How to Build Customer Loyalty and Brand Intimacy

Brand loyalty and customer loyalty are foundations for any modern business. On this episode, we explore the concept of brand loyalty with Mario Natarelli, managing partner at branding agency MBLM and author of the book Brand Intimacy.


Sep 13, 2019

Brand loyalty and customer loyalty are foundations for any modern business. On this episode, we explore brand loyalty and customer retention with Mario Natarelli, managing partner at branding agency MBLM and author of the book Brand Intimacy.

Mario Natarelli is a trusted advisor to executives and their companies as he looks to leverage their most important asset—their brands. By first being able to uniquely understand a brand’s true challenges and untapped potential, then through deliberate and extensive analysis he’s helped major Fortune 500 companies—and even entire countries—tangibly transform while helping to align their cultures and deliver unprecedented growth and value.

With early career training as an architect, Mario uses these fundamentals to balance the art and science of brand building. He understands that a brand’s essence and culture emanate from its strategic core outward. In addition to building a successful digital marketing business that was acquired by Interpublic and later became part of the formation of FutureBrand, Mario is keenly aware of the role that digital plays, and he has pioneered software as a digital operating system for optimizing and managing brands.


This transcript was edited for length and clarity.

Michael Krigsman: Brand loyalty, customer experience, but how do we create brand loyalty? That's our topic on CXOTalk. Mario Natarelli is the managing director of MBLM. He wrote a book called Brand Intimacy.

Mario Natarelli: MBLM is an independent interdisciplinary agency. We are headquartered in New York City and we have offices in seven countries. My role here is managing partner, as you said, here in New York, and I lead teams of strategists, consultants, designers, programmers, futurists, and support staff. We're all really passionate about helping clients build ultimate brands.

Why does a branding agency employ futurists?

Mario Natarelli: Brands are really about what the potential is for the future, and so we really need people who are understanding trends, both at the macro level and also specific to industries or specific to companies and where and how are those trends going to affect business in the future and what can a brand do to get ahead of it?

Michael Krigsman: In order to build a brand successfully, you have to be able to project, where is the future as its relevant and pertains to where you're headed. Is that the idea?

Mario Natarelli: Think of a brand as the future manifestation of the business. Don't think of the brand as being in the rearview mirror. Really, brands should be driving progress, momentum, driving the aspirations of the company forward. That's a future state about what can be and what that potential can be.

What is brand intimacy?

Mario Natarelli: Well, it's a concept that we've been working on for nine years. It's a journey that we've taken very seriously. We have developed a model and done global research to validate that model. It's predicated on the idea that we can and we really need a new marketing paradigm, one that's more suited to our times.

As marketers look at the marketplace, we see proliferation, brands struggling to gain a kind of foothold, to be seen, or to kind of cut above the noise. We see a challenge where customers are ever more in control of brands today than they have ever been. We see that technology is creating incredible transformation and a pace of change that is increasing over time.

More importantly, probably most important, is that what we know about the brain today is very different than what we've understood in the past. When we make decisions, emotion drives those decisions. Those forces are really what drove both the impetus for the book and the formation of MBLM and this idea that we can really create a better marketing paradigm for our times.

Michael Krigsman: How would you characterize that marketing paradigm and how is it different from the traditional paradigm of marketing?

Mario Natarelli: Well, I think one of the things that we discovered when we were creating this idea of brand intimacy is that what we understand about brands today is different. We are living in multifaceted, interconnected times. Brands are much more reciprocal than they've ever been with consumers before. The role that technology is playing, both as an enabler for brands but also a barrier, is very different than it's ever been before. Those are some of the reasons that we felt a new model was necessary.

When we looked to see what existing models or thinking was out there, they tended to be very linear in their nature and very rational in their orientation. When you think about the way we make decisions, if emotion is playing a key role and emotion isn't being factored in those traditional models, then clearly there was a reason to kind of look at this in a new way.

Michael Krigsman: Is emotion then the operative driver of this difference between how brands presented themselves and were built in the past versus today?

Mario Natarelli: Yeah, think of this as a complementary way to think about brands. This adds on to other philosophies and theories, right? At its core, brand intimacy is the emotional science of how we bond with brands. That, as an understanding, can live side-by-side with other constructs and frameworks. The point here is that this new thinking can reveal and maybe give you a sense of leverage or a new way forward for opportunity, growth, and success.

Michael Krigsman: You say brand intimacy is the emotional side of how we bond with brands.

Mario Natarelli: Right.

Michael Krigsman: Please elaborate on that because it seems like it's maybe the crux of the matter here.

Mario Natarelli: Absolutely. Maybe an example is a good way forward. Let me use you as my Guinea pig. What brands, Michael, do you have in your life that you feel a strong, emotional connection with?

Michael Krigsman: Oh, God. I guess everybody talks about Apple, but there are many. Go on.

Mario Natarelli: Sure. Everybody has got a few, even skeptics. Once we probe a little deeper, we can reveal that, whether it's the car they drive, the news that they read, the coffee that they drink, or the shampoo that they favor. There are these brands that we are, in a limited way, very emotionally connected with.

What we'd like to know is, how does that happen? What can we learn from those patterns? Then how can we apply that to companies or to brands that are in need of more of it?

How can brands create emotional connection with their customers?

Mario Natarelli: I think the first thing is to understand how we measure the emotional connections that we form with brands. How do we understand them? Do they exist? Are they strong? Are they weak? Where can we improve them? I think that's one way to approach it.

The other is, we create an annual study and look at the top brands, 400 brands in the world. We've gathered over 20,000 consumers' input around these brands. The reason we do that is because we can learn lessons from who does this really well, whether it's specific brands that rank historically very high or industries that are just naturally better at this than others. Between the lessons and understanding where performance lives today, I think you can chart a new path, a new strategy, create new activations or ways for brands to perform better in the future.

Michael Krigsman: Mario, the benefits that you're describing, do they accrue primarily to the brands or is there an equal benefit to consumers on the other side?

Mario Natarelli: Yeah, that's a great question and one that we don't hear as often as you would think we should. Let's talk about benefits. Why does this matter and why should you care? I think the first and the most important thing that we've discovered is, the more intimate you are with a brand, the less you're willing to live without it and the more you're willing to pay for it. If you're business-minded, if that hasn't got your attention, another thing we've discovered is that when we look at the top-performing intimate brands and we compare them to the Fortune 500 or the Standard & Poor's index, intimate brands outperform those indices both in terms of revenue and profit and over time.

This isn't something that's just logical or sounds nice. This is actually creating real business outcomes. That's, I think, an important benefit to be mindful of. That's clearly a business benefit.

From a consumer perspective, I think what's interesting when you think about brand intimacy is that, ultimately, it's oriented around getting closer to the customer, understanding needs, wants, desires, and triggers from decisions to buy or use. A better a brand can do in that regard, I think, ultimately, benefits the customer inherently.

What are the components of brand intimacy?

Mario Natarelli: We have a detailed model that measures brand intimacy. In that model, you can uncover certain ingredients that help or enhance intimacy. That's certainly one way to research and understand where you perform today, what can be improved upon in the future, and which levers can get you there. I think that's probably the primary way or primary starting point.

Another framework or way to think about this that we use with our clients is a really simple one. That is, essence, story, and experience. Think of a brand as starting with essence. What do you stand for? How do you represent yourself to the market both visually, verbally, and from a strategy point of view? That's the kind of core foundation of a brand.

Then, around that, we call it the story layer, the narrative. How does a brand communicate or engage with an audience? That is typically underleveraged.

Then the final layer, what we call the experience layer, is the orchestration of touchpoints and channels to make sure that that brand is effectively and seamlessly meeting moments with their consumers and customers in effective ways.

Essence, story, and experience is a very simple way to think about how a brand thrives. It sounds simple, but it's actually really hard to do for a lot of reasons. One, it's beyond the remit of just a marketer. It involves strategy, operations, customer service, and many other departments in an organization.

It's also hard to keep doing, so it's one thing to achieve it but you really need to keep it in a pervasive or continuous mode. That's very challenging for companies, especially large ones.

Michael Krigsman: Yeah, please continue with the challenges.

Mario Natarelli: What we discover is that you really can't have a strong story without a strong essence. You can't have a strong experience without both essence and story. These are kind of like concentric circles that are ever-growing.

What we've noticed also is that companies tend to get myopic or sort of singular in their focus and they don't necessarily see the interrelationships of these things or necessarily appreciate how much effort an investment, over time, it takes to maintain or to excel in these areas. When we look at brands that do very well in our study—whether it's Disney, which was number one this year, or Apple, which is perennially a top brand—we see companies that are both diverse and growing and dynamic but, also, extremely strong at defining and exhibiting a strong essence, delivering meaningful and provocative stories and, really, amazing and thoroughly well-orchestrated experiences.

Michael Krigsman: We are talking with Mario Natarelli, Managing Partner of MBLM. Mario, we have a couple of questions right now from Twitter. The first one is from Sal Rasa who asks, "How can an organization align its culture to help reach the emotional connections that you were just describing?" I think it's a good question.

Mario Natarelli: Brand intimacy starts inside, right? We often hear about this from a brand-building perspective. It starts with the employees and the internal stakeholders. If you think about bonds with stakeholders—not just customers or consumers, but stakeholders in the broadest sense—then, clearly, the bonds that the company is forming with its employees are paramount and primary.

If you're thinking about a great essence story and experience, that's got to start with your employees first. We spend an inordinate amount of time and focus in our brand-building efforts on the organization inside.

Michael Krigsman: Yeah, it's very fascinating. As I have spoken with senior execs from large organizations, including some of the best CEOs that I know, one common theme seems to be, we have to take care of our employees first.

Mario Natarelli: Right.

Michael Krigsman: Because they're the folks who are then going to translate whatever they do into the right experiences for our customers.

Mario Natarelli: As corporations merge or change, leadership migrates or evolves, you can imagine the forces at work at pulling apart essence, story, and experience for the employees. When that happens, you see the effects of that in the market, whether it's in customer service, product development, strategy, or marketing and sales. Clearly, those start with strong leadership and an investment in aligning the internal stakeholders around a strong brand.

Michael Krigsman: As you're talking about essence, story, and experience, it is very clear that much of this goes well beyond marketing. Yet, branding, we tend to think as fitting within the marketing function.

Mario Natarelli: [Laughter] Right. Right.

Michael Krigsman: How should companies, people working in companies, handle this? It seems like a kind of difficult paradox to me.

Mario Natarelli: Yeah, and this is a difficult word, right? A word, "brand," has been used and misused a lot lately, especially. One thing that might help is to think about, we're all past the point that a brand is more than a logo or a static thing. If we can kind of call that antiquated thinking, I think the next evolution is to think about a brand as a relationship. I think that makes a big difference when you do that because it clearly signals that it's more than a marketing function.

If a brand is about a relationship, how you nurture those bonds of that relationship is paramount. It really starts to motivate the thinking or the priorities, I think, in much more positive and effective ways.

Michael Krigsman: Are there many companies that do this well? It sounds so simple to think about brand as a relationship, but then the tentacles reach across the operations of a business in so many different ways that it seems to then roll up—you indicated this earlier—roll up into the core strategy of the company and the foundation of its relationship to customers.

Mario Natarelli: Imagine our challenge when we try to explain to a CFO that the emotions that you're forming with a brand are important. Analytically minded or more data-minded individuals struggle with this idea that emotion matters and how you measure and/or leverage it matters. We are continually fighting that resistance within companies to sort of chart a path that is holistic.

There are clearly rationally driven measures that are important to running a business. This isn't trying to supplant them. What we're trying to say is that there is another element that can be a really important growth or leverage point for a brand or a business and it's to not lose sight of that and to say, "Okay. If it's there, how good are we at it? Who does this well? What can we learn from them? How do we leverage it against our competitors in the category that we're in or where we hope to be?"

Michael Krigsman: Do marketers, from your experience, hear or feel resistance as they try to elevate the branding conversation into a core business strategy conversation?

Mario Natarelli: Well, that's a great question. This tends to be industry dependent. Some industries, I think, are a little more aligned. I've seen previous interviews that you've given with CMOs that are at companies that totally get it and the role of marketing plays a central function in the success and advancement of the business. Often, marketing tends to be treated like a shared service and relegated in many ways. That's unfortunate, for sure.

I think the other thing that's happening in corporations is this challenge between the role of marketing and the role of technology. You're seeing a hybridized effect going on between CIOs, CTOs, CMOs where, ultimately, who owns the relationship with the consumer, the stakeholders the most, who is most responsible for it in measuring it and adapting to it, that's getting tricky now when technology and infrastructure of a corporation is playing a much bigger role in how you reach those stakeholders and also measure performance against them.

What is the role of technology and the marketing stack in creating brand intimacy?

Mario Natarelli: Brand intimacy is not a technology conversation. It is really born from the challenge that technology has presented. Frankly, the invention of the iPhone in 2008, '09 was one of the major signals that we needed to rethink brands and how they live and how we interact with them.

Technology is the primary gateway for most of the experiences we have with brand. It's almost impossible to deny that, so it's playing an ever-increasing role. As marketers, we're having to wear multiple hats and many of them involve sophistication or understanding of technology.

The marketing stack and the technology roadmap of a company are, in many ways, interconnected. At best, marketers and technologists are going to have to work in a more collaborative way or they're literally becoming more hybridized in nature.

Michael Krigsman: It seems that many marketers confuse or conflate the role of technology with the ultimate outcome that they're trying to achieve. In other words, or to put it in another way, we have this fascination with technology and I think that that takes away from the essence, the story, and the experience that you were describing earlier.

Mario Natarelli: Yeah, technology runs the risk. As I said earlier, it could be a great enabler or a barrier to success. It can get in the way of that frictionless experience that you're hoping for. It can get in the way of thinking about what really matters and building strong bonds with your customers. Technology is the enabler of that process. It isn't the replacement of it.

Michael Krigsman: Mario, we have another question from Twitter. Kristin Myers asks about the differences or the linkages between brand intimacy, brand loyalty, and I'm going to throw customer experience into that. Let's introduce customer experience in this as well.

Mario Natarelli: I love the question. All right. Loyalty is, I think, a very dated and challenging concept. I think this is the best way to illustrate it. I may be loyal to my service provider of my cell phone, but I'm a trapped loyalist, to be honest. I don't really have any emotional connection to my service provider. However, every month, I am loyally paying that bill, or maybe reluctantly paying that bill. That's a great example of how loyalty has become a kind of dated construct. Also, when you think about loyalty programs today, whether it's your points on your credit card or airline miles, et cetera, those have also become very stale and sort of benefit-less experiences more and more.

Intimacy was really designed as a way to kind of go above loyalty. This is striving for something much more elevated. It's also harder to achieve. However, we think the benefits of getting there ultimately will create bigger rewards. That's where I would park the difference between intimacy and loyalty. No pun intended on that word "rewards."

Let's talk about customer experience and the difference between that and brand intimacy. Customer experience is, for us, the measurement of interactions across channels and touchpoints. It's a very vital and important way to think about the performance of a brand.

Brand intimacy ultimately is about the bonds that you're forming between the brand and the customer. It's a much more narrow, much more focused exploration of that relationship. Customer experience plays, again, a pivotal role and it's kind of the macro view of performance of one dimension of the brand and intimacy is kind of inverting and looking at it in a much more singular way and a much more bond specific way, relationship-specific way.

What is the relationship between customer experience and brand intimacy?

Mario Natarelli: I think that's fair. I think it's a complementary aspect or way of thinking about it. I think one of the challenges as marketers or as business leaders have is, what are all these things that we're talking about, whether it's satisfaction, loyalty, intimacy, or customer experience? What do I use them for or which overrides which? It is a maze of constructs and theories and that can be a big challenge for business owners, I suspect.

The way I would think of brand intimacy is a much more core, fundamental understanding of marketing, right? Thinking about it as, how do we connect with individuals and/or brands? Why do we choose them? How do we increase the odds and/or the performance of the connections that we're making with the people or the brands that use us?

Those other things all play pivotal roles. We aren't suggesting you replace them or discard them, maybe with the exception of loyalty. Those things still, I think, are relevant in many ways and can be very helpful.

Michael Krigsman: As I talk with CMOs and they may talk about other concepts and high-level strategies but, at the end of the day, it seems it's all about, how many clicks are we getting; how many views are we getting; can we track this lead from source back to revenue?

Mario Natarelli: Right.

Michael Krigsman: How does that connect with brand intimacy at all?

Mario Natarelli: Yeah, another really good question. When we think about the performance of a brand—and you cited a few important measures, whether it's traffic or attribution—those are really, really critical things. Think of those things like the symptoms the patient is showing you. You want to monitor those. You want to measure them. You want to be clear about the role that they play. You want to understand what you're doing from an investment perspective that's creating that performance.

You also need to, I think, take a step back and look at this more holistically from a brand perspective. When you think about the essence, the story, and experience, if you're looking at clicks, which of those is contributing in a positive or negative way to the amount of traffic you might be generating? Is the challenge with essence or is it really in the story layer? Maybe it's in the channels or the experience part of the challenge.

When you look at attribution, again, it forces you to think about it from a brand perspective. Is our problem upstream or is it downstream?

What we like to use intimacy for is more fundamental. Those things that you're measuring are going to be continually important and should be fine-tuned. We'd like to add some measurements, though. We'd like for you to think about the degree of bonds that you're forming. Are they strong? How are you measuring them? Do you know the brand intimacy of your brand? Is it going up or down relative to your competitors? What can we do; which levers can we affect that would improve that performance over time?

How can marketers show ROI from brand strategy?

[Asked by Zachary Jeans on Twitter]

Mario Natarelli: We think brand intimacy does that because we know that when we measure the best brands at brand intimacy, they outperform financially both the Fortune 500 and the Standard & Poor's. That's not a simple statement. To outperform those indices is very difficult because Fortune 500 is a revenue-based index and you get booted out if you aren't performing. The same goes for Standard & Poor's, although that's a market gap driven index.

To outperform those, you've got to be doing something right, not just short term but long term. That's one way to think about this that you can create a measure that has kind of overriding strength that delivers business outcomes. We know you'll pay more for a brand if you're intimate with it. We know you're less likely to live without it. Those are great levers to convince business-minded individuals.

However, there are other ways of measuring a brand and its strength, whether it's equity or value or there are other things out there that people are using, reputation for example. Depending on the context, some of those may be valuable or useful. We think intimacy is better than many of those, but those are also long-standing traditions that a lot of executives appreciate, whether it's the satisfaction index or an equity study on how a brand performs relative to its customers. Those are great and useful tools to kind of sway the argument back into the role that brand plays and why you need to invest in it.

One of the ironies of this is that business-minded people really understand assets. They really get that. Brand, if thought of as an asset, one that you nurture and invest in, and see it more from that perspective and less as a cost related challenge, I think you'll find the conversation is already, I think, more in a better direction.

Michael Krigsman: A CMO is listening to this conversation, listening to you, goes to the CEO of the company, and says, "Brand intimacy, brand equity, and all of that," and the CEO says, "Great. All of this is great but all I care about is that you turn leads into sales." What should that CMO do?

Mario Natarelli: Well, that sounds like a sales function, but I think the CMO, yeah, to sort of build on what you're saying, "Bring me more leads," right? Bring me more leads that I can close or help me in the different aspects of my funnel, whether it's the bottom of the funnel in closing more or the top of the funnel in generating more opportunities. Those are very tactical outcomes of what marketing is, what marketing should do.

I think, to pull back, look at that, and say, "All right. Well, what brand am I using to gather these leads? How competitive and strong is it in the market?" If the answer to that is, "Well, it is what it is. Just use what you've got," then, of course, you're going to become more of a tactician. "All right. I'm making best with what I can do," right?

If you have more latitude, then you go back and look at it from an essence, story, and experience perspective. Use that as an analysis or an assessment of the brand to say, "All right. Where are there gaps? What can I do better here?" We know that if you get all of that right, you're not going to have a challenge differentiating yourself in the market. You're not going to have a challenge projecting a brand that people will be attracted to and choose.

That may be two ways to think of it. Are you in tactics mode or do you have the luxury or the opportunity to kind of step back and improve the brand from an essence, story, experience perspective? If so, assess it and then do it in a strategic way.

Michael Krigsman: Ultimately, then, the answer is, you've got to do both. You need to have a strategic perspective around the value of your brand and how you build it.

Mario Natarelli: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's very easy to ask and want greater demand flow. We all want that and need that. It's another challenge to think through, well, where does that come from and how do I get there? Many marketers, I think, are often pressured to deliver those outcomes without the benefit of what the strong, cohesive strategy can ultimately deliver for them.

How can marketers create brand intimacy for their companies?

Mario Natarelli: Maybe thinking about the model itself is a good way to illuminate some potential avenues. The model is really simple in its setup. We think about intimacy from the perspective of, you have to be a user, so this isn't about perception or awareness. You have to be a user of the brand.

We measure the characteristics of how you bond and the intensity. There are six characteristics and there are three stages of intensity. Those areas are really fertile places where you can improve a brand.

Let's start with characteristics. We call them archetypes. There are six main ways that brands bond with us, six universal ways. No two brands are identical, but many brands in the same industry have similar kind of archetype setups. The six archetypes are:

  • Fulfillment, this idea of delivering exceptional service, so a brand like Amazon or Four Seasons is a great example of fulfillment.
  • Identity is the second archetype. This is the idea of being a brand that promotes an image that you aspire to. Harley Davidson or, say, Patagonia is a great example of that brand.
  • Enhancement is the next archetype. This is about the feeling of being smarter, more capable, or more enabled by the brand. Technology companies do very well here. Apple, Google, or Samsung are good examples of enablement brands.
  • Nostalgia is another one where a brand that kind of connotes a warm memory from your past, so brands like Lego are really strong there. Disney is a great example of a nostalgia brand.
  • Ritual is the next archetype, a brand that you use on a frequent basis, something that's part of a daily habit or routine. Starbucks is a great example of a ritual brand.
  • Then, ultimately, the last one is indulgence, which is this idea of pampering, of gratification, so beauty care products do very well there and grooming products do well there. But, also, Netflix is a great example of an indulgence brand in the way that we kind of binge-watch entertainment.

Just looking at archetypes for a second and those six, again, no one is more important than the other. Many brands are dominant in one and have associations in others. Those are great and fertile ways to think about improvement, think about your competition and where you can distance yourself from them.

We use them almost like briefing mechanisms when we work with brands. How strong are you in this area? Do you want to win in this area? Can we make you better there? What strategies or tactics can we deploy to make this particular archetype stronger for you? That's archetypes and I think that's a great mechanism or tool.

The next area is stages. This is, again, the degree of intensity between the customer and the brand. There are three distinct stages: sharing, bonding, and fusing. Each build on each other.

Sharing is about this idea that you and the brand are first connected. You're sharing information with the brand and vice versa. You're getting to, in a way, know each other. There's a kind of habit-forming.

The bonding stage is a little more rare or a little more difficult to achieve. In the bonding stage, now you're a little more committed. You're not necessarily using competitors of that brand and trust is forming.

Then, finally, the final stage is fusing. That's the most rare. Very few brands reach that level and for good reasons. In the fusing stage you are, in a sense, inextricably linked with the brand. Your values and the brand values are very, very close or very aligned.

Michael, you said earlier, Apple was an example of a brand for you. If you really think about what Apple stands for and what it does, I imagine those values are probably very simpatico with yours. We all have brands like that or some of us have brands like that in our lives.

Stages is another way to think about how to improve a brand. What stage are your customers in, your stakeholders, whether it's employees or your end-users, and what can you do to advance them up? How can you get them from sharing into bonding? How can you build more trust with them? If they are in bonding, how can you move them up into a more co-identified stage where your values and theirs are more intertwined? Those are really, I think, again, fertile and interesting ways to think about progress for a company or a brand.

Michael Krigsman: Then what is the connection between paying attention to these archetypes and these phases and trust? You use that term "trust" several times.

Mario Natarelli: Yeah. The bonding stage is where trust is formed. I think trust is an important pivot from building from sharing into bonding and then, ultimately, into fusing. Without trust, you really don't progress forward.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter, again from Zachary Jeans. Zachary is on a role. It's a great question. "Can you give us a specific example of how a brand executed on your advice around intimacy?"

Mario Natarelli: Yeah, and our website has lots of case study examples of companies that are using elements of our strategy and thinking. I welcome you to check them out. They span industry, scales, and sizes, really. This isn't something that's just for large companies or multinationals. We've done this with startups. We've even done it with individuals, athletes, and celebrities, so it's a universal way of looking at and thinking about brand building.

To answer your question directly, I'll choose American Airlines as one of our most, I think, celebrated case studies. Here is an example of a brand that had really grown tired. This is what we see a lot of.

The patient comes to us with a dated expression, misaligned kind of execution of the brand, one that really felt like it needed to get modernized. Through strong essence, story, and experience, we worked over many months with large, integrated teams to redefine what does this brand stand for. How do you express it both in its logo and also its design system, its language, its tone and manner? How does it communicate to the market in advertising, in internal communications, in the plethora of places that you hear about or interact with the brand?

Then, ultimately, how do you engineer the vast amount of digital touchpoints that an airline brand would have from check-in systems to website, status boards, and on and on it goes, entertainment systems. All of those are moments that the brand is either gaining traction or intimacy or it's diluting.

Michael Krigsman: Brand intimacy, like brand trust, can change over time. For example, I remember when Google was founded and their motto was something to the effect of "Do No Evil." Google then was this aspirational, great, trusted company. Today, I'm very loyal to Google for the reasons you described earlier because I don't have a choice, but they're certainly not a brand that I feel any kind of intimacy with even though they know my most intimate details, so things change.

Mario Natarelli: I'm going to keep this really short. That's a great example of a brand that probably could do better in terms of that emotional connection. What about YouTube, which is owned by Google? How do you feel about that?

Michael Krigsman: For me, I spend a lot of time with YouTube. I see YouTube as being functional. That's it.

Mario Natarelli: Okay.

Michael Krigsman: It serves a purpose.

Mario Natarelli: Well, in our study when we asked, again, 20,000 consumers what they thought, YouTube ranks higher than Google for probably good reason. However, Google did finally make the top ten this year. It is improving. I think they're more than aware of this and are working on it. I think you'll see it improve over time. At least I hope so.

How can brands overcome negative consumer perceptions?

Mario Natarelli: The opposite of intimacy is what we call indifference. That's something you probably want to avoid at all costs. The challenge is, how do you repair a brand with a bad reputation? Again, I harken back to this analogy of how we bond with each other.

Intimacy of people and brands are very analogous. Someone with a bad reputation is going to work extra hard to try to mend or cure that relationship. It's going to be very specific on the people, the context, and the degree of the damage. I think that's true for brands too.

We love looking at brands when they go through these missteps. They're fascinating case studies when you think of them, whether it's Tylenol episode, Toyota, the United Airlines passenger dragged off the plane bloodied, Antennagate with Apple, or how about this new one with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and the data breach?

These are opportunities for brands to leverage their goodwill, to invest in mending the relationships. In some cases, they have repaired them and are excelling. In some, the jury is still out and we should see if they will be able to survive them.

Think of it in relationship terms. It's going to take time, investment, a lot of energy of repair and mending.

Michael Krigsman: Presumably—correct me if I'm wrong—the companies that do this well are the ones who recognize that brand intimacy is a strategic imperative; it's not just a component of the marketing function.

Mario Natarelli: Correct, and it's never one and done. This is a continuous and continual process.

Michael Krigsman: Again, as is any relationship like you just described.

Mario Natarelli: Or any asset that you want to maintain.

What advice do you have for developing personal brands?

Mario Natarelli: Yeah. On a hunch, last year, we created the first study of famous figures, which is politicians, athletes, or other luminaries. We wanted to see if intimacy correlated so that we could measure the bonds that we have with these individuals like we do with brands. That study is free for people to see on our website and explore. It's fascinating to see how the performance of athletes versus celebrities, entertainers, singers, or politicians vary how they bond via archetypes and stages. That's a study that's a lot of fun that we look forward to repeating again in this fall.

Michael Krigsman: Do you have any advice for individuals who want to build their personal brand based on the frameworks that you have?

Mario Natarelli: Essence, story, and experience: it totally relates and can be used. We have simple sort of multi-step documents on our website that can help you if you're interested.

As an ambulance is moving by here in Chelsea, pardon the noise.

Our website can give you some interesting features and guidance in that regard.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. In our final minute of this rapid-fire series of questions, any final thoughts or ideas that you feel are important to share before we finish up?

Mario Natarelli: We have this kind of headline, "Don't use antiquated thinking to solve problems for the future," and I think that's an important way to think about how brand intimacy can help your marketing. The world has changed and how we interact with brands and how they interact with us is dramatically different than it ever was, and so we should be continually looking for new methods or techniques to stay ahead of the curve.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Mario Natarelli, Managing Partner of MBLM, it's been a very fascinating conversation. Thank you again for taking your time today to join us.

Mario Natarelli: My pleasure, Michael. I enjoyed it. Thank you.

Michael Krigsman: You've been watching CXOTalk. Before you go, subscribe on YouTube and hit the little subscribe button at the top of our website and subscribe to our newsletter. You can see Mario Natarelli's book, Brand Intimacy. It's very good. Their website, MBLM, is, and take a look. Thanks so much, everybody. I hope you have a great day. Bye-bye.

Published Date: Sep 13, 2019

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 622