Personalize your content & anticipate desires: The brands with a devoted following know that creating personal connections with consumers drives loyal behavior. The next step beyond this personalization is the anticipation of needs that demonstrates genuine care and connection. Brands that can show this degree of “commitment” and “relationship” create a one-to-one rapport that drives viral followings. Nike has invested heavily in technology that creates this type of connection to the individual consumer. As a NikeID member, when you approach the Nike Melrose store in California, the geo-fencing picks up your presence and alerts the sales associates to pull items that match your preferences in your size to present to you in store. This behavior not only personalizes your experience, but it also anticipates your tastes, and acknowledges that, as a loyal consumer, you matter to the brand.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Antonia Hock. As the Global Head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, Antonia has extensive experience leading high impact business units and driving transformation in customer experience, high performing culture, and employee engagement. The hallmarks of her personal brand also include inspirational leadership, innovative strategy development, disciplined P&L management, and exceptional results. Antonia was named to 2019 Luxury Daily’s Top 25 Women to Watch list, which annually honors select women executives who show the potential to make a difference in the luxury business in the year ahead. Her passion for highly differentiated customer experiences grounded in employee excellence has created exceptional brand loyalty across segments and industries.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I came to terms early in my career that I was driven towards chaos, turn-arounds, new ideas, start-ups — anything that was a “build” vs. a stable, run-rate business that needed only incremental improvement to thrive. I also love working with big brands that have resources and an appetite for being market-makers through innovation and calculated risk. When I was presented with the opportunity to work for a heritage brand like The-Ritz-Carlton — but with the new twist of taking that legendary service to market as a methodology that can be implemented in Fortune 500 companies to drive business performance, I knew I had to jump. From the first conversation with leadership, I was hooked.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center is focused on making seismic shifts in the brand identity of some of the biggest brands in the world. We start this journey by focusing on human capital. The way each of us experiences a brand is through the humans that represent that brand — in person, online, or through channels created and administered by those humans. Recently, we worked with a large sports franchise aspiring to be a world-class sports experience brand through their 8,000 game day employees. After we implemented a new strategy with this franchise, one of their leaders pulled me aside and said that several game day employees expressed shock that they would be able to attend sessions from The Ritz-Carlton. One lady said that this was a watershed moment in her life, “As an hourly employee, I’ve never worked for a company that empowers you, believes in you, and invests in you like this.” This sports franchise is now winning awards for outstanding game day fan experiences delivered by these employees!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As a Marriott International brand, The Ritz-Carlton has the opportunity to work on some remarkable projects like human trafficking, which is a big global issue. Our team at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center had the opportunity to work on the content for the new global training on human trafficking that was deployed to all of our associates and properties worldwide. I am so proud that our team stepped up to do this work due to the global impact we’ve been able to make.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Brand marketing is all about building your identity, what you stand for, and who you are across your enterprise. Your identity connects your brand to your consumer, and the deeper the connection, the more binding the relationship will be. Product marketing, in contrast, is focused on driving transactions for specific products or driving sales for a category of items. I fundamentally believe that consumers (and employees) today buy brands, not just products. If you are not invested in having a clear brand identity that is expressed across every touch, you will not ultimately be successful. Too few companies are investing in building their brand identity, and they struggle to understand why their products aren’t “sticky”. In the luxury segment, consumers are loyal to brands, not products.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
Consumers today want to have a meaningful connection to the brands that they endorse. This means that they are proud to be affiliated with your brand, they stand for the same things you stand for, and that there is a deep connectedness to the way that they experience your brand. General marketing and advertising are a part of this work, but to create this magic, you need to be disciplined about your brand pillars, know your consumer’s deepest desires, aspirations and goals, and then innovate carefully around how you express your identity in the market.
Can you share 5 strategies that a large company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
• Invest in Passionate Advocates: No matter what channel you choose, a brand without passionate advocates will fail to connect. Invest in building a great culture first where passion and commitment are cultivated and supported. That will translate directly to customer engagement. Chick-fil-a is a great example of a brand that has passionate advocates driving brand success every day. I recently had a customer tell me that she pulled up to a store in the pouring rain, and she was waiting for the storm to subside to come inside to eat. A Chick-fil-a employee noticed and came out with an umbrella to escort her into the restaurant. She could not stop smiling, raving, and posting all over social media about her experiences. In her own words, she is now a “Chick-fil-a customer for life!”! This underscores that the way a consumer experiences a brand will drive loyalty and, in turn, results.
• Be Specific and Disciplined about your Identity: Consumers want to connect with brands that have a specific identity that speaks directly to them. As a brand you cannot be generic, appeal to all, and be successful. Take a stand and have a focused, disciplined identity that appeals to the specific demographics you target. Peloton has done an exceptional job of focusing on consumers that are passionate about fitness, but crave a connected, yet private, community experience. They have built a platform that supports and engages this specific demographic, and their reward has been huge year over year growth and an enviable social media following of passionate consumers.
• Create Indelible Human Experiences: In a world of constant stimulation and options, the strongest brands are creating authentic connections that support meaningful memorable moments. As a consumer, if I share some important information with you, and you fail to turn it into a “moment”, you devalue your brand and you devalue consumer trust. A brand that gets this right is The Ritz-Carlton. If you share your birthday or anniversary, special moment, tiny detail of your stay, or simply give us an opportunity, we will find a way to turn that into a “brand defining moment”. When I joined the brand three years ago, I checked into The Ritz-Carlton in Dallas from a long day of difficult meetings, a rain-soaked flight delay, and a quick turnaround the next morning. I was on my last few squeezes of tooth paste — just enough to get through the night and the morning. When I returned to my room late that next day, I had a full new tube of toothpaste on my sink. I did not ask for that toothpaste. It was given openly by another human who saw my need. I was wowed by the housekeeper’s thoughtfulness. Years later, I still love to tell that story.
• Personalize your content & anticipate desires: The brands with a devoted following know that creating personal connections with consumers drives loyal behavior. The next step beyond this personalization is the anticipation of needs that demonstrates genuine care and connection. Brands that can show this degree of “commitment” and “relationship” create a one-to-one rapport that drives viral followings. Nike has invested heavily in technology that creates this type of connection to the individual consumer. As a NikeID member, when you approach the Nike Melrose store in California, the geo-fencing picks up your presence and alerts the sales associates to pull items that match your preferences in your size to present to you in store. This behavior not only personalizes your experience, but it also anticipates your tastes, and acknowledges that, as a loyal consumer, you matter to the brand.
• Be Honest and Authentic in your connections: Research shows that the coveted Millennial and Gen Z consumers want to engage with brands that have a definitive point of view on social, business, and environmental topics. As a brand, you cannot be non-committal or neutral on important generational issues. Part of being authentic is to find a way to consistently express your brand values, so you connect with your desired consumer. Athletica is a great example of a brand that is leading with a core social statement. When you log into Athletica’s app, the first screen you see is that they are a “Proud Certified B Corp”. You do not see products, offers, or other advertising. Instead, you see this strong statement about their commitment to a social movement that balances their supply chain, employees, and environmental impact with their profit. This is another way to connect with the heart of your consumers and drive that authentic brand connection.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Gucci has created a set of experiences across all their channels that taps into the aspirations, desires, and feelings of consumers. By pushing the envelope with their store experience, their visual merchandising, and the way they integrate technology to drive personalization, Gucci has proven that they can outperform their peers. In a luxury segment that is crowded with choices, consumers are proud to be affiliated with Gucci, and they covet the opportunity to have that next experience and buy that next item. Brands that want to recreate this should seek immersive experiences that allow consumers to express their individuality in boundary breaking way.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
First of all, brand building is not a campaign. It’s a consistent and sustained long term endeavor that crosses all channels. Success can be measured through many metrics including: increase in followers on social platforms, increase in positive comments and sentiment, website traffic/ longer time spent on your website, etc. There are many metrics that can be associated with branding, and they focus on long term relationship reach vs. transactional sales; although, we know that these are often correlated.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Social media is critical to any branding effort today, and it should be multi-faceted and multi-platform. It’s not just about famous influencers or consumer comments on posts. Today, brands should have a significant, layered approach to social media engagement that creates community and connection. Real time service, localized influencers with smaller authentic followings, and personal outreach should all be a part of great brand strategies.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Be disciplined about what you undertake and trust your own experiences to guide you. Surround yourself with diverse ideas and people that inspire you! It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sensory overload in marketing today, so take the time to be inspired by brands that inspire YOU. We are surrounded daily by people who are pushing the envelope and trying fascinating new strategies. Let that inspire your next move, and be fearless.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I had the opportunity, I would build a network of education opportunities for young women in the most rural, poverty-stricken communities in the world and combine that with a micro-loan infrastructure that allows women to gain the literacy and skills that they need to succeed as well as the capital to extend that knowledge to action. That’s where sustainable action can impact communities long term and change the future of our planet for the better.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I was a loner when I started out in my career, and I was convinced that could make incredible headway by controlling my own destiny by focusing on my own performance and choices. I had some great leaders that challenged that view point, invested, and inspired me to trust in others to own outcomes. Since then, I’ve had the honor of connecting with so many exceptional humans and being on teams that blew me away with their ability to achieve. Every day I see the value in being together on a great journey where we are going far!
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have coffee with James Jebbia of Supreme. His fearless and fascinating branding of a specific culture is inspirational. He has engineered a real time engine to drive demand, and I’m fascinated.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.