This week’s guest is Lydia Michael, CEO of multicultural marketing consultancy, Blended Collective. Lydia discusses her new book, Brand Love, explaining the eight stages of brand love, the importance of incorporating emotional and rational drivers, and the power of multisensory marketing. We also examine how brands like Warby Parker and Trader Joe’s cultivate meaningful customer relationships. For a 25 percent discount on Brand Love, use promo code BIGEYE25 at KoganPage.com.
Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.
Lydia Michael: Brand Love is an emotional connection and a long-lasting connection between consumers and brands that results in loyalty and advocacy.
Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. In today’s fast-paced, highly competitive market, brands of all sizes seek ways to foster connections with their customers, transforming them into loyal advocates, and creating communities around their brands. In this episode, we’re going to look at some of the strategies and tactics successful brands employ to achieve high levels of consumer engagement and explore how brands can cultivate meaningful relationships with their customers. Our Bigeye Book Club Selection for August is Brand Love: Building Strong Consumer Brand Connections. The book’s author is Lydia Michael, the founder of Blended Collective, a multicultural marketing and brand consultancy based in Detroit, Michigan. Lydia works with organizations to develop brands and marketing strategies, and her experience includes working with startups and scale-ups as well as established companies such as Deloitte and L’Oréal. To discuss the process of building culturally inclusive, long-lasting consumer brand relationships and some of the ideas in “Brand Love,” Lydia is joining us today from Detroit, Michigan. Lydia, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.
Lydia Michael: Hi, Adrian. I’m happy to be here today.
Adrian Tennant: Well, congratulations on the publication of your first book. What prompted you to write Brand Love?
Lydia Michael: Thank you. So, you know, looking at the market and the different books around emotional marketing and Brand Love, I saw an opportunity and really a gap in the market to talk about Brand Love and approach it from a different perspective. And that perspective being culture. So I wanted to write a book on the topic of Brand Love that would consider the role and the relevance of culture in marketing. So that was really one of the key drivers. And then on a personal note, I’ve been really researching this topic since 2016 and have been really passionate about the concept of Brand Love and have integrated that into my work over the years. And so at some point, I had so much information, and again, just so much passion that drove the need for a book I think that I’m able to share with everybody across the world.
Adrian Tennant: Lydia, how do you define Brand Love?
Lydia Michael: In the book, I define Brand Love as an emotional connection and a long-lasting connection between consumers and brands that results in loyalty and advocacy.
Adrian Tennant: And what are the benefits for brands of attaining Brand Love?
Lydia Michael: I think there are so many different benefits, right? I mean, the definition already says part of it is the loyalty and advocacy portion, but really when you want customers to be loyal to your brand, to your products, it’s all about creating this level of trust and making sure that people want to stick around, making sure that people want to choose you, and really become a brand champion for you. So in order to do all of that, there are a lot of different stages that you have to go through, both as a brand and a customer. But I think once you’ve attained these different levels throughout the consumer lifecycle, in the end, it’s all about having a loyal customer and somebody who advocates for you.
Adrian Tennant: Your book is structured around eight sequential stages toward attaining Brand Love, beginning with awareness, and culminating in loyalty and advocacy. Now we’ll dive deeper into some of the steps in a moment, but could you give us an overview of the Brand Love drivers and the eight Brand Love stages?
Lydia Michael: Yeah, so I created the Brand Love Drivers sort of in association with the eight Brand Love Stages model. And the idea is to create this practical tool for companies of any size at any stage to be able to use this in their day-to-day. And so when we look at the Brand Love drivers, I introduce both emotional and rational drivers. And in the book, I talk about 10 of these on each side. This is not to say that there are only 10 Brand Love drivers on each side, but it really is an idea to help you understand the concept. And I take the idea of the brain, the right side of the brain, and the left side of the brain. And a lot of times we hear that the right side of the brain is the more emotional side, the more creative side, and the left side is the more logical side that’s focused on rationale, on reason. And so I take that foundation and I created those Brand Love drivers around that. And, you know, on the emotional side at least, things from authenticity, empathy, humanization, personalization. Those are all drivers that contribute to that emotional experience that we have with brands. And then on the rational side, you have things such as innovation, convenience, relevance, differentiation, things of that nature. And so taking all of these and looking at the Brand Love stages, which again are eight stages, there are the stages that take us through the brand consumer connection, right? And so when we start with things like awareness, familiarity, those are all foundational elements that we need in order to, at some point, get to the level of trust and attachment, love, and of course in the end, loyalty and advocacy. And so all of these drivers ideally happen throughout these eight stages. So it’s not to say that we only have one or two drivers that appear, but more so the fact that the more drivers you have as you’re building your brand, the more you’re setting yourself up for success, the more you are setting yourself up to achieve different levels of Brand Love, if that makes sense.
Adrian Tennant: The first part of your book lays out the foundations of Brand Love in which you make the point that a brand isn’t owned by a firm or an individual, but by its consumers. Lydia, can you explain what you mean by that and the implications for marketers?
Lydia Michael: Yeah, absolutely, Adrian. When we look at any brand that we build, a lot of times we’re very intentional, or we should be, at least, we should be intentional about the brand that we are creating and building. And many times that is the brand identity that we as the brand owners or the founders, or even just anybody in that role, we control that brand identity, but the brand image, the way that we are perceived by our customers, a lot of times it’s outside of our control. And so the brand image is owned by the consumer. So a lot of times when we talk about the brand identity that we want to create, and the brand image, which is the way we want to be perceived, the best way to make sure that that aligns is through brand positioning. But what happens a lot of times is, because the brand image is outside of our control, our customers really define and tell us who we are at the core, based on the experiences that they have with our brand, based on what they see on social media, their interactions, you know 360 degrees, just from a holistic perspective. I think in the end, they tell us who we are, right? We can tell them all we want, as to who we want to be or who we strive to be. But in the end, it’s all about how we are being perceived. And so if you’re actually perceived the way you want to be perceived, that is successful branding. That means that you are positioning your brand in the right way to make sure that those two worlds align.
Adrian Tennant: Now you believe it’s important for brands to build communities. Do you have any examples that illustrate this approach?
Lydia Michael: I give a few different examples in the book. You know, I focus on streetwear brands, for instance. So in the fashion industry, the clothing retail space, you see a lot of streetwear brands that are not just about the products, but they’re really about people over product. And so you have brands like Melody Ehsani, for instance, a woman-owned brand that has been around for a decade or longer. You have brands like The Hundreds; they’re both very different but very successful streetwear brands that, again, prioritize people over the product that they sell. And they really focus on community, and they do that by activating their brand. So things like activating the store, the retail store, for instance, to have panel discussions and talk about relevant topics and social topics that are important to the community, to create a space where people can come to and have these uncomfortable conversations sometimes that are needed though for growth in order to really drive that community element forward.
Adrian Tennant: In the book, you write that Brand Love is achieved through a mix of emotional and rational drivers. Can you explain the differences between them?
Lydia Michael: I think I talked a little bit about it when I explained the concept of the brain and sort of focusing on the right side of the brain and the left side of the brain. And so similar to that, when we talk about emotional and rational drivers, the emotional drivers are the ones that really tap into that right side of our brain, right? The ones that allow us to be more empathetic, the ones that allow us to be more human when we tap into brands. Other drivers on the emotional side include things like desire, inclusion, and nostalgia, which is a big one. Or, you know, these days, a lot of brands focus on purpose and sustainability, and those are all the emotional drivers that are important on that journey to Brand Love. When we talk about the rational side, again, that’s sort of the left side of the brain that’s more logical, it’s rational. There’s also a function that’s involved on that side. So we look at drivers such as consistency, convenience, performance, quality, uniqueness, and things of that nature that are just as important for the journey between a brand and a customer. So what I want to highlight and what I want people to take away is that you don’t just need one or the other. You always need a combination of drivers. You need both emotional and rational drivers to really build a successful brand. And again, really important to remember, the more drivers you have, the better, right? The more, the merrier!
Adrian Tennant: The second part of your book focuses on the emotional drivers. In chapter four, you discuss authenticity and values, including reliability, trustworthiness, truth, honesty, and transparency. And you also include a case study of the US grocery chain, Trader Joe’s. So Lydia, what can Trader Joe’s teach marketers about authenticity?
Lydia Michael: Trader Joe’s is an interesting example because I think that they check the box for a lot of different things. And so Trader Joe’s is a popular choice among customers and, you know, when you look at Trader Joe’s, they don’t actually do any marketing. They don’t really have any advertising in place, and yet it has become such a popular brand that resonates with people. And I think authenticity is a big factor, whether you look at it from the cultural perspective of them really tapping into different cultures in an authentic way. I think authenticity comes through in even just their product innovation and their product selection. When you see that certain products are actually imported from that part of the world, which really makes you feel like, “Oh, I’m getting this unique, this different food or, you know, anything, from this part of the world here locally.” So it has a very local vibe, but at the same time, it also has a very global cultural vibe that adds to the authenticity of brands. And so I think that that makes it a very unique case study. And even outside of authenticity, we look at different drivers, such as experience, which can be both emotional or rational, but we look at that experience, and every time you walk into that store, there is warmth. There’s greetings. There’s this connection that you have with the staff that is very different than your traditional grocery store that you just run into to grab an item or two and leave. Again, it’s this experience that you have every time you’re in that space.
Adrian Tennant: Well, of course, Trader Joe’s is owned by Aldi. Most consumers that I’ve spoken to are quite surprised by this. Do you think it’s something to do with the human element? I mean, Trader Joe’s prioritizes human interactions between what they call crew members and customers versus Aldi’s focus on low prices and a self-service model.
Lydia Michael: Yeah, I think the human element and the human interaction are huge when you compare the two brands, and just like you said, a lot of people don’t know that Trader Joe’s is actually owned by Aldi. But when we look at that, there are a few different elements that are important here. One is the value proposition is very different for the two brands. Even though they’re owned by the same company, they target a completely different audience, which is why the value proposition is different. So again, you have the low price and the self-service model with Aldi, but then you have this human element with Trader Joe’s. And the way that this is achieved, again, goes back to brand positioning. So, based on the values that are associated with each brand, we position them completely differently, targeting different audiences. So when you have that human element and that people interaction, it does tap into more of the emotional side of connection, right? And I would say Aldi probably taps into more of the rational drivers and elements versus the emotional drivers. And this is a really good example where you see how that can result in Brand Love. Personally, I haven’t really heard of anybody talking about Aldi as a loved brand necessarily. But it still gets the job done, and it’s still very successful. It’s because it checks off a lot of the other drivers that are still very relevant in the customer journey, whether it’s the low price, the convenience, or the different values that are still relevant for success.
Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.
|Lydia Michael: Hi there. I’m Lydia Michael, the author of Brand Love: Building Strong Consumer Brand Connections. Reflecting my experience as a multicultural marketing and brand strategist, Brand Love is for any marketing and brand professionals, entrepreneurs, and those who oversee brand messaging, communications, and other consumer-facing strategies. Whether you work for a big or small brand, the book is designed to provide you with actionable strategies to grow and build any successful brand. As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of Brand Love by using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order directly from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and the UK, so to order your copy of Brand Love go to koganpage.com. And thank you!
Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Lydia Michael, the founder of the Detroit-based multicultural marketing and brand consultancy Blended Collective, and the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club Selection, Brand Love: Building Strong Consumer Brand Connections. In chapter eight, you write about opportunities to develop brand experiences and illustrate some of the ways brands can engage with consumers more holistically by engaging all of their five senses. Lydia, how can brands effectively incorporate multi-sensory experiences into their marketing?
Lydia Michael: You know, when we look at marketing and advertising, we naturally, I think, are so used to focusing on visual assets, things that stimulate the eye. And all of that is important, but I think over time, focusing on the senses has really shown us that the more we do that, the more we connect with the human that is behind our brand, the human that is supporting our products and our services. And so this is really where connection happens, where we all realize and recognize that we are human at our core. And things that affect our memory and our emotions are very much tied to different senses that we experience things with. And a big part of that, for instance, is olfactive branding. It’s the scent, but a lot of times it’s also the sound, for instance. And in the book, I talk about the five-sense marketing approach that MasterCard actually does very well, if you ask me, because they have been really good with tapping into all five senses and provide brand experiences that deliver a holistic customer experience. So, with MasterCard, to give you an example, they have this innovative touch card, which is a card that’s specifically designed with unique notches to help the blind and the visually impaired so that people are able to differentiate their cards when they make a purchase, right. The brand has also tapped into the sense of taste by opening restaurants around the world that are called “Priceless.” And then they use that same brand to also tap into the Sonic brand identity, which is the sense of sound, where they’ve created a music album so that people associate the company with features outside of the logo that again, tap into things outside of just the visual marketing that we’re so used to. And I think when we’re able to tap into all of those senses and provide a holistic experience like MasterCard does here, for example, I think that we’re able to really connect with customers on all different levels in a very natural way.
Adrian Tennant: The third part of Brand Love speaks to the rational drivers, including relevance, differentiation, and consistency. Lydia, in what kinds of ways are rational drivers helpful to brands that want to stand out from the crowd?
Lydia Michael: Rational drivers are just as important, like I was saying, whether they focus on function or not. But it’s important to stay relevant and to provide value nonstop. And so when we look at those rational drivers, things like consistency or offering convenience, we see that brands that are able to tap into one of these drivers or more are really, really successful. Amazon is a good example that I give in the book, and I think that that’s a no-brainer for a lot of people that are listening. It’s the element of convenience, right? People almost don’t care anymore to support a brand if it’s not convenient for them. You know, so people want to save time. People want things to make sense for them and their lifestyle. And so convenience plays a huge role in that, and getting things quickly and getting things on your terms and how you want that. So that’s one of the key drivers on the rational side of things that explains a lot of that.
Adrian Tennant: What’s the strategic value of a brand’s founding story?
Lydia Michael: It’s interesting. I see it a lot of times when I work with small businesses, but I also certainly see it with larger businesses. One example that I give in the book talks about the Warby Parker brand, you know, the eyewear brand. And I think the brand really does a good job at going beyond just the store experience, beyond the website, beyond the emails. And they do that by tapping into their founder’s story. So when I bought my first pair, I opened up the case, and I saw that there was a cleaning cloth that had a message on there that was short and sweet. And to me, it was really inspiring because it tells the story of the brand, the founder’s story essentially, and it talks about the why, basically, the reason why the brand was born into that world of eyewear. And you know, it talks about wanting to make eyewear more accessible and more affordable and that traditionally eyewear has been really expensive, especially if you need to get a pair with a prescription. And so this is their differentiator as to why they came to be, but also this founder’s story to me as a customer. And, of course, I look at it from both the lens of a marketer and a customer. But you know, looking at that cleaning cloth, I mean, I don’t remember the last time I celebrated a cleaning cloth, right? For a pair of eyewear. But looking at that, I was like, “Wow, this is such a great way to connect and to tell your story.” And I think Warby Parker is one of those brands that is really successful in connecting their values to their story, but also telling their story everywhere the customer is.
Adrian Tennant: In the final part of your book called “Love Reinforced,” you discuss some of the things we learned about consumer behavior during COVID-19. You write that quote, “empathy is the new relevance when it comes to important brand factors,” end quote. Lydia, can you unpack this for us?
Lydia Michael: Yes. So empathy is also an emotional driver that I highlight in the book. And I think if we go back to the basics and we as brands understand that the people that are buying our products or services are human at the core and that they need to be dealt with as such. So really this empathy, this understanding of who is our customer, why do they matter? How do we connect with them besides just selling them our product and beyond just being this transaction? And so the brands who show that they get you, that they feel you, that really understand who we are as customers, I think are the ones that show the most empathy and the most humanization. And this, again, translates into success. So one example that I also just remembered is that as I was on a flight last week and I was heading to New York to meet the publisher, I was on Delta and I remembered the story of when Delta one time threw a pizza party for their passengers because the flight was delayed or canceled. And so that created so many feelings of joy and excitement and people started sharing different pictures on social media and it began trending. But that example shows you that brands really need to embrace the moment marketing. They need to embrace the human behind all of their brand support and connect with them in the simplest way possible.
Adrian Tennant: One of the early reviewers of your book described you as a global citizen. To what extent has your personal background influenced how you approach client projects at Blended Collective?
Lydia Michael: So I grew up in Germany, and I have a Middle Eastern background, and then I came to the US years later. And so for the better part of my life, I’ve been navigating three completely different cultures, three different continents, essentially, on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s in my personal life or in my business life. That has been a big part of who I am and also the way that I show up when I work with my clients at Blended Collective. And so I think the way that that has impacted or influenced the way I approach my work is I can easily adapt and be very agile and flexible in any work environment that you put me in. And I think a lot of that comes from understanding the different cultures so well, but also being able to read people very well based on whether it’s their cultural background or different diverse factors that they bring to the workplace. And I think that that only adds richness to any project because, you know, I’m basically practicing what I preach, right? I’ve lived all of those cultures. I’ve lived the multiculturalism. I’ve lived and worked in different spaces and different places. And so I think being able to bring that to any project adds a lot of value.
Adrian Tennant: Well, in the book, you recount coming to the United States and your first experiences with drive-throughs. Lydia, why do you think American consumers prioritize convenience compared to European counterparts?
Lydia Michael: You know, I think it’s something that’s simply embedded in the culture. Anytime I go back to Europe, and I come back here to the US, the element of convenience is something that sticks out to me very much. And even though we as humans are creatures of habit, I also believe that we’re creatures of convenience. And so consumers are really addicted to convenience and they trade their money for convenience. And I think a lot of times we see that more so in the US because again, I think it’s part of the culture that we grow up in and sort of our surroundings that shape the way we are as customers. So whether it’s our attitudes, our lifestyles, I think a lot of it is built around convenience here in the US, or in North America compared to our European counterparts where convenience can be important, but I think only in certain categories. Because again, growing up in Germany, convenience wasn’t always superseding other values for us as customers. It wasn’t always at the top of that pyramid if that makes sense.
Adrian Tennant: You write passionately about the value of having a diverse workforce and growth in supplier diversity programs. Yet, as you know, legislation has been introduced in at least a dozen states aimed at cutting DEI spending and rewriting hiring guidelines at colleges and universities. Lydia, what impact do you foresee for business and culture?
Lydia Michael: I am a huge proponent of culture in the workplace because of everything I just explained. When you add that richness and that understanding to the workplace, I think one, having that representation in the workforce to then better create campaigns and projects that are touching customers directly and targeting specific audiences is really important. And when we look at the cultural landscape of companies and especially corporations where a lot of times you think that they would have the manpower and the resources and the staff to make no mistakes, that’s actually where the mistakes happen. And I think it goes back to not having the right representation in-house to work on those campaigns, to really bring this cultural understanding to the drawing board. Reducing that, I think, will have a more negative impact than anything because when we look at research studies, and this is not just an opinion, but it really is a fact that has been researched by multiple studies and McKinsey and Company, for instance, is one of them. But if we look at different diversity studies, they do show that people who have a more diverse workforce are not only more innovative in the work that they do, but they also bring more creativity to the table. They provide better problem-solving skills, and, you know, all of those different positive elements that contribute to the work that we do that is not just internal, but also that’s consumer-facing, which is really important for that to resonate with your customers.
Adrian Tennant: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Lydia Michael: I want readers to really go back to the basics in marketing. I think there’s so much happening in the world of marketing and business every single day, it’s tough to keep up, but there’s a lot of foundational elements that we need in our day-to-day work, that sometimes we might forget. And those things are brands are human. Customers are human. And so finding that common line and that connection to create a more human brand is really, really important. But at the same time, also making sure that culture plays a relevant role in marketing and so does emotion.
Adrian Tennant: So Lydia, can you describe your book in just three words?
Lydia Michael: My book in three words: Brand Love is human, emotional, and multicultural.
Adrian Tennant: Perfect. If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about the book or your work with Blended Collective, what’s the best way to connect with you?
Lydia Michael: The book can be found on Amazon and anywhere you can find books. Don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon, by the way, it always helps authors. And you can find more information about me and my company, both on www.lydiamichael.com and also blendedcollective.com. And of course, I’m on all social media, so feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and everywhere else.
Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like to read Lydia’s book, Brand Love, as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you’ll receive a 25 percent discount when you purchase a print or electronic version online at the publisher’s site: KoganPage.com. Just enter the promo code BIGEYE25 at the checkout. Lydia, thank you very much indeed for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS.
Lydia Michael: Thank you for having me, Adrian.
Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Lydia Michael of Blended Collective and the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club Selection, Brand Love. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at bigeyeagency.com, just select “podcast” from the menu. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.