Lifestyle Brands Like Goop and Shinola Rely on VIP Feedback Clubs

November 30, 2018, 4:21 PM UTC

The prize for being a super user of Gwyneth Paltrow’s popular lifestyle brand? Drinks at her mansion. Maybe even a phone call from the Oscar-winning founder of Goop herself.

Engagements with “VIPs” are a key way the lifestyle brand and e-commerce site builds customer loyalty, said Chief Content Officer Elise Loehnen. “We identify cohorts that are extremely engaged or spending a lot of money over time. We’ve invited them to private events, like cocktails at Gwyneth’s house. We call them. Gwyneth calls them. We answer feedback emails.”

Loehnen revealed the unofficial VIP strategy during The Year Ahead: Luxury conference on Thursday at Bloomberg’s global headquarters. “The 360-Degree Brand: Surrounding the Millennial Consumer” panel discussion also featured Shinola CEO Tom Lewand, Harry’s CEO Andy Katz-Mayfield, and Equinox Executive Chairman Harvey Spevak.

Lewand agreed with Loehnen Fissmer’s strategy, admitting that there is an inner circle of Shinola VIPs as well. He said the company leverages these loyal consumers to have a one-on-one connection with its consumers. “Our top guests are the ones that want to be included,” he explained. “They want to feel a part of the product development process. They want that much more than a discount.”

“Those are out most valuable sources of feedback,” said Lewand of personally engaging with his core customers.

“I reached out to someone who had ‘lapsed,’ ” recounted Loehnen Fissmer, who found out they had moved to Canada and Goop’s Canadian shipping wasn’t up to snuff. “You might be overlooking something really simple.”

Bloomberg’s luxury summit was the first for the lifestyle group Bloomberg Pursuits; it focused on the latest data and innovation in the fields of fashion, travel, dining, cars, wellness, real estate, the arts, and design. Bloomberg journalists and analysts were joined on stage by influential luxury figures such as architect Peter Marino, hotelier Ian Schrager, gallerist Dominique Lévy, restaurateur Nick Kokonas, Cartier President and CEO for the Americas Mercedes Abramo, and Lamborghini’s Chief Technical Officer Maurizio Reggiani.

But don’t think VIPs make their job easy.

“Consumers expect brands to reflect their values,” said Katz-Mayfield. “For Harry’s men, that is a more progressive view of what it means to be a man. In the case of women, it’s a more real, honest conversation around hair removal.” Maintaining that authenticity is what gives a brand real value, said the founder, but is also fraught when you have to balance business decisions against consumer interests.

According to Spevak, their most loyal customers can also be their most critical. “They feel like they own your brand. They want instant response,” the Equinox executive explained.

But the intense scrutiny has its rewards, he added. “The millennial audience has encouraged us to move faster, think more, innovate more.”

To that extent, Spevak mentioned they are doing something “big in digital” and launching a new studio fitness offering soon, in addition to a luxury Travel Experiences division and the soon-to-open Equinox Hotel in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards. Like Shinola, which is also opening a hotel in its hometown of Detroit, the idea is to take the brand community—be it #FitFam where “health is wealth” or lovers of American craftsmanship—and turn it into a lifestyle experience on the road.

What won’t be coming back though, according to Harvey? Equinox vitamins. “We failed at vitamins and supplements twice. What we learned from the consumer was we have a lot of authority and authenticity, but not for putting something in your body.”