What do Lululemon, Cirque du Soleil and Roots have in common? Most people will not know this. But ask any Canadian and they will tell you with pride that these brands originate from Canada. One is a sportswear retailer, the next is a circus performance production company, and the last, a casual wear and leather goods retailer; all of them were born in Canada.
Each company is a demonstrable success: Lululemon’s most recent market capitalization was US$8.5 billion, Cirque Du Soleil has produced thousands of sold out shows across the globe, and Roots clothing and accessories can be found in almost every Canadian household.
There’s one major characteristic that differentiates their successes: Lululemon and Cirque du Soleil are global brands recognized by the average person around the world, while Roots hasn’t managed to transfer its success in Canada to the international market.
Understanding why Roots hasn’t been as appealing to global audiences as Lululemon and Cirque du Soleil requires an understanding of each company’s brand strategy. This encompasses all elements of how the company attempts to influence their brand perception in the marketplace, whether it be through the product itself, advertising, price or packaging. Usually all elements are considered so that a unifying message can then be presented to the marketplace.
Roots is Canada
At the core of the Roots brand is a “Canadianness” that permeates every product, good and advertisement that Roots releases. In almost every way, the brand alludes to Canada. The other two companies don’t allude to or incorporate Canada into their brand strategy in any significant, overarching way. This is why Roots can be defined as a “Canadian Brand”, whereas Lululemon and Cirque du Soleil can be defined as global brands that happen to be from Canada. The difference is important, because it represents how each company presents itself to consumers.
Being Canadian is essential to the Roots brand identity, whereas being Canadian plays little to no role in the brand identity of Lululemon and Cirque du Soleil. On the Roots website, it states “Roots is proud of its Canadian heritage and its strong link with Canada. The nature, culture, sports and human diversity of Canada have always been a major source of inspiration at Roots”. Not only is this reflected in the company’s logo and corporate name, but across all Roots messaging and branding. This message resonates strongly with Canadians, but understandably has limited appeal outside of Canada.
Lululemon is Yoga
This is in contrast to Lululemon, which states on their website that while “Canada is where you can trace [their] beginnings, [their] global community is where you’ll find [their] soul”. The global ideal at the core of their business has cultivated a mass international following by appealing to aspiring yogis and athletes. It has built its brand around the values of yoga and internalise them as brand values; they include trust, discipline and self-discovery. These brand values are universal, and transcend borders and geographic areas, which is why they have been successful at cultivating success around the globe.
Lululemon’s tireless commitment to these brand values has inspired an intense loyalty among its most dedicated customers. In fact, until 2016, Lululemon has never had a global advertising campaign. Most of its growth has been attributed to the evangelization of its brand from its most loyal customers. For the longest time, its brand strategy was focused on in-store experiences and local brand ambassadors that embodied the “Lulu lifestyle”. This strategy allowed its brand to grow organically, from one consumer to another.
In marketing, there is little else that can be as powerful as a recommendation from one satisfied customer to another. Your own consumer becomes your marketer, and the best part is that they do it for free. They believe so strongly in the brand, and identify with what it represents, that they become the brand. They have achieved what is known as Brand Actualisation. This is the apex of branding, and Lululemon has done a remarkable job of cultivating dedicated consumers that have merged their identity with Lululemon.
Cirque du Soleil is Circus Re-imagined
Cirque du Soleil is even more broad in their aspirations, stating that their “mission is to invoke the imagination, to provoke the senses and to evoke the emotions of people around the world”. These aspirations have been built into their brand strategy, which is why so many people around the world associate Cirque du Soleil with innovation, awe inspiring performances and wonderment. Through years of mastering the production of truly amazing shows, Cirque du Soleil has succeeded at building an entertainment brand that excels where others have failed.
Through their vivid visual depictions of universal human emotions, it’s clear that Cirque du Soleil’s brand values are global. Their shows are able to connect with audiences around the world, regardless of their national or geographic background. Their shows feature a made-up language known as “Cirquish“, while technical production elements bring the stage and performers to life. All of this combines to create an experience that is universally acclaimed. You don’t have to be Canadian, or American, or Russian to appreciate what Cirque is doing, you only have to be human. This universality of the Cirque experience explains why the brand has been so successful around the globe.
Lululemon and Cirque du Soleil have created brands that appeal to the global consumer, while Roots has chosen to focus their brand development around Canadian scenes, identity and national symbols. This has built a loyal following of Canadian consumers that see themselves reflected in Roots advertisements. This inevitably meant that they will have little success outside of the Canadian marketplace.
Each company has chosen a unique brand strategy that is suited to their core competency. Lululemon has excelled at producing fashionable athletic wear, while Roots has excelled at creating clothing and leather goods that invoke Canadian pride. Cirque du Soleil has gone in a totally different direction and mastered the production of awe-inspiring productions. Each has crafted their brand strategy in a way that complements their core offering, and the result has been success for each company in their own way.
The key takeaway is to focus on what you do best, where are your “roots” and ask yourself where are you going next. As for Roots, to go global, they will need to find an aspect of their Canadian brand identity that will resonate with the cosmopolitan consumer.