribbean, along with a US-based hotel chain. The 2010s saw the launch of Margaritaville Casinos in Las Vegas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The first Margarativaille cruise ship set sail earlier this year.
And, finally, for those who literally want to live the Margarativille lifestyle, in 2018 Buffett opened the first Margaritaville retirement community in Daytona Beach. Properties have sold so fast in Daytona beach that Margaritaville has already announced new retirement communities in Hilton Head, South Carolina and Watersound, Fla.
Related Article: What You Need in the Pursuit of a Lifestyle Brand
Content: Buffett the Musician Comes Full Circle
Another step lifestyle brands need to take is to develop content that helps customers facilitate the lifestyle that you as a brand have espoused.
Coming full circle, Margaritaville has found creative ways to leverage music to support the brand. Margaritaville Radio plays “relaxed vibes” 24/7 on SiriusXM, inducing replays of live Buffett shows and other artists in Buffett’s “Gulf and Western” genre of music. The Margaritaville podcast includes interviews with singer songwriters and those involved in coordinating Buffett’s concert tours.
Finally, Buffett’s own record label, Mailboat Records, includes artists carefully curated to resonate with his audience. They have distributed albums from Yacht Rock luminaries like Walter Becker (of Steely Dan fame) and REO Speedwagon, Sammy Hagar and Jeff Bridges (yes, The Dude).
The company has also launched Margaritaville TV, a YouTube channel that has more than 80,000 subscribers, and an email newsletter called the “Barefoot Bulletin.” Buffett and the Margaritaville team have established a content powerhouse that simultaneously promotes the brand and brings their group of rabid fans together.
Related Article: Only Brands With Purpose Can Achieve Lifestyle Brand Status
Retail and Shopping: The Ultimate Margaritaville Experience
The final piece of the lifestyle brand puzzle is to make retail a key revenue driver for the business. If a company’s site could double as an apparel outlet, then they have made it as a lifestyle brand, and Margarataville fits the bill.
First, there’s the Margaritaville food line, which includes seafood, a wide variety of sauces, and “Water Enhancers” (i.e. margarita mix). The brand also offers its own blender, called The Cargo. They sell furniture including a surf shack bar and a garden chair, a wide array of hats, T-shirts, signs, and barware. And then there is perhaps my favorite item: branded pickleball paddles.
Ultimately, there is no aspect of the beach lifestyle that can’t be supplemented by a Margaritaville-branded product. And even if you can’t get to the beach in real life, not to worry: Margarataville is in talks to develop a video game as well.
Today, Jimmy Buffett is worth approximately $900 million, making him, to my estimation, the second richest Buffett around. The Margaritaville company brings in between $1.5 - $2 billion annually in revenue. The brand employs thousands of people around the world, and those in the Margaritaville Retirement Community pay $300k-500k to own property within its walls.
This success has not been built by offering any particularly exceptional or differentiated product. It’s not due to lavish advertising spend. It hasn’t come through disrupting an existing industry.
It came through a brand knowing what they stood for in the eyes of customers, and then having the ambition and drive to build services that allowed those customers to take part in the lifestyle he represented.
This is what it means to build a lifestyle brand.
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