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Interview: Exploring the concept of Brand Intimacy (Includes interview and first-hand account)

Mario Natarelli, is managing partner at MBLM and author of the bestseller ‘Brand Intimacy, A New Paradigm in Marketing‘. Natarelli’s branding agency MBLM has cultivated the concept of Brand Intimacy, which is a new marketing paradigm that leverages and strengthens the emotional bonds between a person and a brand.

Looking back at 2017 and forward to 2018, Natarelli tells Digital Journal readers about the biggest missteps companies took in 2017 as well as what companies can do to build more intimate connections in 2018 and increase their customer loyalty and revenue.

Digital Journal: Thanks for the interview Mario. What makes for a “better” brand?

Mario Natarelli: Today’s marketers (and consumers) increasingly understand what makes a good brand. We have focused our efforts instead on what makes an ultimate brand—one that outperforms its competitors and endures. Because we have all become numb to the basics, success now lies in reaching higher—we call it Brand Intimacy. Think of it as a new marketing paradigm that creates a greater emotional bond between you and the brands that you love and use.

DJ: What are the main brand mishaps that have caught your attention in the past year?

Natarelli: United Airlines having its passenger dragged off a flight stands out both for its egregiousness and the surprising lack of effect it had. A few months after this incident, United shareholders were pleased with the airline’s financial performance, and leadership remained intact–unlike any of the examples that follow.

Transportation app Uber is seen on the iPhone of limousine driver.

Transportation app Uber is seen on the iPhone of limousine driver.
With permission by Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

Uber’s tone-deaf leadership and cavalier attitude began to rot the company from its core. The values that helped aggressively build the company and culture began destroying it.

A third example is brands that have recently undertaken rebranding efforts that have failed to either inspire or land with any effectiveness. This has left many of us asking: Why did they bother? Metlife, Spectrum, and Tronc come to mind.

Perhaps the most notorious examples are the downfalls of personal brands. These collapses affected multibillion-dollar enterprises in the entertainment ecosystem. Of course, we are talking about the brands known as Mario Batali, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer.

DJ: What lessons can be drawn from these incidents?

Natarelli: Central to all these examples is the bonds these brands form with stakeholders (i.e., employees, investors, consumers, partners, and suppliers) are fundamental and in constant flux. Nurturing, enhancing, and protecting those bonds should be a top business priority.

A general view of the storage hall at the 70 000 square metre warehouse floor in Amazon s new distri...

A general view of the storage hall at the 70,000 square metre warehouse floor in Amazon’s new distribution center in Brieselang, near Berlin
With permission by Reuters / Tobias Schwarz

DJ: Which brand stands out for you?

Natarelli: Amazon is a fast-rising, intimate brand (currently ranked No. 3 in our study). Its acquisition of Whole Foods (ranked #8), together with its achievements in streaming content, web services, and Amazon Prime, points to its even brighter future. When you look at Amazon’s performance relative to traditional retailers, you witness the winner in the endgame of category disruption and total market domination.

DJ: What lessons can be learned from brands like Amazon?

Natarelli: Mega brands like Amazon may seem unattainable, with lessons that feel out of reach; however, there are a few aspects related to Amazon’s rise that are relevant and applicable. One key factor of Amazon’s success is that it dominates in fulfillment, one of the Brand Intimacy archetypes, which we define as exceeding expectations, delivering superior service, quality and efficacy. Exceeding expectations and being reliable provides confidence, trust, and assurance to customers. These are critical to building bonds and deepening relationships.

DJ: How can companies build loyalty and strong emotional connections?

Natarelli: Building intimate brands requires continual attention and investment. Think of brands less as inanimate “things” and more as the relationships between your products and services and your stakeholders. Strong emotional connections that build these bonds come from three key factors. A strong Essence, the promise and identity of your brand. A compelling Story, the narrative that draws people in and engages them. Finally, the Experience, the complete orchestration of touch-points—both virtual and physical.

DJ: What will 2018 deliver that means companies need to come up with new strategies to protect their brands?

Natarelli: Consumers continue to demand performance and value on their terms. Whether your brand faces commoditization, disruption, or the challenge of accelerated growth, it has to remain nimble but true to its essence, story, and experience to thrive. In an interconnected and interdependent world, focus on the bonds that your brand fosters and how leveraging emotion can strengthen those bonds.

2015 Amazon Fire HD (8-inch edition)

2015 Amazon Fire HD (8-inch edition)

DJ: How much of this strategy needs to be online? That is, how important is a digital presence?

Natarelli: For most brands, the digital experience is pivotal to building greater brand intimacy. A strong example of this that brands that exist within the smartphone ecosystem (e.g., manufacturers, service providers, apps) outperform those outside it. We discovered this from our research covering 12,000 consumers across demographics and countries. This means that the technology and enhancement features of the smartphones many of us carry actually deepen the bonds with the brands that we use in concert with it.

Beyond the examples of the smartphone ecosystem and Amazon, digital transformation is not just a central and essential strategy; it is quickly making winners and losers of brands. As consumers, we demand ever-increasing personalization and functionality from our technology. From a business perspective, technology continues to enhance every aspect of the supply chain.

A winning formula for brands leverages technology to better enhance the bonds we have with the products and solutions we use. The more we can use technology to create strong emotional connections, and the more we are willing to pay for a brand, the more we will engage with it and be unwilling to live without it.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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